Arctic rush driven by desire to control hydrocarbon deposits, shipping routes
In 1937, Ivan Papanin led an expedition that planted the Soviet flag on the North Pole. He was feted by Stalin and lionised as a Soviet hero. In early August this year, the Kremlin honoured Artur Chilingarov similarly after the deputy leader of the Russian Duma had led two mini-submarines to the bottom of the Arctic Ocean beneath the North Pole and planted the Russian flag there. Call it the sweepstakes of global warming. As ice caps recede, old imperial ambitions over the Arctic have been rekindled. There has been a string of expeditions to the region by five countries bordering the region: Canada, Denmark, Norway, Russia and the us.
A lot of this activity is motivated by the desire to control shipping routes, which might be in business once the Arctic ice melts away. The Northwest Passage along the northern coast of North America, for example, could connect the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans, reducing travel time considerably.It could decrease the trip between the two oceans by thousands of miles compared to the current route via the Panama Canal.
There is the much more lucrative prospect of controlling oil, gas and minerals beneath the Arctic Sea bed that the ice layer had hitherto made inaccessible. In 2000, a us Geological Survey study estimated that the Arctic holds 25 per cent of world's remaining oil reserves. But a joint study by the Scottish energy consultants, Wood Mackenzie and the Dutch firm Fugro-Robertson in November last year found that the Arctic's oil potential significantly less than previous estimates. Titled Future of the Arctic, the study estimated that gas constitutes 80 per cent of hydrocarbon resources in the region.
The Mackenzie and Robertson study has, however, failed to deter the recent Arctic rush. Days after the Russian flag-planting exercise, Canada's prime minister, Stephen Harper announced plans to defend his country's stakes in the Arctic. He mooted a military centre in Resolute and a deep-water docking facility in the Nanisivik mine, both in the Canadian Arctic territory of Nunavut. Earlier, in July, the Canadian government announced that it would build six to eight patrol ships to assert its sovereignty over the Northwest Passage.
Denmark has also jacked up its activity in the region. On August 12, Danish researchers set sail on a month-long voyage to collect geological data from the Arctic that would form the basis for a future claim. And on August 17, the us Coast Guard vessel Cutter Healy set sail with about 20 scientists to map the sea floor on the northern Chukchi Cap in the Arctic