In cooperation with the 2015 High North Dialogue we conduct a series of podcast interviews with some of the speakers and participants of the conference as well as other Arctic voices. This project is a collaboration between the University of Nordland’s High North Center and The Arctic Institute. The podcasts will be available on iTunes via The Arctic Institute, as well as on the High North Dialogue Website.
In our 4th podcast for the High North Dialogue 2015 we talked with Christian Marcussen who is project leader of the Greenland part of the Continental Shelf Project of the Kingdom of Denmark.
Christian Marcussen was appointed to his present position when the Danish UNCLOS project started in 2003 and has worked at the Geological Survey for Denmark and Greenland for more than 25 years mainly with seismic data acquisition, processing and interpretation both onshore and offshore Greenland.
In December 2014, the Kingdom of Denmark submitted its territorial claim of almost 900,000 square kilometres in the Arctic Ocean, including most of the Lomonosov Ridge and the geographic North Pole. In order to get a more thorough understanding of the process and the thoughts behind this comprehensive project, we asked Marcussen to share his knowledge with us.
Marcussen told us how the sometimes challenging data collection could not have been done without help from fellow Arctic neighbours – Sweden, Russia and Canada in particular – and stressed that the project has been conducted with respect to international law as agreed by the five littoral states in Ilulissat in 2008. By referring to this agreement and by telling that the recent claim is based on the same concept and methodology as past successful claims, Marcussen rejected the critique by Alexander Sergunin’s stated in our 3rd podcast. Marcussen underlined that he is, thus, quite confident that the CLCS will approve the Kingdom of Denmark’s claim.
Though the geographic North Pole is placed 4,300 metres below sea level in an inhospitable, ice covered area with no reported natural resources in the seabed, Marcussen had no doubt that the project has been worth the effort. According to Marcussen it is “inherent for all coastal states that they try to exploit the possibilities of extending their continental shelves beyond 200 nautical miles” and, as he said, “you never know what resources there might be a 100 years from now”.
Marc Jacobsen: Hello and welcome to this 4th podcast for the High North Dialogue 2015, a collaboration of the University of Nordland, the University’s High North Centre for Business and Governance, and The Arctic Institute. We are speaking with attendees and speakers about their work, the High North Dialogue and the conference’s theme of security and business in the Arctic. Thanks for joining us. I am Marc Jacobsen.
Today we are talking with Christian Marcussen, who is project leader of the Greenland part of the Continental Shelf Project of the Kingdom of Denmark. After completing his M.Sc. in geophysics at the University of Aarhus (Denmark) he has worked at the Geological Survey for Denmark and Greenland for more than 25 years mainly with seismic data acquisition, processing and interpretation both onshore and offshore Greenland. He was appointed to his present position when the Danish UNCLOS project started in 2003.
Hi Christian. Thanks for joining us today
Christian Marcussen: Hi Marc, thanks for calling me and I look forward to our interview.
Marc Jacobsen: Could you please start by telling us about your work in connection to the Kingdom of Denmark’s continental shelf project? Why was this comprehensive project initiated and how has it been conducted – scientifically as well as practically?
Christian Marcussen: Of course the framework for our work has been UNCLOS article 76, which gives coastal state the possibility of extending its continental shelf beyond 200 nautical miles. The project was initiated in 2003 and of course the main objectives of the project were to identify potential areas in the Kingdom of Denmark where the continental shelf can be extended beyond 200 nautical miles. We have identified five potential claim areas, two around the Faroe Islands and three around Greenland. The next objective of the project has been to obtain the necessary database to document submission to the Commission on the Limits of the Continental Shelf, so that is the main objective of the continental shelf project. So the status right now at the end of 2014, the project has submitted five partial submissions to the Commission on the Limits of the Continental Shelf, CLCS. One in the area north of the Faroe Islands (NFM), where the CLCS made its recommendations public available and endorsing the entire area claimed by the government of Denmark together with the government of the Faroes. And there is an area south of the Faroe Islands (SFM) and then, as I said, three areas around Greenland: south of Greenland (SGM), north-east of Greenland (NEGM) and lastly in December a submission regarding the Arctic Ocean was send to the CLCS (NGM).
Marc Jacobsen: And how have you, in practice, collected data for the project?
Christian Marcussen: In most of the areas we have used standard methods to require the necessary data. Its mainly bathymetric and seismic data we have acquired because according to the provisions of article 76, those are the most important to document the claim. However, in the Arctic Ocean it has been somewhat of a challenge, because this area north of Greenland is still ice covered, and this ice cover is permanent and ice thickness are up to 3-4 metres and with pressure ridges, which are up to 20 metres thick, so this is really a challenge. So in order to acquire the necessary data in that area we had to develop a concept that is based, first of all, on good cooperation with other nations – first of all Canada and Sweden – and then also we have developed some new methods to acquire the data. So the concept is, in very few words, we have worked on the ice close to the coast to acquire some data, bathymetric and seismic data, and then we have used the Swedish icebreaker Oden in the central part of the Arctic Ocean. And even one year this icebreaker was supported by a Russian nuclear icebreaker. So this has been quite a challenge, but during the three expeditions with the Swedish icebreaker Oden and other expeditions on the ice, I think we have acquired the necessary data in that area to document our submission.
Marc Jacobsen: According to some Danish newspaper articles (e.g.: www.information.dk/509667), the original plan was to claim approximately 150,000 square kilometres North of Greenland. In the spring of 2014 it was extended to at least 400,000 square kilometres, but ultimately it ended up being more than the double. What happened during this process that led you to conclude that the Kingdom of Denmark can justify a claim of almost 900,000 square kilometres – including the majority of the Lomonosov Ridge and the North Pole?
Christian Marcussen: Maybe I should just add a few facts to your previous question, sorry. I would just mention that the project has a total budget of 330 million Danish Kroner, which equals 44 million Euros, from 2003 to 2014. Approximately one third was used for data acquisition in the Arctic Ocean, one third for data acquisition in the remaining four areas and one third to compile the data, to do the interpretation and of course also to finalize the submissions. We have a website which is www.a76.dk where a lot of information is available for the public describing both the activities within the project, but also some general information on UNCLOS. Now to go back to your last question, I can comment that unfortunately there is some misunderstanding especially related to the first figure, the 150,000 square kilometres. This figure originates from a desktop study eight years ago, which was based on public available data and, last but not least, limited by unofficial median lines. So this is just an unofficial number, and the numbers you mentioned have never been in any way official numbers, so they don’t describe an official statement regarding the size of the submission area in the Arctic Ocean. And I would like to add that the recent submission in the Arctic Ocean by the Kingdom of Denmark is based on the same concept as used for the other four submission areas and that is to exploit the possibilities of Article 76 in UNCLOS to its full extent provided the necessary documentation is available. And I have to add that all five Partial Submissions are based on measured data – either acquired by the Project or publicly available data.
Marc Jacobsen: In the last podcast we interviewed Professor Alexander Sergunin from St. Petersburg State University who said: “I guess the chance for the approval of the Danish application is not very good, not very high. My impression is that Denmark repeats the same mistakes like Russia did in 2001, so I mean the legal experts said that the chances are not very good”. What is your reaction to Mr. Sergunin’s statement? And how do you assess the Kingdom of Denmark’s chances to get the application approved?
Christian Marcussen: Let me answer the question this way: As previously mentioned the recent submission is the latest of five submissions of the Kingdom of Denmark. Since the Continental Shelf Project was launched in 2003 a lot of experience regarding extended continental shelf issues has been gained within the project. Please also remember that the CLCS adopted recommendations regarding the Partial Submission north of the Faroe Islands in March of 2014 – last year. The Commission agreed with the determination of the fixed points establishing the outer limits of the continental shelf north of the Faroe Islands as originally listed in the submission. That means, that the Commission in general has agreed to the concept and the methodology used for this area. And I can tell you that the same concept and methodology has been applied to the other four areas and therefore also to the submission in the Arctic Ocean. We have studied the CLCS recommendations regarding the 2001 submission by the Russian Federation in the Arctic Ocean very carefully. We are furthermore fully aware of the requirements regarding a submission as stated in the Scientific and Technical Guidelines of the CLCS. And let me stress again that all points delineating the Outer Limits of the Northern Continental Shelf of Greenland as shown in the Executive Summary are based on measured data. We now have to wait for examination of this Partial Submission in the Arctic Ocean by the CLCS, which will happen in due time and according to the modus operandi of the CLCS and my best guess is that this will happen after 2020. We know from our previous experience with the partial submission regarding the area north of the Faroes, that the commission regarding our Arctic submission will scrutinize the documentation included in the Arctic submission very carefully before the CLCS will issue their recommendations.
Marc Jacobsen: So does it mean that the Kingdom of Denmark has good chances or not to get its application approved?
Christian Marcussen: I think from the context of my answer, which is based on the same concept which has proven to be successful, you can gather that we are quite confident, but in general I think we have to wait for the decisions or the recommendations from the CLCS, and then judge from their recommendation if our submission is successful or not. So I think we should give the CLCS the time to scrutinize our submission and then take it from there.
Marc Jacobsen: Another interesting fact about the territorial claim is that it reaches Russia’s Exclusive Economic Zone, 200 nautical miles from shore. While the official reaction from Kremlin has been rather diplomatic (www.mid.ru/brp_4.nsf/0/0F1A381933F7FCDDC3257DB1004B45CE), Professor Michael Byers, who we interviewed in our first podcast for the High North Dialogue 2015, has stated in a Danish newspaper article (politiken.dk/udland/ECE2486050/eksperter-dansk-krav-om-nordpolen-vil-irritere-rusland/): “there has so far been a spirit of cooperation in the Arctic, but with Denmark’s claim it is possible that this atmosphere can be greatly affected. It is quite possible that Russia will punish Denmark with a significant expansion of the Russian territorial claim or even with a veto against the Danish claim” Do you agree with Mr. Byers that the Kingdom of Denmark’s claim may have negative influence on the cooperative Arctic atmosphere? And how do you think possible overlapping claims will be solved?
Christian Marcussen:Of course this question regards some issues which are not my field of expertise, however, I can just quote the Ilulissat Declaration from 2008 where the Arctic Coastal States have agreed to “Notably, the law of the sea provides for important rights and obligations concerning the delineation of the outer limits of the continental shelf, the protection of the marine environment, including ice-covered areas, freedom of navigation, marine scientific research, and other uses of the sea”. And then they say the important thing: “We remain committed to this legal framework and to the orderly settlement of any possible overlapping claims” (Ilulissat Declaration 2008). So I think that that is describing the sense of cooperation which is in the Arctic Ocean, and I would also like to explain that in order to define the final outer limits of the continental shelf the following three steps are involved: First of all we have to delineate the outer limits of the continental shelf, which is a scientific/technical/legal process. The next step is of course the examination of the submission by the CLCS. And then the third step is the delimitation of overlapping claims, if such overlap exists, and this is a diplomatic/political process. Unfortunately it seems that these different steps have been mixed up in the public. Furthermore, it is important to note that the CLCS is a technical body responsible for making recommendations pertaining to the outer limits of the continental shelf. It has no mandate to resolve overlapping maritime boundaries, and submissions to it “are without prejudice to the question of delimitation of the continental shelf between States with opposite or adjacent coasts”. (Article 76.10) So the responsibility for resolving such disputes rests with the states involved. Furthermore in Chapter 7 of the Executive Summary of the recent Partial Submission by the Kingdom of Denmark it is clearly stated that there are potential overlaps of entitlement to the Northern Continental Shelf of Greenland. It is also stated that the other Artic coastal states are expected to file non-objection notes with the CLCS – Norway and Canada have already done this. So this is the framework for solving overlapping claim issues and I think that all the Arctic states have agreed to this procedure.
Marc Jacobsen: And now to the last question: According to the few existing geological estimates of the seabed in the area, which the Kingdom of Denmark is claiming, there are no significant oil or gas deposits. Harsh environment, unpredictable weather, thick sea ice and the fact that the seabed is placed approximately 4,300 meters below sea level, do, however, also make it almost impossible to exploit any resources if there was any. What is the purpose of the Kingdom of Denmark’s claim to this area? Is it merely of symbolic value or would it provide any new opportunities?
Christian Marcussen: Yes in general terms, the Article 76 provides the opportunity for all coastal states to extend their continental shelf beyond 200 nautical miles and the outer limit of the continental shelf of a coastal state is therefore one of the maritime boundaries (like the territorial sea or the Exclusive Economic Zone) a coastal state should delineated. So that’s a more principal issue of coastal states have to solve, in my opinion. Beyond 200 nautical miles the coastal state will have sovereign rights to resources on and below the seabed. And of course that also means that a coastal state can decide not to exercise these rights. Admittedly according to the well-known study from 2008 by the US Geological Survey regarding Arctic hydrocarbon resources, the chances to find oil or gas in the central part of the Arctic Ocean are very small. However, I do not want to speculate what resources could be of interest 100 years from now. Please also note that matters related to mineral resources on- and offshore Greenland since 2010 are handled by the Government of Greenland as stated in the Act on Greenland Self-Government. So it is actually a question for the government of Greenland.
Marc Jacobsen: So if there aren’t any natural resources in the area, why then are Canada, Russia and the Kingdom of Denmark so keen on including the North Pole into their respective national territories? Is it merely because of the symbolic value, or is there another reason?
Christian Marcussen: I think it’s inherent for all coastal states that they try to exploit the possibilities of extending their continental shelves beyond 200 nautical miles, and of course article 76 gives the coastal states this opportunity. And as I said, you never know what resources there might be a 100 years from now, so I think it is just to secure the rights, and also to define this type of boundary.
Marc Jacobsen: Well, thank you for clarifying and thank you for taking the time to share your knowledge with us today. It has been very inspirational and I look very much forward to see you at the coming High North Dialogue in Bodø.
Christian Marcussen: Thank you Marc, and I also look forward to attend the meeting in Bodø.
Marc Jacobsen: Thanks for joining us for this podcast. Follow along with the series on iTunes or via our websites www.highnorthdialogue.no and www.thearcticinstitute.org The music you’ve heard at the beginning and at the end comes from Hebber Zepherin and can be found at www.ccmixture.org