An Opening Arctic
We've all heard the normal worries over the melting arctic ice caps. Sea-level will rise, swamping such populous cities as Beijing, New York, and Calcutta. And with rising global temperatures, the thousands of square miles of ancient permafrost - frozen since before the last ice age - will become soft once again, releasing unprecedented amounts of methane into the atmosphere. (For the record, a molecule of methane traps about 25 times more solar radiation than a molecule of carbon dioxide).
Yet, the arctic continues to shrivel away. And for the first time, resources found in the arctic will be attainable. Most importantly, crude oil and natural gas:
At summer’s end, sea-ice coverage was one-third smaller than the average from 1979 to 2000. With the loss of ice, the seabed’s natural resources become potentially more obtainable and its bordering nations more interested. In July the U.S. Geological Survey reported that the area north of the Arctic Circle probably contains 13 percent of the world’s “undiscovered” oil, some 90 billion barrels, and almost a third of its undiscovered natural gas.
Originally - under current international law - the countries ringing the Arctic are limited to a 200-mile economic zone around their coasts. Five countries have claims: Russia, Norway, Canada, Denmark, and the United States. The possibility of vast oil development is causing a rush among the arctic nations. Durham University in England issued an online map of the Arctic maritime jurisdictions and boundaries that in a mere three days had been downloaded more than 42,000 times.
Canadians then added 900 armed rangers to a contingent of Inuit patrols. And the Danes sent out an expedition to confirm that an underwater ridge is indeed connected to Denmark. However, Russia took it a step farther:
In August 2007 a Mir-1 submersible planted a small titanium Russian flag in the seabed at the North Pole.
And then another step...
[Russian] scientists claim an underwater ridge near the North Pole is really part of Russia's continental shelf. One newspaper printed a map of the "new addition", a triangle five times the size of Britain with twice as much oil as Saudi Arabia.
This move is being called, "Putin's Arctic Invasion," and it will be interesting to see how this all turns out.