Friday, August 03, 2007

Russia: "The Arctic is Ours"

Chilling....who controls the Lomonosov Ridge?

From The Economist

RUSSIA’s foray into the Arctic is an audacious geopolitical adventure, as popular at home as it is troubling for outsiders. At stake are the region’s natural riches, until now frozen both in law and in nature. But global warming is making them look more accessible. They may include 10 billion tonnes of oil and gas deposits, tin, manganese, gold, nickel, lead, platinum and diamonds, plus fish and perhaps even lucrative freight routes. Exploiting them will be technically tricky, and is probably decades away. But as the ice melts, the row is hotting up about who owns what’s underneath it.


That would allow the Kremlin to annex a 460,000 square mile wedge of territory, roughly the size of western Europe, between Russia’s northern coastline and the North Pole. Such international maritime-border wrangles normally progress at a snail's pace, and are stupefyingly boring. When Denmark allocated $25m in 2004 to try to prove that the Lomonosov Ridge was connected to Greenland, few noticed or cared.

But the latest Russian expedition is not just collecting geological samples; on Thursday August 2nd it placed the Russian flag (in titanium) on the yellow gravel 4,200 metres below the surface at the site of the North Pole. That was the first manned mission there, mounted by a polar flotilla that no other country could match. A mighty nuclear-powered icebreaker shepherded a research vessel that launched hi-tech mini-submarines capable of pinpoint navigation under the Arctic ice.


Even more startling, though, was Russia’s rhetoric. “The Arctic is ours and we should manifest our presence,” said Mr Chilingarov, a charismatic figure whom President Vladimir Putin has named as “presidential envoy” to the Arctic. “This is like placing a flag on the moon” said Russia’s Arctic and Antarctic Institute.


Canada, punily defended since the end of the cold war, is now planning to spend $7 billion on eight new Arctic patrol vessels. America’s Congress is considering spending $100m to update three ageing polar icebreakers and build two more.

But the biggest change may be in America’s attitude to international law. A small but vocal lobby that objects to international administration of seabed mining has so far blocked the Bush administration’s attempts to have the Convention on the Law of the Sea ratified by Congress. But even the most die-hard American freemarketeer may have to accept that international bureaucrats are a better bet than the Kremlin’s crony capitalists when it comes to getting a fair slice of the polar action.

And why care about who has control of the Arctic?

Under All That Ice, Maybe Oil

Petroleum deposits are already charted along the shallow shelves fringing the Arctic from the North Slope of Alaska to northernmost Europe. But the cylinders of dark, ancient rock extracted from the submerged mountain range, the Lomonosov Ridge, are the first hint that such deposits may lie in the two-mile-deep basins near the top of the world.

The cores provide the first evidence that vast amounts of organic material created by plankton and other life settled on the seabed, experts say. That kind of carbon-rich accumulation is a vital precursor to the formation of oil.

Is it the case that there was just a lull in the Cold War?