Cooperation with Our Northern Neighbor

Posted by Brian Van Pay
September 23, 2008
U.S. and Canadian Flags

About the author: Brian Van Pay is a Maritime Geographer with the Bureau of Oceans and International Environmental and Scientific Affairs. He is currently on the U.S. Coast Guard Cutter Healy on the Arctic Ocean.

The U.S. Coast Guard Cutter Healy rendezvoused with the Canadian icebreaker, Louis S. St. Laurent (Louis), last week on Tuesday, September 9th. Soon after, the Canadian Coast Guard Captain and Chief Scientist boarded their helicopter and landed on the Healy for a planning meeting with their U.S. counterparts. The meeting concluded, the helicopter returned, and around midnight on the bridge of the Healy that night I heard, "Healy, [this is] Louis, deploying gear…maintaining 4 knots…" And thus began this mission, which took just over a year of planning.

The cooperative effort was initiated in July of 2007. What followed was a series of meetings in Boston, Halifax, and Seattle among the respective scientific agencies and Coast Guards. Together, this group hammered out logistics, communication, safety, and of course data collection. The United States and Canada have long collaborated on a variety of scientific endeavors in the Arctic, but the last time we used our icebreakers in a cooperative effort was in August 1994 on a mission to the North Pole.

Why cooperate? Both countries have a mutual interest in defining the Arctic continental shelf, so it made more sense to collaborate on data collection than to work separately. Both countries can provide data the other needs saving each other millions of dollars. More specifically, the United States needs seismic reflection data -- a very tricky endeavor in the Arctic -- and Canada has worked out the bugs and is successfully collecting it from the Louis. Likewise, Canada prefers to have the multibeam bathymetric data that can be collected from Healy (the Louis has a singlebeam echo sounder). Canada also needs the Healy to clear a path for the seismic data collection work, especially in the heavy ice conditions we have encountered thus far. A chunk of ice ramming the scientific equipment off the stern of the Louis is not conducive to good data collection! In some areas, the bathymetric data are more important, so the Louis has taken the lead to clear the ice, while the Healy follows collecting better soundings of the seafloor. Finally, Arctic experts comprise a surprisingly small group of people, many of whom have worked together for many years, so utilizing one another's expertise is typical in this area of the world.

What about the fact that the United States and Canada have yet to agree on a maritime boundary in the Arctic Ocean? There has not been an agreed-upon maritime boundary since the United States bought Alaska from Russia in 1867, but this is not particularly unusual since half of the maritime boundaries across the globe have yet to be determined. Also keep in mind that we need to collect the data first to determine the extent of the continental shelf in the Arctic Ocean. Determining a maritime boundary comes second, and our two countries will work that out on a bilateral basis at an appropriate time in the future.

Interested in life on board the Healy? Then check back soon for my next entry on DipNote.

Editor's Note: Read Brian's previous entry about the data being collected by the Healy.



Tennessee, USA
September 24, 2008

Joe in Tennessee writes:

QUOTE:Why cooperate? Both countries have a mutual interest in defining the Arctic continental shelf, so it made more sense to collaborate on data collection than to work separately. END QUOTE...

Peculiar how Canada went from the Agriculture Minister not accepting a call from our President a few years or so ago, to working with the USA since Russia has migrated in force to the same proximities for the oil reserves?

It seems our Northern Neighbors want us when it is advantageous for them, but not under certain economic situations involving fair trade as with Steel, lumber, re-packaging or one step production of foreign products and labeling it as Canadian, as well as pharmaceuticals. There seems to be a long history of this with them.

They do produce some wonderful and talented entertainers and beer -- and you have to love the Mounties credo.

I did not enjoy my cold weather familiarization tours one little bit! I have not forgotten anything...LOL!

Florida, USA
September 25, 2008

Susan in Florida writes:

@ Brian, I researched the Convention on the Law of the Sea, bathymetrics, and seismic reflections. I now have a better idea and greater appreciation of what you are doing. I have a few questions for you. Does the fact that the United States has not yet ratified the treaty from the third UN Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS III) affect, in anyway, the outcome of your research/ findings in relation to the United States' rights in the Arctic? Or is it enough that we signed the treaty, even though it has been held up in the Senate for ratification? Also, with the seismic reflections operation, have any safety precautions been put into place concerning the marine life? Sorry for all the questions but I am finding your postings very informative and want to learn more. Look forward to your next entry.

New Mexico, USA
September 26, 2008

Eric in New Mexico writes:

Makes sense to be able to verify data in real time between both ships, and that mitigates any dipute of data at the political level.


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