Science Fair Project Encyclopedia
Hans Island (Greenlandic: Tartupaluk, Danish: Hans Ø) is a small uninhabited barren knoll measuring 1.3 km², located in the centre of the Kennedy Channel of Nares Strait , the strait that separates Ellesmere Island and Northern Greenland and that connects Baffin Bay with Lincoln Sea /the Arctic Sea. It is the smallest of three islands located in Kennedy Channel. The others are Franklin Island and Crozier Island .
The island is supposedly named after Hans Hendrik (sometime called Heindrich), whose native name is Suersaq. Hendrik was a Greenlandic arctic traveller and translator who worked on the American and British arctic expeditions of Elisha Kent Kane, Charles Francis Hall, Isaac Israel Hayes and George Strong Nares , from 1853-1876.
It is not clear when the island was named "Hans Island". The island appears on late 19th century maps, but is not named.
The names of many places in this region have changed or altered during the last 100 years. For example, the name of Nares Strait (named after George Strong Nares), separating Ellesmere Island and Northern Greenland, was not agreed between the Danish and Canadian governments until 1964.
Up to the early 19th century, the northern area of Greenland and Canada remained completely unexplored by Europeans, and thus there exists no information about this island before that time. Inuit living in Northern Greenland or Canada had likely crossed this area for centuries.
From 1850-1880, the area in which Hans Island is situated was explored by American and British expeditions. These expeditions were a response partly due to the popular search for the missing British explorer John Franklin, and partly to search for the elusive Northwest Passage and/or reach the North Pole.
The Danish "Celebration Expedition" of 1920-1923 accurately mapped the whole region of the Northern Greenland coast from Cape York (Kap York) to Denmark sound (Danmark Fjord).
In 1972, a team consisting of personnel from Canadian Hydrographic Service and Danish personnel, working in Nares Strait determined the geographic coordinates for Hans Island.
Since the 1960s, numerous surveys have been undertaken in the Nares Strait region, including seismic, ice flow, mapping, archeological and economic surveys.
Canadian-based Dome Petroleum Ltd. made surveys on and around Hans Island in 1980-1983, to investigate the ice masses movement.
- 1988 - The Danish Arctic/Ocean patrol cutter KDM Tulugaq arrived at the island, builds a cairn and placed a flagpole and Danish flag on the island.
- 1995 - The Danish liaison officer and crew working at Thule Air Base flew in and placed another flagpole and flag.
- 1997 - Late August, the Danish Arctic/Ocean patrol cutter KDM Agpa tried to reach the island, but was forced to turn around 150 miles from the Island, due to extreme ice.
- 2001 - Keith Dewing and Chris Harrison, geologists with the Geological Survey of Canada who were mapping northern Ellesmere Island, flew by helicopter to the island.
- 2002 - On August 13th, the Danish inspection ship KDM Vædderen arrived and erected a new cairn, flagpole and flag, finding the 1988 flag missing and the 1995 flag in pieces, likely due to weather.
- 2003 - On August 1st, the crew of the Danish frigate KDM Triton landed on the island and replaced the Danish flag again.
The ownership of the island is disputed as it is claimed by both Canada and Denmark. They failed to settle the issue when borders were drawn between Canada and Greenland in 1973. The border is established in the delimitation treaty about the Continental Shelf between Greenland and Canada, ratified by the United Nations on December 17, 1973, and in force since March 13, 1974. At that time, it was the longest shelf boundary treaty ever negotiated and may have been the first ever continental shelf boundary developed by a computer program.
The Government of the Kingdom of Denmark and the Government of Canada, having decided to establish in the area between Greenland and the Canadian Arctic Islands a dividing line beyond which neither Party exercising its rights under the Convention on the Continental Shelf of April/29/1958 will extend its sovereign rights for the purpose of exploration and exploitation of the natural resources of the continental shelf……
The treaty list 127 points (latitude and longitude) from Davis Strait to the end of Robeson Channel , where Nares Strait runs into Lincoln Sea , to draw geodesic lines between, to form the border. The treaty does not, however, draw a line from point 122 (80° 49' 2 - 66° 29' 0) to point 123 (80° 49' - 66° 26' 3), a distance of 875 metres. Hans Island is situated in the centre of this area.
The dispute hits the news
After the dispute had received little to no attention for nearly 31 years, it suddenly came to popular attention through Canadian press stories during late March 2004. Within days, it spread to other newspapers worldwide. Shortly after Internet newsgroups, web-blogs and forums began to start new threads and entries on the subject. Subjects like Canada being invaded and Denmark massing troops on Canadian territory could frequently be found.
The issue came to light on March 25, 2004, when Adrian Humphreys of the Canadian National Post newspaper wrote an article entitled, "Five-year plan to 'put footprints in the snow' and assert northern sovereignty". Humphreys made a brief mention of the dispute over Hans Island, and that the Danes had sent warships to the island.
While Canada wanted to assert sovereignty of its northern territories for a variety of reasons unrelated to this dispute, Hans Island soon became the focus of the debate, and was presented as the main reason for this new Canadian policy.
The Arctic sea region has long been a subject of dispute. In this matter, Canada, Denmark, Russia and Norway all share a common interest because they regard parts of the Arctic seas as "national waters". The United States and European Union countries, on the ohter hand, regard the region as International waters.
Further items in the Canadian media led to the issue being picked up by international news organizations.
The Canadian federal government's 2004 budget was introduced on March 23, 2004, two days before the issue gained widespread attention. It proposed minimal increases to spending on national defence. The issue of Hans island was raised in the Canadian Parliament by oppoisition foreign affairs critic Stockwell Day to highlight the government's failure to provide more funding for the military.
A new article by Adrian Humphreys on March 30, 2004, also in the National Post, entitled, Danes summon envoy over Arctic fight -- The solution of the dispute is not going to be military, drew even more attention to the issue. The article claimed that Brian Herman, Canada’s only diplomat in Denmark, was called before the Danish Ministry of Foreign Affairs, to comment about his country's intentions in the dispute, which had, acording to the article, recently been inflamed by Danish sailors occupying Hans Island.
On March 31, 2004, the Danish and Canadian governments denied that Herman or any other Canadian official was summoned to the Danish Ministry of Foreign Affairs. Both governments stated that the dispute was a long-standing issue, and that nothing had changed in the matter.
The last time Danish seamen visited the island had been on August 1, 2003, but this information was not brought to the public's attention during the discussion. Comments posted on internet newsgroups and forums suggested that Danish seamen had just landed on the Island, despite the fact that this had occurred seven months before.
A Canadian military exercise, named "Narwhal 04", inflamed the issue further. Some saw this as a response to the Danish flag planting. However this exercise had been in the planning stage since September 2003, and it took place around Pangnirtung, Baffin Island, 2000 km south of Hans Island. The Canadian military denied that the exercise had anything to do with the Danish-Canadian territorial dispute. The exercise took place on August 9-30, 2004, involving about 160 soldiers from the army, various aircraft, helicopters and one frigate, HMCS Montreal . About 600 Canadian Armed Forces personnel were involved in total.
A test case?
The dispute over Hans Island may turn into a test case on sovereignty claims along the entire Northwest Passage and Arctic Sea. While Hans Island has little to no actual value, as a landmass, the waters associated with the island may have value to both countries. Because of its location in the centre of Kennedy Channel, it could play a key role in determining control of the passage though Nares Strait.
- The Return of he Vikings - An attempt to explain what all the fuss is about.
- Newsletter No.3 KDM Triton - about the 1st august 2003 landing on the Island.
- Swedish analysis
- CASR - article on the dispute by the Canadian American Strategic Review
- Research by Lasse Jensen
- United Nations: Delimitation Treaties. Agreement between the Government of the Kingdom of Denmark and the Government of Canada relating to the Delimitation of the Continental Shelf between Greenland and Canada, 17th December 1973,
- U.S. Department of State: Bureau of Intelligence and Research Limits in the Seas No. 72 Continental shelf Boundary: Canada – Greenland, Issued by the Geographer, 4th August 1976.
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