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Arctic Contest: By Jingo It Must Be Getting Warmer

  • August 15th, 2007
  • Posted by 7thmin

arctic-map-2.jpgCommentary: The world has been warned to stand by for a generation of sometimes absurdist claims and confrontations over the Arctic Circle, since the region has been losing its chill. Lee Duffield writes.


A Danish research team this week (14.8.07) set out for Arctic waters North of Greenland to see if they can prove there is a terrestrial link between that large island, owned by Denmark, and the area close to the North Pole.

The object is to try to get rights of ownership and control of undersea resources for Denmark, over a wider area than it is able to exploit at this time.


The trip – committing two ice breakers — closely follows an expensive stunt last month by the Russian authorities, who sent down a submersible to plant a titanium flag on the seabed under the ice, at the Pole – as if to say Russia owns the North Pole.

Canada, Norway and the United States also claim special interests in the Arctic region and have signalled they too can be counted on join the campaign for extra rights of exploitation.


The background to this latest burst of adventurism and discovery, (with some jingoism waiting in the wings), is climate change, as demonstrably the weather in the North has become more clement and the great ice cap has been melting – exposing more of the sea to navigation.

Canada with its long Northern coastline is eminently well-positioned to draw benefits from this advent, as it will open the North-west Passage to navigation, and so intense shipping movements and other economic activity.

All five contenders are extremely interested in the possibilities of exploiting resources under the seabed in areas so far, for centuries, covered in ice – especially a hoped-for bounty in oil or gas.

The second part of the background to the trouble is international law governing territorial rights over the coastline and exclusive economic zones.

All states with a coastline have a 22-kilometre territorial zone and contiguous 44-kilometre zone where they can exercise exclusive control.

Yet more strategic is the extra 304 kilometres called an Exclusive Economic Zone where they can control all economic resources including fishing, mining and oil exploration – with of course responsibility for pollution that exploitation may cause.


The Danish explorers this time – members of GEUS, the Geological Survey of Denmark and Greenland– are hoping to show that an undersea mountain range extending off the Greenland land mass, called the Lomonosov Ridge, bridges continuously to the precincts of the North Pole.

The Russians have already made the claim that they have a land-link of that kind.

If successful the two parties may generate a strong legal claim to added territory and an extended zone of exploitation for themselves.


Watch for members of the world legal fraternity carrying joke-books into this contest.

Previous world tussles over coastal territory have seen landlocked countries claiming maritime rights thousands of kilometres away, due to their rivers running into the sea.

There are tales, possibly apocryphal, of legal battles over crabs: one side would claim the creatures, as a mobile resource, scrambled in the mud from their recognised territory onto other territory, and so helped the claim to that seabed; adversaries or counter-claimants would then seek to show the crabs actually hopped along, breaking contact with the land – and breaking the claim as well.

Will we see absurdist claims in the grab for the bounty of the Arctic?


The Arctic is a wet wilderness so moves to exploit its hidden resources must provoke a second edition in the battle, a dispute over the likely environmental impacts of more shipping, oil exploration, then mining.

Moving South; by extension, with the possible future of exploitation of the Antarctic continent coming under debate, will use of the maritime regions off its coastline be subject to any new rules that come to be recognised?


Dianne DeMille, Editor, CASR (Canadian American Strategic Review), “Denmark ‘Goes Viking’ in Canada’s Arctic islands — strategic resources of the High Arctic entice the Danes”, CASR, March 2005. (15.8.07)

“Danish team head for North Pole”, BBC, 13.8.07. (15.8.07)

“Territorial waters”, Wikipedia. (15.8.07)