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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Canada to Build Arctic Port and Base

ReutersTwo Arctic Rangers looking on as Harper makes his announcement Friday in the Arctic port of Nanisivik, Nunavut.
TORONTO -- Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper announced plans Saturday for an army training center and a deep-water port to assert his country's sovereignty over the Arctic region, while Denmark said it was staking its own claim with a scientific expedition.

The United States, meanwhile, began an expedition Friday toward the Arctic to map the sea floor off Alaska, but a scientist linked to the project denied that the United States was actively joining the Arctic competition.

The race to secure subsurface rights to the Arctic seabed heated up earlier this month when Russia sent two small submarines to plant a tiny national flag at the North Pole last week. The United States and Norway also have competing claims in the vast Arctic region, where a U.S. study suggests as much as 25 percent of the world's undiscovered oil and gas could be hidden.

Harper's three-day trip to the Canadian Arctic had been planned for months, but took on added significance with the Russian flag planting, which Canada and the United States promptly dismissed as legally meaningless.

Harper, speaking from the territory of Nunavut, said the new military installations would help back up Canada's claim to the waters and natural resources of the Northwest Passage, which runs below the North Pole from the Atlantic to the Pacific through the Arctic archipelago.

The United States has said the passage is neutral territory.

Resolute Bay, almost 600 kilometers south of the North Pole, will be home to a new, army training center for cold-weather fighting. The new deep-sea port will be built for navy and civilian purposes on the north end of Baffin Island.

The U.S. project has been in the works and is not an effort to lay claims, said Larry Mayer, director of the Center for Coastal and Ocean Mapping at the University of New Hampshire.

Russian media have speculated that Healy's mission signals the United States is actively joining the competition for Arctic resources, but the trip's scientists said there was no political component to the expedition. The site of the expedition is not near any Russian claims.

"We're basically just doing science," said Mayer. "We've had this trip planned for months, and it has nothing to do with the Russians planting their flag."

Danish scientists, meanwhile, embarked Sunday on a month-long expedition seeking evidence that the Lomonosov Ridge, a 1,995-kilometer underwater mountain range, is attached to the Danish territory of Greenland, making it a geological extension of the Arctic island.

Canada and Russia also claim the ridge.

"The preliminary investigations done so far are very promising," Helge Sander, Denmark's minister of science, technology and innovation, told Denmark's TV2 on Thursday. "There are things suggesting that Denmark could be given the North Pole."

The Danes set off from Norway's remote Arctic islands of Svalbard aboard the Swedish icebreaker Oden, which will be assisted by a Russian nuclear icebreaker to plow through ice as thick as 5 meters in the area north of Greenland.

Moscow claims the Lomonosov Ridge is an extension of the Eurasian continent, and therefore part of Russia's continental shelf under international law. Russian researchers plan to use last week's dive to help map the ridge.