I wanted to do a brief post about the main reason behind the expedition Arctic Ocean 2016. My fellow shipmate Grace Shephard (geologist and post doc from the University of Oslo) have already written an excellent in-depth post about this.
The main purpose of the expedition Arctic Ocean 2016 is to collect data for supporting Canada’s claim for an extended continental shelf. So what does that mean? According to the United Nations’ Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS), every country with a coastline has an economic zone of 200 nautical miles (nm) extending from their coast. This means that the country’s border goes 200 nm, about 360 km, out in the sea from the coast. However, the UN says, you can extend your border further out in the sea if your seabed extends out beyond these 200 nm. This can be for example a subsea mountain ridge or the continental shelf that is continuing outwards. Many countries have claimed extra territory like this, like for example Norway on the Norwegian continental shelf.
A country who wants to claim extra territory has to submit a claim to the UN. The claim has to be supported with evidence, which the country have to collect themselves. Supporting evidence can be bathymetric data (mapping the seabed to make a 3D map of the depths) and/or geophysical data (which rocks the seabed are made up of).
When the country has submitted a claim, experts at the UN will evaluate the evidence they submit, and conclude if they agree with the claim or not. However, even if the UN agree with the country, the UN does not make the borders of countries. So in theory, they could agree with both of the neighbouring states, i.e. Canada and Denmark, which have borders in the Arctic towards the pole. This means that Canada and Denmark has to negotiate about the border, and this is where the politics come in…
During the Arctic Ocean 2016 expedition, the evidence for the Canadian claim is collected mainly with equipment such as multibeam echo sounder, seismic profiling and dredging for rocks along the seabed (I will do separate posts to tell more about this work later).
Now you may (or not) be wondering why a Swedish icebreaker is collecting evidence for Canada. The reason Oden is here is to provide icebreaking assistance for the Canadian icebreaker Louis S. St.-Laurent. However, Oden is not only an icebreaker; she is also well equipped with research facilities. Therefore, they fill her up with scientists who are interested in collecting data in the Arctic, such as myself. After all, the Arctic is remote and not so easy to get to, so any chance to collect full-scale data from here is very valuable.
Canada has done several of these expeditions to collect evidence before, the earliest back in 2006. This year’s expedition will be the last of the data collection before they will submit their claim in 2018.
If you want to read more about the expedition or UNCLOS, head to the official Canadian and Swedish expedition blogs, which I linked to from my post.