There’s a new country claiming sole ownership of the North Pole

Not the ice, but what’s underneath.
Not the ice, but what’s underneath.
Image: Reuters/Kathryn Hansen/Nasa
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The race for ownership of the North Pole is hotting up.

After 12 years and $50 million of research, Denmark has surveyed the 2,000-kilometer-long underwater mountain range that runs north of Siberia and concluded that it is geologically attached to Greenland, the huge autonomous territory that, along with the Faroe Islands, is controlled by Denmark. (Denmark’s broader strategy on the Arctic can be found here. (pdf))

As a result, the kingdom is claiming 895,541 square kilometers (556,463 square miles) of the North Pole—an area about 20 times the size of Denmark. “This is a historical milestone for Denmark… [and now] comes a political process,” the Danish foreign minister, Martin Lidegaard, said. “I expect this to take some time. An answer will come in a few decades.”

In 2008, the five nations with claims to the area—the US, Russia, Norway, Canada and Denmark—all pledged to resolve their differences under the framework of the UN’s Commission on the Limits and the Continental Shelf, which allows territory to be claimed up to 200 nautical miles from the shelf.

Denmark has made four previous claims, but it has now become the first country to declare outright ownership of the North Pole. Russia hasn’t gone as far—yet. Both Russia and Canada are preparing their final bids, while the other nations may also step in.

Denmark has already acknowledged that its claims overlaps Norway’s—a bold and confrontational move for such a peaceful nation. A Canadian expert on Arctic sovereignty, Michael Byers, told a Danish newspaper the move is “out of character with the country’s tradition of constructive diplomacy. It is ironic that the only country that right now could be said to be acting provocatively in the Arctic is Denmark.”

Why the land rush for an icy wilderness at the top of the globe? Well, climate change is fast-melting the North Pole—and what is bad for the world is good for business. The area is estimated to contain 30% of the world’s undiscovered natural gas, and 15% of its oil, according to the US Geological Survey.

The area, or “extent,” of the Arctic Ocean’s ice cover varies seasonally, but “scientists agree that at some point this century the minimum extent, at the end of the summer season, will reach zero,” according to the New Yorker. ”At that point, you’ll be able to cross the North Pole in a canoe.” When that sad day comes, the canoeist may well be crossing Danish waters.