Canada hopes to increase its presence in the Arctic to monitor who is using the Northwest passage.

Canada tracks the Northwest Passage

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This summer military scientists from Defense Research and Development Canada are establishing a comprehensive maritime monitoring system off Devon Island to better understand who is using the progressively melting Northwest Passage.

The principal reason for monitoring the traffic in the Northwest Passage is environmental protection, said Robert Huebert, Associate Director of the Centre for Military and Strategic Studies at the University of Calgary.

"We need to be able to know who is up there, and we need to be able to respond when we, in fact, find someone up there is doing something we don't want," said Hubert.

Located in the Gascoyne Inlet on Devon Island, project Northern Watch includes underwater sensors, radar interception and infrared and laser imagers automatically sending information to satellites. The system will be able to detect traffic travelling below, on and above the brisk northern waters.

"Where a lot of the concerns over the waterways of the Arctic are the highest is over what type of requirements you have for shipping and ship safety, it all comes really down to the environment," said Hubert.

On top of environmental concerns, there are outstanding issues of border disputes, resource claims and Canadian security.

"We have complete control of the resources for 200 nautical miles [off our coasts] except when we have boundary disputes, and we have a fairly substantial one with the Americans," said Hubert.

Canada and the United States are in disagreement over an energy rich "wedge" of the Beaufort Sea, north of the Yukon. Canada believes that the maritime border should be an extension of the Alaska-Yukon border, while the Americans maintain that the border should extend perpendicularly from the coast, creating the disputed "wedge" area.

According to Defence Research and Development Canada the project will significantly increase Canadian presence in the region, with the aim of improving Arctic Command, Control, Computers, Communications, Intelligence, Surveillance and Reconnaissance. Northern Watch will also boost Canadian search and rescue capabilities in the passage.

"Where Canada's been hurting the most is in terms of its surveillance and enforcement capability," said Hubert. "The issue of whether or not we have sovereign control of the Northwest Passage really comes down to an issue of who gets to control shipping."

Nations and corporations are not the only groups using the passage. Recreational sailors are becoming more common in the region. In 2007, a Norwegian boat with ties to organized crime was caught in Canadian waters after failing to properly disclose all of their actions to Canadian authorities.

Though the Arctic region has by and large been peaceful, security is still a major concern for policy makers.

"The last issue, of course, is in terms of ultimately security," said Hubert. "There is redevelopment of military capacities in the north, and we need to know what any of our arctic neighbours, or anyone else for that matter, are doing in the arctic region."

Samsung Heavy Industries has developed revolutionary "ice breaking" ships for use in frozen waters. The ships feature a propeller that can rotate 360 degrees, allowing the ship to move backwards through formidable sections of ice when needed. As the stern of the ship does most of the ice breaking, the bow is designed for speed in clearer waters, making the ships more fuel efficient than conventional ice breakers.

"Even if climate change wasn't occurring, new technological developments would probably facilitate an intrigue and interest in the arctic," said Hubert. "So even if it wasn't melting we would still be seeing these new technologies that are allowing people to conduct shipping in and out of arctic waters."




The Artic seems to be warming up. The eastern Artic is experiencing a radical change in climate conditions, and unheard of high temperatures in that part of the earth’s surface.

The oceanographic observations have, however, been even more interesting. Ice conditions were exceptional. In fact, so little ice has never before been noted. An expedition all but established a record, sailing as far north as 81 deg 29’ in ice-free water. This is the farthest north ever reached with modern oceanographic apparatus.

The character of the waters of the great polar basin has heretofore been practically unknown. Dr Hoel reports that he traversed a section of the Gulf Stream at 81 deg north latitude and took soundings to a depth of 3100 meters. These show the Gulf Stream very warm, and it could be traced as surface current till beyond the 81st parallel. The warmth of the waters makes it probable that the melting ice conditions will continue for some time.

Later a section was taken of the Gulf Stream off Bear Island and off the Isfjord, as well as a section of the cold current that comes down along the west coast of Spitzbergen off the south cape.

In connection with Dr. Howl’s report, it is of interest to note the unusually warm summer in Artic Norway and the observations of Capt. Martin Ingebrigstsen, who has sailed the eastern Artic for 54 years.
He Says that he first noted warmer conditions 4 years earlier and since that time it has steadily gotten warmer and that today the Artic of that region is not recognizable as the same region.

Many old landmarks are so changed as to be unrecognizable. Where formerly great masses of ice were found there are now often moraines, accumulations of earth and stones. At many points where glaciers formerly extended far into the sea they have entirely disappeared.

The change in temperature, says Captain Ingebrigtsen, has also brought about great change in the flora and fauna of the Artic. This summer he looked for white fish in Spitzbergen waters. Formerly great shoals of them were found there. This year he saw none, although he visited all the old fishing grounds.

There were few seal in Spitzbergen waters this year, the sightings being far under average. This, however, did not surprise the captain. He pointed out that formerly the waters about Spitzbergen held and even summer temperatures of about 3deg C; this year recorded temperatures up to 15deg C and last winter the ocean did not freeze over, even on the north coast of Spitzbergen.

With the disappearance of white fish and seal has come other life in these waters. This year herring in great shoals were found along the west coast of Spitzbergen, all the way from the fry to the veritable great herring. Shoals of smelt were met with.

Source: The Changing Arctic, by George Nicolas Ifft, October 10th, 1922