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Geoscience: Marine and coastal

Canada borders three oceans and has the longest coastline in the world. A full 40% of the country’s landmass is under the ocean. At the Geological Survey of Canada (GSC), our scientific research provides a new understanding of the seafloor, the last frontier on Earth.

If you need to understand the shape and origin of Canada’s continental margin (shelf and slope), how climate change impacts the coastal landscape, the natural hazards on our submerged lands or the composition and geological processes of the seabed, look to the GSC data and information. It’s often used by governments, companies and other stakeholders considering ocean planning, environmental assessments and future marine engineering and renewable development projects.

Why it matters


Our geoscience information guides decisions about the use of Canada’s coastlines and offshore waters, on topics ranging from conservation to hazard assessment and resource extraction. We provide critical information to decision makers at Fisheries and Oceans Canada, Transport Canada, Environment and Climate Change Canada, the Parks Canada Agency and regulators, as well as provincial and territorial governments, Indigenous communities, and organizations and municipalities across the country.

Defining our boundaries

We also help Canada uphold its obligations as a signatory to the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS). Our research has been fundamental in defining the continental shelf and understanding the links between our landmass and submerged lands in the Atlantic and Arctic oceans. Two submissions to date (Atlantic Ocean, filed in 2013, and Arctic Ocean, filed in 2019) show that Canada is entitled to 2.4 million km2 of seafloor and subsoil, making it the largest area ever considered under UNCLOS. Often this work was done under harsh conditions, especially in the ice-covered central Arctic Ocean near the North Pole and along the Canadian Arctic Archipelago. We continue to work with our colleagues in other Arctic nations to define the boundaries of the continental shelf through UNCLOS.

What we’re doing

Together, these programs contribute to the marine and coastal research we conduct and the outcomes we produce:

  1. Climate Change Geoscience Program (CCGP)
  2. Environmental Geoscience Program (EGP)
  3. Geoscience for New Energy Supply (GNES)
  4. Marine Geoscience for Marine Spatial Planning (MGMSP)
  5. Marine Conservation Targets (MCT)
  6. United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS)
  7. Public Safety Geoscience (PSG)

Seafloor mapping, climate adaptation and conservation

  • Analyzing seafloor geology and morphology and active seabed processes, as well as subsurface stability, sediment types and thicknesses
  • Informing evidence-based marine spatial planning and safe operations in regional environmental assessments and cumulative effects assessments, particularly in terms of seabed geology and site suitability for resource development projects
  • Understanding the sensitivity of coastal regions to climate change (i.e., sea-level rise) and working with provinces and municipalities to help guide decision-making regarding coastal land use, building permits and the need for active mitigation strategies
  • Collaborating with Fisheries and Oceans Canada to develop marine spatial plans and atlases for numerous large offshore areas defined as Canada’s bioregions
  • Participate in marine resource assessments to determine a region’s overall resource potential while contributing to Canada’s marine conservation targets of conserving 25% of its offshore areas by 2025 and 30% of them by 2030
  • Using science to define Canada’s continental shelf and to establish international boundaries under which we have rights to the living and non-living marine resources on the seafloor and in the subsoil
  • Providing geoscientific advice and expertise on major resource development projects and their potential environmental effects, as required for federally mandated environmental impact assessments

Partnering with Indigenous peoples

The GSC is engaged in ongoing efforts to partner with Indigenous communities and organizations on common scientific priorities. The data we collect through our collaborative work on Canada’s marine and coastal areas enables us to provide Indigenous communities with information about the resource potential in and near their traditional territories so that they can decide how to best manage and conserve resources in these areas. For example, our data about petroleum potential contributed to the establishment of the Tuvaijuittuq Marine Protected Area (MPA) by the Qikiqtani Inuit Association, the Government of Nunavut and the Government of Canada.

We regularly meet with Arctic communities to exchange ideas about areas of research and how community members might be involved in the fieldwork. Our research teams make a point of returning to these communities to present and discuss the results of their work, solicit feedback and suggestions and consider next steps. For example, the information they provide helps Indigenous communities adapt to changing sea levels and mitigate the risks of marine and coastal hazards to their infrastructure and people.

Featured tools and data

Expedition Database
The GSC conducts and commissions marine and coastal field surveys in Canada’s Atlantic, Pacific and Arctic waters. This database contains details about where geological samples and geophysical surveys were collected, links to expedition reports and results from laboratory analyses.

BASIN Database
BASIN contains a wealth of geological, geophysical and engineering information related to many years of petroleum exploration. Use it to get basic and interpreted information for most petroleum industry exploration wells (primarily offshore northern and eastern Canada) and locational data from a large number of seismic surveys.

Canadian National Marine Seismic Data Repository
We’ve collected marine geophysical survey data (seismic reflection, side scan and echo sounder) from marine expeditions in the Atlantic, Pacific and Arctic oceans for more than 50 years. You can now access this inventory of analog marine survey field records, which we’ve converted to digital format.

Seafloor photographs, offshore Canada
Does your work require photographs of the seabed floor in Canada’s Atlantic, Pacific and Arctic waters? We have shots from the past 50 years, typically in sequences of 10 to 20 photos from a single station, taken using specialized underwater cameras.

Web Map Services for Marine Geoscience Data
A Web Map Service (WMS) provides maps of geospatial data. Here, you can access different types of marine imagery including seismic, side scan and multibeam data.

You can also browse these pre-filtered topic results on Canada’s open data portal or search the entire collection:

Featured publications

Conduct your own GEOSCAN search, or browse pre-filtered results by topic:

Related topics

Climate change
We monitor climate change effects on Canada’s permafrost, glaciers and sea levels. Use our tools to inform adaptation strategies for coastal infrastructure and communities, permafrost regions, transportation routes and northern resource development.

Energy resources
We can help you respond to the growing demand for sustainably and responsibly extracted lower-carbon and renewable energy resources. Use our data to make evidence-based decisions about land use and environmentally sound energy resource development.

Contact us

Stephen Locke

Sonia Talwar

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