Friday, January 28, 2011

Canada Arctic Council creates Arctic rescue plan

Gauntlet News - Arctic Council creates rescue plan

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Story date: Thursday, January 27, 2011
A recent Arctic Council agreement has ratcheted up Canada's commitment to international cooperation for search and rescue efforts in its northern territories. While the legally binding agreement will not be signed until the next Council's ministerial meeting May 12, coordination has already begun between effected national Coast Guards.

The December 2010 agreement will work to improve arctic search and rescue efforts on two levels. University of Calgary political science associate professor and associate director of the centre for military and strategic studies Robert Huebert said the agreement will put in place necessary mechanisms required for assistance in the arctic, across borders, helping to prevent any delays in emergency situations and effectively cutting through "the bureaucratic red tape."

The agreement also coordinates search and rescue equipment by pooling resources.

"If something happens in the high north and we don't have enough equipment nearby and the Russians happen to have an icebreaker, we've got everything in place so that they can immediately go to them in the first place," said Huebert.

This is particularly important from a Canadian standpoint, explained Huebert, as our icebreaker fleet is aging considerably and the four Twin Otter aircraft dedicated to arctic search and rescue are stationed in Yellowknife. Having international resources in place would shorten response time if Canadian teams are unable to respond.

The agreement is a landmark for the young Arctic Council, formed in 1996 and consisting of Canada, the United States, Russia, Finland, Denmark, Iceland, Norway and Sweden. Up to this point, the council was primarily used for analytical and scientific examination, a role Huebert said it filled quite nicely by providing scientific analysis of climate change in the arctic.

This agreement marks the first time the council has waded into policy making waters, a function that nations such as the United States and Russia initially opposed during the council's inception. Suddenly the Arctic Council is being used as a venue to negotiate military led search and rescue efforts.

"The footnote makes it very clear, Arctic Council shall not consider security issues," said Huebert. "And yet here we are having an agreement led by the Americans and Russians."

This event suggests the potential for future security agreements and a legitimizing process for the Arctic Council.

"It will be the first step towards the Arctic Council becoming more of a governing body for the whole region" explained former Liberal MP and professor emeritus at Trent University Peter Adams.

How this will ultimately affect Canada's attempts to assert sovereignty in the north remains to be seen.

"Any international agreement is actually using sovereignty to surrender sovereignty," explained Huebert. "You're surrendering sovereignty for what you really want, which is the proper usage of the arctic."

In the event that an emergency was to occur in Canada's arctic, the agreement makes it much easier for Canada to turn to its neighbours for help. By surrendering some authority over to an international cooperation such as the Arctic Council, Canada may be able to strive towards future development of arctic resources by knowing it has the resources to provide safety to workers in the area.

"As the arctic melts, as we discover more resources . . . you're gonna see increased gold mining throughout the Northwest Territories, probably increased diamond mining and of course the ever present oil and gas," Huebert said.

However controlling such a large tract of this resource rich region gives Canada considerable leverage if the Council were to become a policy-making body. As Adams explained, the Arctic is simply too big and complicated a region for any one nation to deal with alone and a cooperative venture is the only way.

"Working with these others, you do realize, that between Russia and the United States we are in an incredibly strong brokering position," Adams said.

Arctic developments are becoming more pressing to the Canadian government in recent years as global warming increases use of the formerly ice-covered Northwest Passage. A University of Toronto international survey released Jan. 25 showed over 40 per cent of Canadians thought the country should "pursue a firm line in defending its sections" of the Arctic.

"We as a sovereign state are entitled to our resources as much as anyone else is," explained Mike Mcleod, a fourth-year international relations major.

"We need to take all the steps necessary to especially ensure that somebody doesn't attain our resources ahead of us."

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Arctic Rescue

A team of University of New Brunswick researchers played a vital role in the recent rescue of a cruise ship stranded in the Arctic Ocean. The researchers, part of UNB's Ocean Mapping Group, helped map a safe course for the CCGS Amundsen, a Canadian research icebreaker that can also serve as a rescue vessel. The Amundsen was the closest vessel to the MV Clipper Adventurer, which ran aground last Friday on a voyage from Port Epworth to Kugluktuk, Nunavut.

The Stranded Clipper AdventureThe research ship had to steam more than 500 kilometres from the Beaufort Sea to reach the MV Clipper Adventurer in the Coronation Gulf. According to UNB professor John Hughes Clarke, head of the university's Ocean MappingGroup, the cruise ship effectively ran into an underwater cliff and had they been just a few ship lengths to the east or west they would have missed it.

The UNB researchers had to make sure that the Amundsen didn't meet the same fate. UNB's Doug Cartwright and Ian Church, who are leading the survey work on the Amundsen, used the ship's multi-beam sonar system to carefully survey the seabed along the approach to the stricken vessel. WhenAmundsen got closer to the stranded cruise ship, the researchers used a smaller multibeam sonar system on the research ship's barge to safely guide the vessel.

Church also did a three-dimensional survey of the area immediately around the grounded cruise ship using the barge.

The Canadian Arctic Archipelago, says Hughes Clarke, remains poorly charted. While there are safe shipping lanes in the area, receding ice in recent years has made it possible for ships to venture into parts of the Arctic that were never before accessible by water. Many cruise ships are heading into riskier areas, says Hughes Clarke. "The problem is cruise ships want to go off the safe shipping lanes where there is more dramatic topography or stunning wildlife," he says.

The only surveys done in many of those areas were from a helicopter that would land on the ice every six kilometers or so to collect data, mostly about the depth of the water. The area that the cruise line went aground in, most of the surveys were done by helicopter and according to Clarke, the measurements are accurate, to a point. "It's accurate, but imagine taking an elevation measurement in Fredericton and then in New Maryland and not notice the crest of the hill between the two." Hughes Clarke says that contrary to earlier media reports, the rock that the cruise ship ran aground on was a known hazard. The hazard had been reported in a Coast Guard notice to shipping in 2007, he says.
The surveys done by the UNB researchers are now being used by other Coast Guard ships assisting with the recovery of the cruise ship.

There are five UNB staff and nine graduate students within the Ocean MappingGroup. Roughly half of the students are Canadian, while others come from abroad including naval officers from Spain, Portugal, Brazil and Taiwan.

As engineers, the UNB contingent within the ArcticNet consortium is responsible for designing and running all the seabed surveying as well as developing new software and methods for advancing the technology.

The Ocean Mapping Group has processed and handed over all survey information pertaining to the grounding to the Canadian Hydrographic Service, who will be conducting additional surveys.
The Amundsen is currently underway back to the Beaufort Sea where she will be resuming her scheduled scientific seabed survey operations, says Hughes Clarke. It's important work, for shipping safety and for helping other industries such as the energy sector, that are exploring safe areas of the arctic that could be important for accessing oil and gas reserves. "It's exciting work. We're operating in areas that have never been ice free before."

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