Race for Arctic Intensifies as Russia Claims Pole

September 21, 2007 01:03 PM
by findingDulcinea Staff
Moscow announces that rock samples taken from beneath the Arctic Ocean indicate that the North Pole is part of Russia, a claim that underscores the increasing efforts of Arctic border nations to stake their claims to the valuable region.

30-Second Summary

The race for the thawing Arctic has begun. Teams of American, Danish, Canadian and Russian scientists have converged on the North Pole, each trying to establish its own nation's claims to the area's natural resources.

In addition to predictions from the U.S. Geological Survey asserting that the area holds up to 25 percent of the world’s undiscovered oil reserves, the potential for new shipping passages between the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans––like the fabled Northwest Passage––will prove extremely profitable for whichever nations control them.

So far, Russia has been the only nation to actually stake a claim in the Arctic. However, Moscow’s claim is far from definitive.

According to the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea, a nation must establish that its own continental shelf extends beneath an ocean territory before claiming it. All the Russian rock samples prove is that the seabed is most likely a continental shelf. As to whose continental shelf it is, that’s still up in the air.

Historically, conflicts over Arctic territories are nothing new. Russia, the United States, Norway, Denmark, and Canada have been arguing about their borders there for years. But the area’s sudden accessibility has added a new fervor to the debate. As the polar ice continues to melt, making travel and exploration easier, there is no doubt that the debate over who owns the Arctic will only intensify.

Headline Links: Russia's claim, the Law of the Sea, and the opening Northwest Passage

Ted McDorman, a law professor at the University of Victoria says that Russia must now prove that the Lomonosov Ridge—the area from which the samples were taken—is part of its continental shelf: “It might be Canadian or Danish ... The U.S. view is that even if [the ridge] is continental, there's a significant detachment from the mainland." Regardless, Russian officials are confident they can prove their claim and begin oil exploration in the Arctic.

Background: The Cold Rush, Canada, Denmark, Russia, and Hans Island

Canada and Denmark have been feuding for years over a desolate Arctic rock named Hans Island. Although the island has no discernible value itself, its location at the entrance to the Northwest Passage may be key to claiming ownership of the historic waterway, and the potential wealth to be realized from controlling it.

Reaction: Ecologial effects of Arctic shipping

Historical Context: The "Arctic Grail"

Reference Material: The IPCC, the USGS, Arctic maps, and rising oceans

Related Stories: Climate tourism, Arctic thaw rates, impact on the Inuit, and the "Misery of 1953"


Most Recent Beyond The Headlines