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As Polar Ice Turns to Water, Dreams of Treasure Abound
CHURCHILL, Manitoba - It seems harsh to say that bad news for polar bears is good for Pat Broe. Mr. Broe, a Denver entrepreneur, is no more to blame than anyone else for a meltdown at the top of the world that threatens Arctic mammals and ancient traditions and lends credibility to dark visions of global warming.
Still, the newest study of the Arctic ice cap - finding that it faded this summer to its smallest size ever recorded - is beginning to make Mr. Broe look like a visionary for buying this derelict Hudson Bay port from the Canadian government in 1997. Especially at the price he paid: about $7.
By Mr. Broe's calculations, Churchill could bring in as much as $100 million a year as a port on Arctic shipping lanes shorter by thousands of miles than routes to the south, and traffic would only increase as the retreat of ice in the region clears the way for a longer shipping season.
With major companies and nations large and small adopting similar logic, the Arctic is undergoing nothing less than a great rush for virgin territory and natural resources worth hundreds of billions of dollars. Even before the polar ice began shrinking more each summer, countries were pushing into the frigid Barents Sea, lured by undersea oil and gas fields and emboldened by advances in technology. But now, as thinning ice stands to simplify construction of drilling rigs, exploration is likely to move even farther north.
Originally posted by masqua
Ya know, loam, you do bring the most interesting little tidbits to ATS and this story is just such a thing.
The Arctic's new gold rush
A predicted thaw in the Arctic ice cover combined with a search for energy supplies is leading to a new "gold rush" in the high north, bringing diplomatic problems in its wake as five countries vie for access to resources.
There are disputes involving all of the five - the United States, Canada, Russia, Norway and Denmark.
The US and Canada argue over rights in the North West Passage, Norway and Russia over the Barents Sea, Canada and Denmark are competing over a small island off Greenland, the Russian parliament is refusing to ratify an agreement with the US over the Bering Sea and Denmark is seeking to trump everyone by claiming the North Pole itself...
"It's the way the geography works," said Peter Croker, an Irish government petroleum expert who is also chairman of the UN's Commission on the Limits of the Continental Shelf, a body set up to arbitrate on how far a country's coastal rights extend.
"It's the only place where a number of countries encircle an enclosed ocean. There is a lot of overlap. If you take a normal coastal state, the issues are limited to adjoining states and an outer boundary. In the Arctic, it is quite different," he told the BBC News website.
The ice thaw is predicted by a team of international researchers whose Arctic Climate Impact Assessment suggested last year that the summer ice cap could melt completely before the end of this century because of global warming. If the ice retreats, it could open up new shipping routes and new areas where natural resources could be exploited.
In any event, the hunt is on for oil and gas. The US Geological Survey estimates that a quarter of the world's undiscovered energy resources lies in Arctic areas.
The heat is on
Global warming is opening up the vast Arctic; now, Canada is trying to assert its claim over the land and protect its resources
This frigid area, with its barren landscape stretching for thousands of miles, is suddenly worth fighting for, Canadian officials say, because of global warming. The Arctic sea ice cap shrank this summer to the smallest size ever measured, and some scientists say summer sea ice could disappear entirely by the end of this century.
The melting and climate change that are widely predicted to be a disaster elsewhere in the world -- creating monstrous hurricanes, killing crops, and redrawing coastlines -- appears to be creating a boom for the northern reaches of Canada.
''Global warming has put the Canadian North back on the map," said Colonel Norm Couturier, commander of Canadian Forces Northern Area.
Better drilling and mapping technology was already pushing the oil and gas industry northward. But the warming -- which many scientists believe is being caused primarily by man-made releases of carbon dioxide and other gases that trap heat in the atmosphere -- is propelling even more companies to explore under the ice, where as much as a quarter of the world's supply of gas and oil may lie.
And shipping companies have begun to see gold in the melting ice, which within several decades could allow boats to shave thousands of miles off their journeys between the Atlantic and the Pacific oceans at least a few months a year. Normally, boats going from London to Tokyo, or New York to San Francisco, must trek south through the Panama Canal.
All this potential has created an international race to claim the new resources and has put the Canadians on guard.
Canadians say the Northwest Passage is theirs and want control to prevent environmental catastrophes from oil tankers that may spring leaks. US officials say the passage is an international waterway. A boundary dispute between the United States and Canada in the resource-rich Beaufort Sea above northeast Alaska is percolating again. And in what has become a symbolic issue over sovereignty, both Canada and Denmark sparred this summer over the ownership of a tiny uninhabited island off Greenland that has little, if any, economic or strategic value...
Melting Arctic ice risks Canada-US territorial dispute
Global warming is melting the Arctic ice so fast that a new sea route is opening up between the Atlantic and the Pacific -- and with it the risk of a territorial dispute between Canada and the United States.
Temperatures around the North Pole are rising twice as fast as in the rest of the planet, according to UN and Canadian government experts.
By 2050, they warn, ships will be able to sail around northern Canada for most of the summer.
This could reduce the sea trip from London to Tokyo to 16,000 kilometers (9,950 miles), against 21,000 kilometers (13,000 miles) via the Suez Canal or 23,000 kilometers (14,300 miles) going through the Panama Canal.
The search for a Northwest Passage to Asia inspired explorers from the 15th to the 17th centuries. Many died. But now greenhouse gases are opening up the passage for them.
"There are now more and more ice-free portions of Arctic maritime territory," said Frederic Lasserre, a geographer and specialist on the Arctic, at Laval University in Quebec...
Lasserre predicted that within 30 years it would probably be possible for ships not normally equipped for the Arctic to tackle the Northwest passage.
About 20-30 ships currently take it each summer now.
In a territorial dispute now linked to the global warming problem, Canada criticizes the United States, European Union and even Japan for not recognising its 1986 claim of sovereignty to waters around the Arctic archipelago. The United States insists that these are international waters.
An American ice-breaker went through the archipelago in 1985 causing a diplomatic dispute with Canada, which reaffirmed its claim to the territorial waters.
Canada, which is also arguing with Denmark over a small island off Greenland, based its territorial sovereignty on the ice that then linked all of the Arctic islands. But cracks are quickly forming in the claim...
There are huge environmental issues at stake. Canada would be unable to deny passage to any vessel that meets international standards for environmental protection, crew training and safety procedures.
The United States argues that all waters between two open seas should be open to all shipping...
The commercial stakes are also high as the Beaufort Sea, which touches the Yukon in Canada and the US state of Alaska, has huge reserves of oil and natural gas.
Experts have highlighted how access to these reserves will become a lot easier as global warming increases.
Lasserre said that there is more than oil to be found in the Arctic. "There is also gold, diamonds, copper and zinc. There is going to be a lot of traffic caused by the mining exploration," he said.
Canada to increase military presence in the Arctic despite U.S. objections
Canada announced plans Monday to increase its Arctic military presence in an effort to assert sovereignty over the Northwest Passage – a potentially oil-rich region the United States claims is international territory.
Prime Minister Stephen Harper said six to eight patrol ships will guard what he says are Canadian waters. A deep water port will also be built in a region the U.S. Geological Survey estimates has as much as 25 percent of the world's undiscovered oil and gas.
“Canada has a choice when it comes to defending our sovereignty over the Arctic. We either use it or lose it. And make no mistake, this government intends to use it,” Harper said. “It is no exaggeration to say that the need to assert our sovereignty and protect our territorial integrity in the North on our terms have never been more urgent.”
Denmark to lay claim to the North Pole sea bed
Denmark on Monday presented its "Arctic Strategy" for the next decade, confirming that it intends to lay claim to the North Pole sea bed by 2014 at the latest.
The 58-page report said Denmark and its autonomous Arctic territories of Greenland and the Faroe Islands had agreed on a common strategy for the region, including producing "documentation for claims to three areas around Greenland, including an area north of Greenland which among other areas covers the North Pole."
That claim, which the report said would be made in 2014 at the latest, could put the Scandinavian country on a collision course with Russia, the United States, Canada and Norway.
The five countries all have claims in the region, where melting polar ice and new technologies have made the "high north" easier to access and fueled competition for untapped oil and gas reserves.