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Feds to build Arctic research centre in Norway

Arctic sovereignty isn't all about armed icebreakers and ranger patrols; sometimes it just takes a little persuasion.

Arctic sovereignty isn’t all about armed icebreakers and ranger patrols; sometimes it just takes a little persuasion.

That’s why Canada will defend its North by bankrolling a Norway-based research institute, announced foreign affairs minister Lawrence Cannon last Wednesday at an Arctic Council meeting in Tromso, Norway.

Federal officials are calling the Oslo-based research centre a focal point of Canadian Arctic foreign policy.

It’s being billed as a place where officials can push Canadian interests, schmooze with allies and stay atop delicate Arctic politics.

“Through our robust Arctic foreign policy we are affirming our leadership, stewardship and ownership in the region,” said Cannon.

It could also help school “insensitive” Europeans on the interests of Arctic peoples—such as the EU ban on imported seal products.

Arctic nations are scrambling to extend their boundary claims before a 2013 UN deadline.

Norway’s claims aren’t an issue, but Canada could find itself bumping up against Denmark, Russia and the United States.

Two weeks ago, Norway was the first to submit its Arctic claims to the UN—claiming an area three times the size of mainland Norway.

Unlike Russia, the United States, Denmark and Canada, Norway is not claiming the North Pole.

“In the discussion about who owns the North Pole—it’s definitely not us,” Norwegian Foreign Minister Jonas Gahr Stoere told Reuters.

By 2013, scientists predict all Arctic summer sea ice could be gone.

“There’s a lot at stake, and really, a lot of unexplored ground because of the ice—so if that’s gone, it opens it up,” said Clint Sawicki, manager of Yukon College’s Northern Research Institute.

Up to a quarter of the world’s oil supply could lie hidden beneath the Beaufort Sea, he added.

Canadian research vessels are already combing the Arctic sea floor, attempting to determine the range of undersea silt deposited by the Mackenzie River.

Those hundreds of metres of hardened muck could provide the key to a convincing land claim.

“They’re going to build a high Arctic research centre in Canada too, supposedly,” said Sawicki.

A $2-million study is already underway to fix a location in one of three coastal northern communities. Whichever community “wins” will likely face an influx of scientists and equipment.

In early April, Ottawa announced recipients for an $85-million Arctic Research Infrastructure Fund.

Researchers across the Canadian North received cheques to keep tabs on everything from climate change to polar bears to migratory birds.

Yukon College received $2,500,000 to beef up its Northern research capabilities.

The Kluane Lake research station got more than $3 million.

Arctic researchers—wherever they may be—face a particularly crowded research schedule, said Sawicki.

Melting ice packs mean vanishing coastlines, imposing innumerable safety concerns.

Warming temperatures are leaving northern peoples stripped of traditional food sources.

If shipping lanes open up, the Arctic Ocean will be subjected to never-before-seen contaminants.

“There’s a ton of stuff to be concerned about when the ice is going to be not permanent,” said Sawicki.

An Oslo-based Canadian institute could be seen as an important hands-across-the-water gesture, especially given the cross-border requirements of Arctic research, said Sawicki.

“There is a need to work together,” he said.

Contact Tristin Hopper at