Exploration of the Arctic has a rich history of international competition. In Canada, the post-1600 history focuses on the race between Samuel de Champlain of France and Henry Hudson of England to describe and exploit the northern half of North America, and to find a profitable passage to the Orient. Successive expeditions had varying degrees of success before the eventual triumph of Amundsen 400 years later. Suffice it to say that most of these expeditions were conducted with a spirit of competition.
In recent years, the prospect of a less hazardous passage through the Arctic along the less icebound northern coast of Russia stimulated interest in the reality of a shortened time of passage between the west Pacific, eastern North America and Europe. As that route supported more traffic and the extent of Arctic ice cover decreased, so has interest increased in navigating the Northwest Passage through Canada's Arctic Archipelago.
From the pioneering transit of the Manhattan through the Passage in 1969, to the transit by passenger vessels since 2016, a new era of Arctic transportation is upon us. I believe that this era heralds a significant change from one of competition in the Arctic to one of international cooperation and collaboration. Nowhere has this been more evident than in the geosciences and their contribution to tackling contemporary Arctic challenges.
Arctic coastal States are now in a position to prepare well substantiated submissions to the United Nations as to the extent of their continental shelves. This has been made possible by unparalleled collaboration between those countries, often in the development of technology to facilitate operations in deep water in remote areas under harsh Arctic conditions.
Those States are also facing severe impacts on their coastal habitats because of changing climatic conditions and human induced pollution. This necessitates long term continuous monitoring of conditions throughout the Arctic, requiring coordination in observationalprotocol and collective interpretation of the results incorporating traditional knowledge.
The stimulus for much of this work has been the multifaceted mineral resource potential of the Arctic. This requires the development of infrastructure in a manner that is sensitive to changing environmental conditions.
The geosciences have a large role to play in tackling each of these challenges.While citizens may hear through the media of conflict between Arctic States, often sensationalized and sometimes imagined, the reality is that international collaboration and cooperation has resulted in a tremendous increase in our collective understanding of the Arctic within only a few decades.