Canada’s continental shelf is the shallow continuation of our land mass, ending far offshore where it transitions to the deep ocean floor.
In Canada’s Atlantic and Arctic Oceans, the outer limit of this shelf lies beyond the 200 nautical mile Exclusive Economic Zone (or EEZ), giving Canada an ‘extended continental shelf’.
The United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea, or UNCLOS, is an international treaty that sets out the legal framework for ocean activities and boundaries.
UNCLOS confirms that coastal states have sovereign rights over the seabed and subsoil beyond their 200 nautical mile EEZ, on the extended continental shelf as a natural continuation of their land territory.
UNCLOS sets out a scientific definition of this area, and a procedure to define and obtain international recognition of its outer limits.
In 2003, the Government of Canada set out to collect the scientific evidence needed to define our extended continental shelf.
But how do we measure and define land that is hidden deep under water or ice?
Bathymetric surveys use multibeam sonar to create detailed, 3D images and help us to measure the water depth and shape of the seafloor.
This information is combined with scientific data about the physical characteristics of the seabed and sub-sea floor, gathered through geophysical and geological studies.
All of the data is analysed to determine the precise outer limit of Canada’s extended continental shelf, and provides the scientific evidence needed for Canada’s submission under UNCLOS.
Due to the number of countries that have made submissions, it will take several years before the experts at the Commission on the Limits of the Continental Shelf are able to examine Canada’s submissions.
At the end of this process, the map of Canada could look very different than it does today.
Recognition of Canada’s last international boundaries will promote Canadian sovereignty, increase access to natural resources, and benefit the economy.