US, Canada Arctic mapping expedition to start Aug. 9

Posted: Wednesday, July 29, 2009

EDMONTON, Alberta - A joint U.S.-Canada expedition sailing next month to the icy waters off the northern coastline both countries share will help map the farthest reaches of the North American continent, but it won't deal with a long-running dispute over a resource-rich part of the Beaufort Sea.

"The primary thing this mission is designed to answer is 'Where is the edge of the continental shelf?"' said Maggie Hayes, director of the U.S. Office of Ocean and Polar Affairs.

The U.S. Coast Guard cutter Healy and the Canadian icebreaker Louis St. Laurent are heading into western Arctic waters north of Alaska and the Yukon. The ships are expected to rendezvous at sea Aug. 9 and remain out until Sept. 16.

It's the second summer the countries are collaborating on such research, as Canada readies its claim for jurisdiction over parts of the ocean under the U.N. Convention on Law of the Sea.

Some parts of that vast stretch of ocean are so remote that the surface of the moon has been better mapped, said Jacob Verhoef, Canada's chief scientist on the project.

"We still have regions where we don't have sufficient data to even look at the limit of where our extended continental shelf is," he said.

Although Canada has previously conducted aerial mapping of Arctic areas likely to be claimed by Russia, Verhoef said this trip is not expected to overlap with any nation's possible jurisdictions.

Nor will it produce data concerning the Canada-U.S. boundary dispute in the area, where the two countries disagree over how the boundary should be extended from the land between the Yukon and Alaska. The area is thought to hold significant energy reserves.

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