Atlas update sheds new light on Arctic: 'There's a lot we don’t know'
Published Monday, December 22, 2014 9:16AM EST
The Royal Canadian Geographical Society has published its first major update to the “Atlas of Canada” in 10 years, offering the latest snapshot of a country that has yet to be fully explored.
Society CEO John Geiger says the Canadian Arctic is still shrouded in mystery for geographers, who have only mapped about 10 per cent of its waterways. That’s still more than geographers knew 10 years ago, and those discoveries inform the latest edition of the “Atlas of Canada,” which is in stores now.
“We don’t know what lies beneath the ocean in Arctic Canada,” Geiger told CTV’s Canada AM on Monday. “There’s a lot that we don’t know.”
Geiger said he was in the Arctic last summer on a mapping expedition to chart Canadian routes through the oft-disputed territory.
“We all identify ourselves as a Northern people,” Geiger said. “But really, what’s striking is so few Canadians actually visit places like the Arctic.”
Arctic sovereignty remains a contentious issue for Canada on the world stage. Global warming is opening up new shipping routes through Arctic waters, but Canada must contend with Arctic neighbours like Russia and Denmark for the rights to those shipping routes. The area is also thought to contain plentiful oil, natural gas and fishing resources.
A number of UN-mediated treaties, trade deals and agreements have been hammered out to divide up the region, but Denmark recently threw a wrench in the works by laying claim to waters near the North Pole.
The Danes claimed earlier this month that their country is connected to the North Pole by a “continental shelf,” which they say gives them rights to the surrounding waters.
Canada now faces difficult negotiations to divvy up the North, but further mapping expeditions will help clarify the issue.
The actual mapping of the Arctic floor likely won’t be complete for another 10 or 15 years, but scientific expeditions continue to turn up new wonders.
Scientists on a 2010 Arctic expedition discovered the remains of an ancient, never-before-seen breed of mollusk while mapping the ocean floor.
Earlier this year, archaeologists found the wrecked HMS Erebus at the bottom of the Arctic Ocean. The vessel was one of two Franklin Expedition ships that were lost on a search for the Northwest Passage in 1845.
Researchers' knowledge of the Arctic is better now than it was in 1845, but it’s still far from complete.
“The history of mapping is really the history of our country,” Geiger said.
Geiger acknowledged that most people use Google Maps or GPS devices to find their way around now, but the Atlas of Canada offers unique content and context that readers won’t find elsewhere.
“It’s not just maps,” he said. “They are works of art, and you’re understanding your country.”
Geiger emphasized the value of the atlas as a tactile experience, a work of art and a lasting snapshot of the ongoing effort to fully explore our vast country.
“The world changes, the country changes, but this is a glimpse of Canada at this moment in its evolution,” he said.