Denmark has staked its claim on the North Pole and the potential resources beneath the vast ice, by presenting three boxes of paperwork to the United Nations (UN) panel on Monday. As the latest country to present its request, Denmark now joins Canada and Russia in a three-way race for ownership.
The country’s claim is based on evidence that shows the Lomonosov Ridge is linked to the semi-autonomous Danish territory of Greenland. The ridge, which is around 1,118 miles long, runs beneath the Arctic Ocean stretching from Greenland’s continental shelf across almost the entire polar circle.
Four other countries surround the North Pole – Russia, Norway, Canada and the United States, but until now only Russia and Canada had laid any claim to the region. In 2007, Russia planted its flag 14,000 feet below the surface, while in 2013, Canada applied to extend its Atlantic Ocean seabed borders encompassing approximately 656,000 square miles of the arctic seafloor.
Denmark has now staked its claim on the North Pole in an attempt to secure access to 345,600 square miles of territory that is believed to hold vast untapped resources. It is estimated that the northern polar region holds around 13 percent of the worlds untapped oil reserves, and about 30 percent of gas reserves.
According to international law, the five countries flanking the North Pole are each in control of 200 nautical miles beyond their northern coasts. Further discussion over the region’s future led to a 2008 agreement in which the territorial neighbors agreed that any disputes over the region would be settled within the framework of the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS). However, under the UNCLOS, countries that can prove extension of their continental shelf beyond that zone are entitled to lay corresponding claims.
In the years between 2007 and 2012, a team of scientists from Denmark, Russia, Canada and Sweden surveyed 1,240 miles of the underwater mountain range and concluded that Greenland was geologically connected to the Lomonosov Ridge. A former member of the Canadian Polar Commission and retired Geological Survey of Canada researcher Ron McNab, told CBC News that the preliminary work showed Denmark had a very strong case.
Denmark’s foreign minister Martin Lidegaard described his country’s move as a “historic milestone for Denmark.” He added that once the UN panel had verified the scientific data, the decision would still involve a political process. “I expect this to take some time. An answer will come in a few decades,” Lidegaard said.
While Lidegaard waits to hear the results of Denmark’s claim over the region, observers are discussing other aspects of the country’s action. Apart from the obvious potential of the region’s vast resources, there is the notion that Denmark’s staked claim over the North Pole has political connotations. Greenland has for many years been working toward independence, with a 2008 referendum resulting in a vote for more autonomy. Jon Rahbek-Clemmensen of Syddansk University in Denmark, told the BBC that the government’s claim on the North Pole was partly to demonstrate to the people of Greenland that the Danish government was taking their interests into account.
By Monica Grant
Photo by NASA / Maria-Jose Vinas – Flickr License