Tuesday, March 9, 2010

Further Beaufort Sea boundary developments

Update: See the September 27, 2011 post for information on technical discussions anticipating resolution of Beaufort Sea maritime boundary.

May 12, 2010 update: Canada's Foreign Minister Lawrence Cannon, speaking at  the 40th Annual Washington Conference on the Americas, publicly invited the United States to begin negotiations to resolve the Beaufort Sea boundary, as reported in the Montreal Gazette.

As originally posted in March 2010:

"Our Government will also work with other northern countries to settle boundary disagreements."

         Her Excellency the Right Honourable Michaëlle Jean,  Canada's Governor General,  March 3, 2010  Federal Speech from the Throne.

The Speech from the Throne makes  no mention of specific boundary disputes but adds weight to comments from the Department of Foreign Affairs and International Trade in late February that movement toward resolution of the Beaufort Sea dispute is desirable.   

A workshop held in Anchorage on March 6, 2010, provided a venue for U.S. and Canadian international law experts and others to discuss possible paths toward resolution of the Beaufort Sea boundary.  Media reports of the workshop offer graphics (see "Photo 2" and below) illustrating how the positions Canada and the U.S. have traditionally espoused with respect to the disputed boundary landward of the 200 nautical mile EEZ limit may in fact be to their detriment seaward of that line with respect to the extended continental shelf.  Historically Canada has taken the position that the 141st land meridian should extend into the Beaufort Sea landward of the 200 nautical mile EEZ, while the U.S. has argued for an equidistance line that runs to the east of that meridian.**  The workshop was organized by Professor Michael Byers, University of British Columbia, with the assistance of the Institute of the North in Anchorage.

In keeping with the well-managed character of the Beaufort Sea boundary disagreement, Canada and the United States cooperated on joint scientific cruises to map the Arctic continental shelf in 2008 and 2009, and will do so again this summer.  Bathymetric and other data gathered on joint and individual cruises have begun to make more evident the potential for both countries to extend their continental shelf seaward of their respective EEZs.  However, more data is needed before any conclusions can be drawn as to the extent of their respective shelves or of any overlap.

For possible approaches to the dispute see "Filling an Arctic Gap: Legal and Regulatory Possibilities for Canadian-U.S. Cooperation in the Beaufort Sea".  

**NOTE: Neither Canada nor the U.S. has stated any official position nor made any "claim" regarding the boundary seaward of 200 nautical miles.

Image Credit: Sovereign Geographic. 
Click image to enlarge.
Coalter@sovereigngeographic.com 202.905.5820

Icebreaking into the Arctic

The USCGC HEALY embarked Barrow, Alaska, in August 2008 to map the US extended continental shelf, or ECS, in the Arctic Ocean (HLY 0805). Healy sailed again from 7 August to 16 September, 2009 (HLY 0905) to continue ECS mapping, joining with the Canadian icebreaker, the Louis S. St.-Laurent. The two vessels mapped together again in 2010 (see HLY1002) and 2011 (HLY1102).

As the only law professor on the science crew, I was along on HLY 0805 and 0905 to better understand
the science behind the legal process that the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea establishes for states making ECS submissions. As to why the US is mapping now, even though it has not yet acceded to the Convention, read on both here, and in the Law of the Sea notes below.

Thanks to
Vermont Law School and especially to Larry Mayer, Director of the University of New Hampshire's Center for Coastal and Ocean Mapping, for making my part in the trip possible.
Thanks, as well, to Adriane Colburn, for opening new windows on and for the deep.