Thursday, December 12, 2013

Canada's Partial Submission (Atlantic) and Preliminary Indication (Arctic) to the Commission on the Limits of the Continental Shelf/CLCS

Given last week's notable events  surrounding the Canadian Submission to the Commission on the Limits of the Continental Shelf (CLCS), your blogger is resurfacing before her promised 2014 re-start date to post a bare minimum of some of the most helpful links on the topic.  Regular posts will resume in the New Year, with the end of your blogger's sabbatical and her return from Alaska.

December 7, 2013, was the ten year anniversary of Canada joining the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea. Under  Convention rules, December 6, 2013, was Canada's deadline for submitting information to the CLCS on the limits of the Canadian continental shelf.

Canadian scientists and diplomats have been laying the groundwork for Canada's CLCS submission for approximately a decade. Canada's partial submission to the CLCS on December 6 covered Atlantic Canada [link to the Executive Summary in English or French] but not the Arctic Ocean. Instead, Canada filed Preliminary Information for the Arctic region [link to the PI in English or French].  Some had anticipated that Canada would include both regions in one submission but media reports surfaced last week that Prime Minister Harper had requested further information regarding the relationship between North Pole and the Canadian submission. According to media reports the North Pole was not included in the continental shelf information to which the Prime Minister was reacting.  The Canadian Broadcasting Company, reporting on a December 9, 2013, news conference, quoted Canadian Foreign Affairs Minister John Baird explaining Canada's approach:

"We have asked our officials and scientists to do additional work and necessary work to ensure that a submission for the full extent of the continental shelf in the Arctic includes Canada's claim to the North Pole," said Baird.

Several Canada-based media sources include interpretations of last week's events from two Canadian scholars of international policy, Michael Byers and Rob Hubert.  The Christian Science Monitor interprets Russian Prime Minister Putin's order last week to increase military presence in the Arctic as a direct response to the Canadian Preliminary Information at the CLCS regarding the Arctic.  By contrast, Xinhua and the India Daily News reflect a more measured approach, both quoting Russian Minister of Natural Resources and Environment, Sergei Donskoy, as saying:

'Actual delimitation of the continental shelf in the Northern Ocean is not today's or even tomorrow's issue.' Donskoy said Russia, Canada and Denmark have the common interest of persuading the CLCS of the geological composition of the Northern Ocean's bed.

Russia and the Kingdom of Denmark, by virtue of Greenland, are considered to have the potential to include the North Pole in their submissions to the CLCS.  A cursory listing of Arctic-relevant submissions to date, and anticipated future submissions, is provided by the Arctic Institute of North America.

The CLCS will consider  Canada's Partial Submission for the Atlantic region in summer 2014, as the CLCS indicated in its Statement regarding the Partial Submission:
"The consideration of the partial submission made by Canada will be included in the provisional agenda of the thirty-fifth session of the Commission to be held during July-August 2014."

NOAA Arctic Report Card issued today at American Geophysical Union

Also of note is today's release of NOAA's annual Arctic Report Card, which is an international undertaking: 147 authors from 14 countries contributed. The press release is reproduced here.

For Immediate Release
December 12, 2013
2013 Arctic Report Card Released Today at AGU Fall Meeting

San Francisco, CA - While fewer snow and ice extremes occurred in 2013 relative to 2012, and environmental observations in Alaska and throughout the Arctic showed annual and regional variability, the impact of the region's persistent, long-term warming trend remains demonstrable, according to the just-released 2013 update to the The Report Card is a peer-reviewed source for environmental information on the current state of the Arctic relative to historical records.
The release of the 2013 Report Card was announced today at the American Geophysical Union's Fall Meeting at a 9:00 am press conference at Moscone Center West (room 3001A) in San Francisco. Dr. Martin Jeffries, science advisor at the US Arctic Research Commission and principal editor of the report, was on the panel that described some of the highlights of 2013 in the Arctic.
Key observations revealed in the Report Card update show:
  • Snow extent in May 2013 reached a new record low in Eurasia, due to above average air temperatures, while Northern Hemisphere-wide snow extent was below average for spring (April, May, June).
  • Summer surface air temperatures were particularly low across the central Arctic Ocean, northern Canada and Greenland relative to 2007-2012 (a period of pronounced summer sea ice retreat), and were somewhat lower than the long-term average of 1981-2010.
  • Minimum sea ice extent in September 2013 was not as low as the record minimum of 2012, but was nevertheless the sixth lowest since observations began in 1979 despite the relatively cool summer of 2013. The seven lowest ice extent minima have occurred in the last seven years, 2007-2013.
  • Arctic tundra vegetation greenness (a measure of biological productivity) and growing season length have continued to increase since observations began in 1982.
  • Large land mammals convey a mixed message, with Muskox numbers stable/increasing since the 1970s, while many caribou and reindeer herds currently have unusually low populations for the period 1970-2013.
  • Changes in fish and bottom dwelling organisms include continued northward migration of species not previously seen in the Arctic.
"The Arctic Report Card illustrates the importance of long-term observations of the Arctic environment," said Fran Ulmer, Chair, US Arctic Research Commission. "We need an integrated, pan-Arctic observing system that helps us better understand this sensitive region's current changes and make improved projections for what the future holds."
The 2013 Report Card comprises 18 essays prepared by an international team of 147 authors from 14 different countries. It is intended for a wide audience, including scientists, teachers, students, decision-makers and the general public interested in the Arctic environment and science.
USARC's mission is to develop and recommend US Arctic research policy to the President and Congress and to build cooperative links in Arctic research within the federal government, with Arctic residents, the State of Alaska, researchers and international partners. Visit the USARC at and subscribe to our daily electronic newsletter, the "Arctic Daily Update," which provides useful information about recent events, conferences, research initiatives and international news.
Media Contact: Kathy Farrow, 703-525-0112 (o), 703-851-7332 (c),

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.