Anchorage: US and Canadian scientists are headed far north on a joint mission to map the still mysterious floor of the Arctic Ocean, as questions of sovereignty and mineral rights swirl around the region.
The five-week mission, the third joint expedition in as many years, employs two powerful icebreakers from the nations` Coast Guard fleets.
Both are scheduled to depart Monday, from ports in Alaska and Canada`s Nunavut territory respectively, for a rendezvous point at sea, said the US Geological Survey, a participating agency.
The program seeks to help both nations determine how far north they may extend their sovereignty, a potentially lucrative right in an era of melting Arctic sea ice and worldwide demand for the oil, natural gas and other minerals believed to lie beneath the seafloor.
Under the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea, coastal nations have sovereignty out to 200 nautical miles from their shorelines, including rights to the minerals and natural resources there, the USGS says.
If the nations can prove there is an extended underwater continental shelf, they may be able to claim sovereignty beyond 200 nautical miles.
The Arctic Ocean`s international lure was highlighted in 2007 when explorers from Russia -- which has made disputed sovereignty claims in the region -- traveled by mini-submarine to plant a Russian flag on the North Pole seabed, about 14,000 feet underwater.
New this year for the US-Canadian mission will be the first joint seabed surveys in an area of the Beaufort Sea where the two countries have competing sovereignty claims. They have yet to agree on a maritime border in the region.