Far from being provoked into any resource war by the prospect of an Arctic energy bonanza, the Canadian government is much more likely to step up its legal efforts to settle disputed borders. Issues such as the size of its outer continental shelf in the Arctic Ocean, or the demarcation of national borders in the Beaufort Sea, can then be decisively settled by the UN Commission on Limits of the Continental Shelf and the ICJ, respectively. Of course the judgements of these and other international bodies do not always command universal respect, particularly as the United States is not even a signatory of the 1982 Convention on the Law of the Sea, which established the Commission.37 But few countries are willing to blatantly disregard international law, knowing that this could carry a heavy political and economic price, and the Canadians also know that winning their legal case would be likely to make any reliance on military force quite unnecessary.
In particular Ottawa is likely to prioritize the geological challenge of demonstrating where two underwater formations - the Lomonosov and Alpha ridges - lie in its offshore waters. Every member of the Convention on the Law of the Sea has to formally submit its case over the limits of its continental shelf within 10 years of signing up, and having joined in 2003, Canada is due to present its own geological arguments no later than 2013. Considerable amounts of time, money and effort are being invested by the Department of Foreign Affairs and International Trade in an attempt to show that Canada's outer continental shelf could be as large as 675,000 square miles.
Leading these efforts are researchers of Natural Resources Canada, who are using the latest technology and methods to get a close look at the shape of the seabed and the thickness of the rock deposits that lie on top. The main technique involves beaming down sound waves that travel through the water and are either reflected by the seafloor, giving experts on the surface a very exact idea of its shape, or else move through underwater rock before they are reflected back to show the sediment thickness. Sometimes this research is undertaken from icebreakers, which are used in late summer, when the ice is thinner, while earlier in the year scientists are flown out and landed on the ice by helicopter, even though this is risky if conditions suddenly change and they become stranded. To obtain the geological evidence they need, the Canadians are also expected to make heavy use of new, state-of-the-art submarines that are due to come into service in 2011.38
Some of these surveys have been carried out in close conjunction with a number of other countries. In 2006 Canadian and Danish scientists worked together on a seismic project at the Canadian Forces Station at the settlement of Alert, on Ellesmere Island. Their mutual goal was to determine the course of the Lomonosov Ridge, and despite enduring some atrociously bad weather that forced them to abort nearly all of their planned activities, the joint operation was judged to be a success. Canadian experts are also hoping to work alongside Russian and American counterparts before submitting their case to the UN Commission.
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