Explorers plan first Russia-Canada voyage via North Pole

MOSCOW Tue Feb 8, 2011 12:10pm EST

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MOSCOW (Reuters) - A Russian-led expedition aims to make the first ever crossing from Russia's Arctic shore into Canada over the North Pole, a months-long voyage over precarious shifting ice floes.

The expedition, set to begin on February 17, will serve for some of the first tests of Russia's GLONASS satellite navigation technology, Moscow's bid to challenge the dominant U.S. global positioning system (GPS).

Territorial claims on the Arctic are shared by Russia, the United States, Norway, Greenland and Canada. But recent Russian moves have raised concerns that it is bent on boosting its stake over the pole's petroleum-rich sea bed.

"Russia is further ahead than anyone" in the exploration of the Arctic, expedition leader Vladimir Chukov told journalists in Moscow on Tuesday. "We're traveling a path which has never yet been taken in the Arctic."

The 8,000-km (5,000-mile) voyage is expected to reach Canada by the end of May and finish by June 22, he said.

Eight explorers will set out in two specially-designed vehicles with overinflated tyres that allow for travel over the snowdrifts and dangerous Arctic ice cap, where above-freezing temperatures in the summer months can cause the ice to break up.

The group, including two Russian-born Canadian citizens, plan to observe polar bear populations at the pole and test for climate change and signs of global warming, the results of which Chukov said the team would share later with scientists.

The Arctic test will be one of the first for the $2 billion GLONASS system, which Russia wants to make a central part of domestic consumer technology in cars and mobile phones.

Russia has sought to show predominance in Arctic exploration and in 2007 planted its flag in the seabed of the Arctic Ocean.

Production at Russian oil fields in western Siberia is expected to start declining, so Moscow regards the Arctic as unexplored territory that may hold resources needed to help it retain its spot as the world's top oil exporter.

(Editing by Mark Heinrich)

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