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For all the talk among world leaders of the perils of climate change, many are scenting an opportunity. As the Arctic ice retreats, surrounding nations are looking to plunder those natural resources under the surface, estimated by the US Geological Survey to constitute as much as 13 per cent of the world’s undiscovered oil and 30 per cent of its undiscovered natural gas – as well as precious metals including iron ore, gold, zinc and nickel.
There is the prospect of a dramatic new shortcut between Europe and Asia, slashing journey times by as much as a third. Last month, two German ships completed their journey along the Russian coast from South Korea to Bremen without any icebreaker escort. There are also hopes that Canada’s Northwest Passage could offer a viable alternative to the Suez and Panama canals.
The claim-staking and posturing has started: last year, Russia sent a submarine to plant its flag beneath the North Pole; next spring, it plans to drop paratroopers there.
But much of the speculation about the Arctic’s future remains just that – not least the references to the emergence of a “trans-Arctic commercial highway” that is supposedly going to become “ice-free” over the next two or three decades.
The 1986 treaty affords coastal countries an economic zone extending 370km from their shores. If the socket is part of Greenland, then the North Pole could be part of Denmark.
The scientific work has to be completed within 10 years from the date that Denmark ratifies the UN convention. Ms Dahl-Jensen and her team have been given $38 million in Government grants for a project said by the Danish ministry of science to have "historic dimensions".
Early data from those mapping efforts show that Denmark, via Greenland, may be able to claim the North Pole as its own, said Ron McNab, a retired researcher from the Geological Survey of Canada.
"Preliminary work has shown — and this is, again, is very preliminary — that Denmark would actually have the strongest claim to encompass the North Pole within its region," McNab, who most recently served on the board of the Canadian Polar Commission, told CBC News in an interview.
Moscow has based claims on the so-called sector principle. A division along the median line would give Denmark territorial rights to the North Pole in accordance with the UN Convention of the Law of the Sea, but the sector principle would divide the North Pole along sectors formed by longitudes, thus splitting the Pole into several territories
The North Pole is currently administered by the United Nations International Seabed Authority, located in Kingston, Jamaica.