Canada extends continental shelf claim, increasing overlaps with Russia in Arctic

A map of Canada’s 2022 addendum to its continental shelf claim filed on Dec. 19.
(Government of Canada)

Canada filed an addendum on Monday to extend its continental shelf in the Arctic, increasing significantly its overlaps with claims by Russia.

The addition is to Canada’s 2019 partial submission that claimed approximately 1.2 million square kilometres of the Arctic Ocean seabed and subsoil.

“This addendum to that partial submission regarding the outer limits of the continental shelf in respect of the Arctic Ocean covers an additional area of continental shelf extending beyond the limits provided for in that partial submission, encompassing the full length of the Central Arctic Plateau,” the government said in the Dec.19 document filed with the U.N.’s Commission on the Limits of the Continental Shelf.

The United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS) gives coastal states a 200 nautical mile continental shelf claim that allows countries the right to exploit resources in the seabed and subsoil of their respective areas. 

The activities could be anything from deep seabed mining and fishing, to oil and gas exploration.

Canada has been working on gathering data to support its claims in the Arctic and Atlantic Oceans since 2003. But UNCLOS allows continental shelves to be extended if a state has scientific data to prove that particular underwater geological or geographical features are actually extensions of their continental shelves.

Canada's 2019 submission
A map of Canada’s 2019 partial submission to the U.N.’s Commission on the Limits of the Continental Shelf. The red line marks the outer limits of Canada’s continental shelf, while the green line marks the outer extent of Canada’s submission. (Government of Canada)

The Lomonosov Ridge is a kind of underwater mountain chain that extends across the seafloor of the Arctic Ocean and is something that Canada, Russia and Denmark all claim is an extension of their respective continental shelves.

“Regular consultations with Russia” through process

Canada’s new filing comes at a time of high tension between Russia and the West.

In March, the seven western states on the Arctic Council paused their participation in the body’s work in protest against Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, saying the war undermined many of the founding principals of the forum, which include sovereignty and territorial integrity based on international law. 

In June, Canada, Finland, Iceland, Denmark, Norway, Sweden and the United States said they’d resume limited council work in areas that did not include Russia.

Global Affairs Canada was not able to immediately reply to a request for comment on Thursday concerning Canada’s new Arctic claims and its interactions with Russia during the process.

But in the addendum document, Canada says it had regular consultations with Russia, as it did with Denmark and the United States, countries with which Ottawa also has overlapping claims.

“During the preparation of this submission, regular consultations between Canada and the Russian Federation revealed overlaps in their respective continental shelves in the Arctic Ocean,” the addendum said.

“Through an exchange of letters, Canada and the Russian Federation reached an understanding that: When one State makes a submission to the Commission that includes the Arctic Ocean, the other State will promptly transmit a diplomatic note to the Secretary-General of the United Nations.”

A map from Canada’s 2019 UNCLOS submission showing the Lomonosov and Alpha Ridges. Canada, Russia and Denmark all claim the feature as an extension of their respective continental shelves.(Government of Canada)

In 2021, Russia filed a claim with the U.N.’s Commission on the Limits of the Continental Shelf that goes up to Canada’s exclusive economic zone in the Arctic.

Years away from recommendations 

It takes the commission several years to study the scientific merits of claims filed.

Afterwards, countries use the commission’s recommendations to negotiate final boundaries between themselves.

Canada ratified UNCLOS in 2013.

Write to Eilis Quinn at Eilis.Quinn(at)

Related stories from around the North:

Canada: Inuit leaders welcome Canada, Denmark agreement on Arctic island, Eye on the Arctic

Russia: ‘You cannot claim any more:’ Russia seeks bigger piece of Arctic, The Canadian Press

Eilís Quinn, Eye on the Arctic

Eilís Quinn is an award-winning journalist and manages Radio Canada International’s Eye on the Arctic news cooperation project. Eilís has reported from the Arctic regions of all eight circumpolar countries and has produced numerous documentary and multimedia series about climate change and the issues facing Indigenous peoples in the North.

Her investigative report "Death in the Arctic: A community grieves, a father fights for change," about the murder of Robert Adams, a 19-year-old Inuk man from Arctic Quebec, received the silver medal for “Best Investigative Article or Series” at the 2019 Canadian Online Publishing Awards. The project also received an honourable mention for excellence in reporting on trauma at the 2019 Dart Awards in New York City.

Her report “The Arctic Railway: Building a future or destroying a culture?” on the impact a multi-billion euro infrastructure project would have on Indigenous communities in Arctic Europe was a finalist at the 2019 Canadian Association of Journalists award in the online investigative category.

Her multimedia project on the health challenges in the Canadian Arctic, "Bridging the Divide," was a finalist at the 2012 Webby Awards.

Her work on climate change in the Arctic has also been featured on the TV science program Découverte, as well as Le Téléjournal, the French-Language CBC’s flagship news cast.

Eilís has worked for media organizations in Canada and the United States and as a TV host for the Discovery/BBC Worldwide series "Best in China."

One thought on “Canada extends continental shelf claim, increasing overlaps with Russia in Arctic

  • Monday, December 26, 2022 at 12:18

    Thank you for this timely update. It is most helpful to understanding the Arctic claims.

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