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Robot subs to help Canada probe Arctic waters

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Robot subs to help Canada probe Arctic waters

Δημοσίευση  Admin Την / Το Κυρ Νοε 09, 2008 8:29 am

The Canadian government has commissioned a pair of miniature submarines -- torpedo-shaped, robotic submersibles -- to probe two contentious underwater mountain chains in the Arctic Ocean, part of the country's quest to secure sovereignty and potential oil riches in a Europe-sized swath of the polar seabed.

The twin Autonomous Underwater Vehicles are being built by Vancouver-based International Submarine Engineering Ltd. in a $4-million deal with Natural Resources Canada, Defence Research and Development Canada and other federal agencies.

The submersibles, scheduled to be launched in 2010, would be sent on a series of 400-kilometre missions north and west of Ellesmere Island, Canada's northernmost land mass and the country's gateway to the open Arctic Ocean -- the scene of an international power struggle over undersea territory and petroleum resources believed to be worth trillions of dollars.

Federal scientists have been gathering evidence in recent years in support of a Canadian submission due in 2013 under the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea, which will ultimately determine how much of the Arctic sea floor each of the five polar nations -- Canada, Russia, the U.S., Denmark and Norway -- will control.

The key criteria for determining sea floor extensions to Canada's continental shelf is whether science confirms geological links between the country's northern coastline or High Arctic islands and two key underwater mountain ranges -- the Alpha and Lomonosov ridges.

In early October, Canada and the U.S. completed a joint seabed-mapping mission in the Beaufort Sea, a region widely seen as the top prize in the Arctic oil rush. But like other research in support of Canada's UNCLOS submission, the Beaufort Sea project involved icebreakers towing survey equipment along the surface of the water to record data about the shape and structure of the ocean bottom.

But the bright yellow, six-metre-long, 1,800-kilogram submersibles -- being designed to cruise a long, pre-programmed course above the Arctic's underwater mountains -- would allow Canadian scientists to gain more detailed information about the geology of the polar seabed.

Jacob Verhoef, the chief federal scientist responsible for Canada's Arctic mapping mission, said yesterday the AUVs being built will make it much easier to conduct seabed surveying in the sometimes harsh polar conditions that can buffet ships, ground helicopters and create long delays in data collection.

"This is absolutely world-leading stuff," said David Hopkin, a leading researcher with Defence Research and Development's Halifax office.

But he added that "there is a daunting feeling" among scientists developing the AUVs to help Canada claim underwater Arctic territory.

"The pressure is seriously on," he said.

ISE project manager Tristan Crees told Canwest News Service the company has produced similar AUVs -- including a research submersible used by Memorial University of Newfoundland -- but that the two being built for the Arctic mapping project are designed for depths of up to 5,000 metres and will have other features tailored to long polar treks.

http://www.nationalpost.com/news/canada/story.html?id=941539
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