Artic Land Grab
As the ice shrinks,
nations vie for oil that may lie beneath.
Claims take Shape: With the bottom of the Arctic Ocean now rendered in sharper relief than ever before, the five surrounding countries are plotting their claims.
The race for the Arctic may be about oil, but it is about the oil that governments hope is there, not the oil they know is there. The experts best equipped to assess the Arctic's prospects are the oil companies, and a few weeks after my Snøhvit visit, I witness their tacit vote of confidence: a bidding war for nearshore exploration blocks in the Chukchi Sea. The 488 blocks are auctioned off in the Anchorage, Alaska, public library over the protest of environmentalists who want a decision on the polar bear's endangered species status before a sell-off of its habitat. They go for a record $2.66 billion—43 times what the government expected.  Page 7 of 9

It is
Saturday, foggy and cold, two weeks into the Healy cruise, when we learn we have broken a record. "It's confirmed," ice scientist Clemente- Colón says, looking up from his computer. "It happened a few days ago." The ice cap has shrunk to its smallest extent in modern history. The ship is now at 77 degrees north, having looped south from a high point above 81 degrees, cutting in and out of the ice  sheet, and is scanning the Chukchi Plateau. Page 8 of 9

Healy, the newest of the U.S. Coast Guard's three aging polar icebreakers, is just offshore, and we will be shuttled to it, three at a time, in a rented helicopter. Before we go, Mayer has a request, one that acknowledges how different things are this year: "No photos of American flags," he says. Page 4 of 9


Published: May 2009

By McKenzie Funk

"Russia's claim to a vast swathe of territory in the Arctic, thought to contain oil, gas and mineral reserves. Several countries with territories bordering the Arctic - including Russia, the US, Canada and Denmark - have launched competing claims to the region. The competition has intensified as melting polar ice caps have opened up the possibility of new shipping routes in the region (the famous North West Passage)."

According to US Geological Survey, 25% of world oil reserves are settled to the North of the Arctic Circle.

For all the talk of conflict in the Arctic, there is broad agreement among northern nations, Russia included, on how to claim a piece of it: You map it. Maps matter because the shape and geology of the seafloor matter, and the shape and geology of the seafloor matter thanks to an article in the 1994 UN Convention on the Law of the Sea, a playbook for partition that has been ratified by 156 countries. (Because of obstructionism by a few UN-wary senators, the U.S. is not yet among them, but it is acting as if it is.) Under the treaty, if a state wants to grow its maritime boundaries past the customary 200 nautical miles, it must prove that the ocean bottom is continental in origin—part of its same landmass, only underwater. Political questions can have scientific answers. So politicians have turned to scientists—oceanographers like Mayer for the seafloor's shape and seismic surveyors for its underlying geology—to build their case. Only Norway has a Law of the Sea submission under active review; the U.S., Canada, Denmark, and Russia are still busy mapping. Page 4 of 9

Whether the future of the Arctic will look like Hammerfest—petroleum plants dotting the coast, an economy running on fossil fuels, and an ice sheet destroyed by them—depends on the world's capacity for irony, and perhaps more on how much oil there really is. In July 2008 the USGS published its "Circum-Arctic Resource Appraisal." It estimated that 13 percent of the world's undiscovered oil, or 90 billion barrels, and 30 percent of its undiscovered natural gas, or 1,670 trillion cubic feet, may be hiding here. But given the unexplored nature of the Arctic, the USGS report is by definition a desktop study: reliant on analogues and best-guess geologic assessments. It uses little of the recent, proprietary seismic work collected by oil companies, settling for older, publicly available data. Page 7 of 9

It is winter in Moscow, three months after Chilingarov planted a Russian flag on the seafloor at the North Pole, an apparent landgrab that created a diplomatic row and a flurry of global headlines. Now he is campaigning for an election in which his party—Putin's party—will soon trounce its closest rival by a six-to-one margin. He is a busy man, and he skips the niceties when I sit down. "It took us seven days and seven nights to reach the North Pole," he says. "The ice was heavy. It was not a simple task." Near the Pole, Chilingarov's ships found an opening in the ice, and in went two submersibles, Mir I and Mir II. Chilingarov was in the first one. His goal, the true North Pole, was 14,000 feet below. Page 2 of 9

The submersibles' return was harrowing—following Mir I up from the seabed, Mir II searched for an hour and a half before finding the ice opening—but the drama of the dive was soon drowned out by the supposed politics of it. More than 40 journalists were waiting aboard the surface vessels, and they quickly filed their reports: "Russia Claims the North Pole!" Chilingarov willingly stoked nationalist flames. "The Arctic," he said at a press conference, "has always been Russian." Page 3 of 9

Countries Map Artic Boundaries to Build Cases for Resource Rights - August 2008
As a
scramble builds to establish rights over the valuable natural resources hidden under the Arctic sea floor, U.S. researchers embarked from Barrow, Alaska, in mid-August on a three-week mission to map regions of the vast underwater landscape.

<> The researchers are aboard a U.S. Coast Guard ice cutter for the fourth U.S. expedition "designed to map the uncharted parts of the Arctic sea for establishing an extended continental shelf," said Larry Mayer, director of the Center for Coastal and Ocean Mapping at the UniversityNew Hampshire and head of the research team. Several of the countries bordering the Artic Circle have been rushing to establish these underwater boundaries, as evidence of melting Arctic sea ice has heighted the prospect of being able to access some of the valuable oil and natural gas in the seabed within the next 30 years.

The Arctic includes parts of Canada, Greenland (a territory of Denmark), Russia, United States (Alaska), Iceland, Norway, Sweden and Finland, as well as the Artic Ocean.

The Arctic region is, by its nature, a unique area. The cultures in the region and the Arctic indigenous peoples have adapted to its cold and extreme conditions. From the perspective of the physical, chemical and biological balance in the world, the Arctic region is in a key position. It reacts sensitively particularly to changes in the climate, which reflect extensively back on the global state of the environment. From the perspective of research into climatic change, the Arctic region is considered an early warning system.

The name Arctic comes from the ancient Greek "αρκτος", meaning 'bear', and is a reference to the constellations of the Great Bear and Little Bear, which are located near the North Star. From: SolarNavigator

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