Researchers to set sail from Nova Scotia for the North Pole

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Researchers to set sail from Nova Scotia for the North Pole

The Arctic Ocean is the world's smallest ocean, but it's also the least understood.

A team of researchers setting out from Nova Scotia Friday is hoping to augment that understanding during a survey trip that will include six weeks in the Arctic and an effort to finalize Canada's submission for sovereignty.

A team of researchers from the government, Memorial University and the University of New Hampshire are travelling on Canadian Coast Guard Ship Louis S. St-Laurent bound for Norway. When it arrives on Aug. 9, the ship will take on more crew and supplies before heading for the North Pole along with a Swedish icebreaker.

From Canada to Norway researchers will do seabed mapping as part of a collaboration with the United States and the European Union. The 47 days in the Arctic will be to collect data in the Canada Basin in an effort to define the outer limits of the continental shelf.

With only 12 per cent of the world's ocean floors mapped, Paola Travaglini, hydrographer-in-charge with the Canadian Hydrographic Service, said every trip is an opportunity to discover new things.

This year's trip will parallel the line followed last year, where there were some interesting findings.

"We mapped five volcanoes in an area, which we hope to build on again this year," said Travaglini, adding that this year's trip will include technology that produces higher resolution images than ever before.

"So we're actually mapping detail more than we've had before ... It's quite an opportunity to be able to venture north. It's a rare opportunity and well worth the effort because of that."

Mary-Lynn Dickson, director of the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Seas, said all the information they record is exciting because it's new.

"No one has ever seen that data before. No one has ever seen that sediment below the seabed before that's thousands of years old."

Lots of preparation

There are practical challenges to a mission to the North Pole.

Capt. Anthony Potts, one of the ship's two commanding officers, said planning started back in November and continued right up to the day the ship sets sail.

The ship's other commanding officer, Capt. Wayne Duffett, said aside from the vast amounts of ice and limited water, the remoteness of the North Pole is the biggest challenge. The crew must worry about the logistics of how to handle a serious situation, such as an accident, should one occur.

There is also the matter of how to ward off cabin fever.

Yoga, bingo and more

There are limited communications onboard but everyone will have a personal email address to be able to communicate with home. Potts said the crew is also doing its part to keep people entertained.

"We have some very good crew members who have planned a lot of recreational activities, from simple things like bingo night to photo contests. We're probably going to have yoga contests."

Fisheries Minister Dominic LeBlanc said the trip will give a better understanding of the oceans and lead to better decision-making and policy development by government. It will also help boost Canada's case for Arctic sovereignty as it finalizes its presentation on the matter, he said.

Data from this and past trips will go into the country's submission to the Commission on the Limits of the Continental Shelf in 2018.

"It has to be based on something more than political bluster," said LeBlanc.

"It's got to be based on science, it's got to be based on international law and those two concepts come together beautifully in this mission that begins [Friday]."