Russia's Arctic Claim Backed By Rocks, Officials Say

Richard A. Lovett
for National Geographic News
September 21, 2007

Rock samples retrieved last month from beneath the Arctic Ocean indicate that the North Pole is part of Mother Russia, the Russian government announced yesterday.

The Russians contend that the Lomonosov Ridge, an undersea structure running across the Arctic Ocean beneath the pole, is a geological extension of the Russian region of Siberia.

Under international law, Russia could lay claim to the potentially oil-rich seabed under the Arctic ice if it can prove that the ridge is part of the country's continental shelf.

In a statement released yesterday, Russia's Ministry of Natural Resources said that a preliminary analysis "confirms the fact that the structure of the Lomonosov Ridge crust matches world analogs of continental crust."

In other words, the rock is of a type found on continental shelves rather than in normal mid-ocean seabeds.

More Rocks Needed

Russian divers took the samples last month during a mini-sub mission that went beneath the ice and planted the Russian flag at the bottom of the Arctic Ocean.

The flag planting itself did nothing to establish a claim under international law.

Ted McDorman, a professor of law at the University of Victoria in British Columbia, said that it's therefore not surprising the Russians took rock samples at the same time.

McDorman noted that even if the Russians prove that the Lomonosov Ridge's rocks are continental in nature, it doesn't necessarily mean that the ridge is part of Russia.

"It might be Canadian or Danish," he said. Or it might not be part of any country.

Resolving that question will involve studying the entire length of the ridge rather than a single location, he said.

"The U.S. view is that even if [the ridge] is continental, there's a significant detachment from the mainland," he said.

Furthermore, some Russian scientists appear to believe that the announcement was premature.

Boris Morgunov, an advisor to the Russian Ministry of Economic Development, told Echo Moscow radio that the only way to fully verify the claim is to drill into the ridge to take core samples, according to the Norwegian-based news service Barents Observer.com.

But many Russian officials do believe they will eventually be able to back up their assertion and begin oil exploration in the region.

"With a high degree of likelihood, Russia will be able to increase its continental shelf by 1.2 million square kilometers [460,000 square miles] with potential hydrocarbon reserves of not less than 9,000 to 10,000 billion tonnes of conventional fuel beyond the 200-mile [322 kilometer] economic zone in the Arctic Ocean," Viktor Posyolov, an official with Russia's Agency for Management of Mineral Resources, told the Russian news agency Tass.

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