Two teams of Danish army pooches will mush alongside a large Canadian military operation in the Arctic next month, marking a thaw in relations between two countries often seen as rivals in the rush for Arctic spoils.
About 180 Canadian Forces members will participate in Operation Nunalivut, the latest exercise in a continuing campaign to assert the country's political and military presence in the High Arctic - an effort that falls short of what's needed to ward off territorial claims from other countries, some Arctic experts say.
While the barren territory will be new for them, they'll be joined by a four-legged Danish military unit known as SIRIUS, the world's only military dog-sled patrol, which has been roaming the area since the dawn of the Cold War.
Up to 12 Greenlander sled dogs and two Danish soldiers will meet Operation Nunalivut at the northern tip of Ellesmere Island before sledging across the sea ice.
The SIRIUS dog team, developed in 1950 by the Danish Defence Command, is stationed in eastern Greenland and spends much of its time in Nares Strait, which separates Greenland and Ellesmere Island.
A speck of an island in Nares Strait has been the subject of a protracted boundary dispute between the two countries. Hans Island, barely 1.3 square kilometres, lies along the international border established in 1973.
In 2005, foreign affairs minister Bill Graham took a hike on Hans Island during military exercises, a move the Danish government denounced as an "occupation."
While Denmark is often lumped in with Russia and the United States as a major challenger to Canada's Arctic sovereignty, the Hans Island dispute is downright jocular by the turbulent standards of international diplomacy.
"It's almost a joke within the respective foreign ministries," said Michael Byers, Canada Research Chair in Global Politics and International Law and the author of Who Owns the Arctic? "The Danes always leave a bottle of schnapps for us there, and we in turn leave them a bottle of Canadian Club."
Still, Nunalivut is the first time Denmark and Canada have worked so closely on a sovereignty exercise.
"That's what we really want to be able to demonstrate - all the Arctic nations working together to respond to those types of incidents that are going to become more commonplace as the ice continues to melt and the water opens up," said Brigadier-General David Millar, commander of the military's northern presence.
For 24 days in April, 180 members of the Canadian Rangers, Navy, Army and Air Force - and their furry Danish counterparts - will practise working in extreme climates and help assert Canada's sovereignty in the Far North, according to the Canadian Forces.
Average April temperatures are about -25.
Troops will test new communications systems and rehearse ice-floe rescues while scientists observe the health effects of cold and isolation.
A navy diving team will conduct training beneath the sea ice, while land forces simulate a massive domestic emergency.
With Arctic temperatures rising dramatically in recent years, cruise-ship travel in the area has increased. The prospect of a year-round opening through the Northwest Passage is expected to draw flotillas of operators seeking fortunes in oil, gas, diamonds and tourism.
"In a worst-case scenario - a cruise ship or airliner accident - the risk of more than 100 people dying while waiting for search-and-rescue is very real," Dr. Byers said..
"I certainly applaud this co-operation," he added. "But one can't be misled into thinking that a few snowmobile patrols are a substitute for the major investment that are needed to response to these changes in the Arctic, things like permanent deep-water ports and a revival of the ice-breaker fleet."