Arctic News Update – 10 Oct 2012

10 10 2012

Clare Kines’s beautiful photo of the CCGS Louis S St Laurent at rest at night in Arctic Bay. Click picture to view original size.

A few Arctic updates as seen at MilNews.ca Blog and other sites:

Despite the cold: U.S. military partnerships key to Arctic crisis response. When a cruise ship runs aground in a remote Greenland fjord, is set ablaze and springing leaks, injured passengers must be rescued. The scenario used during SAREX 2012— a multinational exercise held recently in Greenland’s eastern sea – tested military and civilian capabilities for search and rescue missions above the Arctic Circle. Meanwhile, during exercise Northern Eagle, a U.S. Navy destroyer joined Russian and Norwegian vessels in the Barents Seas to prepare for similar rescues, plus anti-piracy operations and joint air defense.

The scientist responsible for preparing Russia’s claim to seabed rights at the top of the world says Canada and his country are both poised to reap staggering economic benefits when a deal on who owns title to what in the northern ocean is finally struck.  “Canada has a wonderful shelf and basin, so of course Canada can get very rich from this,” said Victor Posyolov, deputy director of Russia’s Institute of World Ocean Geology and the head of its Arctic research program.  Poring over maps tracking the evidence that he is amassing for Russia’s claim, Posyolov estimated that his country, with the longest Arctic coastline, would gain rights to about 1.2 million square kilometres of seabed. He reckoned Canada would get about 800,000 square kilometres of sub-surface territory. That would be about twice as much seabed as the other claimants, Denmark and the United States, are likely to get.  “The biggest shelves and basins are in Canadian waters and it will benefit the most. The U.S. and Denmark have modest sectors,” Posyolov said in a room dominated by a circumpolar map that Canada and Russia jointly produced in 1992 ….”

Canada is poised to claim ownership of a vast new expanse of undersea territory beyond its Atlantic and Arctic coasts that’s greater in size than Quebec and equal to about 20 per cent of the country’s surface area, Postmedia News has learned.  The huge seabed land grab has been in the works since 1994, when federal scientists first conducted a “desktop study” of Canada’s potential territorial expansion under a new UN treaty allowing nations to extend their offshore jurisdictions well past the current 200-nautical-mile (370-km) limit of so-called “Exclusive Economic Zones” in coastal waters.  But the UN also set strict criteria for converting underwater tracts of “no man’s land” into a nation’s territorial possessions, including exhaustive geological studies proving these distant stretches of seabed — including potentially massive oil-and-gas deposits — are “natural prolongations” of each applicant country’s continental bedrock.  At the time, experts from the Geological Survey of Canada and Canadian Hydrographic Service estimated that as much as 1.75 million square kilometres of seafloor to the east and north of Canada’s 9.9-million-sq.-km. land mass — initially described as an area “equivalent to the size of the three Prairie provinces” — might eventually be claimed under provisions of the new international accord on continental shelf extensions, a component of the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea, or UNCLOS ….”

Russia’s most celebrated polar explorer, Artur Chilingarov, wants Russian President Vladimir Putin and Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper to meet at the North Pole.  “I have mentioned this to President Putin and I will mention it again,” the limber, heavily bearded Hero of Russia and Hero of the Soviet Union said during an interview this week in an office crammed with memorabilia from his many expeditions to the two poles.  “Let’s do it. It would be a symbol of Russian-Canadian friendship in the north.”  Canadians may remember Chilingarov as the explorer who in 2007 planted a titanium replica of the Russian flag at the bottom of the ocean – at the top of the world. It was a dramatic act that caused shock and anger in Ottawa and other northern capitals.  Canadian officials such as then-foreign minister Peter MacKay had taken deep offence at his dramatic underwater showmanship in one of two small Mir deep-sea mini-submarines, “This isn’t the 15th century,” MacKay told CTV at the time. “You can’t go around the world and just plant flags and say, ‘We’re claiming this territory.’ ”  Told that some Canadians still vilified him, Chilingarov, who is a member of the Russian Federation Council, responded with a profound belly laugh.  “I don’t know why Canadians took this so painfully,” he said. “The North Pole is a fixed place and it is for everyone.” ….”

U.S. eyeing the Pacific via Alaska?  “At the center of the U.S. contribution to Pacific defense is the ability to provide strategic depth for our allies. Much of this depends on the contribution of Alaska.  As retired Lt. Gen. Charles Heflebower, former 7th Air Force Commander, put it in a recent interview:  “The ability to surge in force is crucial. When I was there (in South Korea), I calculated that if we could remain viable through the first 20 days of combat, forces could be surged to the area and turn the tide.”  In this sense, Alaska is a crucial asset to any American Pacific strategy.  People don’t realize how strategic Alaska is until you really look at a map and recognize its central role in terms of getting forces into the region ….”

Arctic ice has receded more over the past decade than at any other point in history, with summer ice melts making more areas accessible than ever before. The newly-accessible areas of the Arctic hold huge amounts of oil and gas as well as massive stock of high quality gold, diamond, plutonium and other rare earth minerals. A recent CSIS study found that although some Arctic countries (such as Russia) have claimed to support international cooperation in the Arctic, they have bolstered their military presence in the region. Since the region lacks any coherent framework to address international interests and concerns, it remains a potential flash point for all countries bordering the Arctic or with interests there ….”

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