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The crew of the U.S. Coast Guard Cutter Healy, in the midst of their ICESCAPE mission, retrieves supplies for some mid-mission fixes dropped by parachute from a C-130 in the Arctic Ocean in this July 12, 2011 NASA handout photo obtained by Reuters June 11, 2011. Scientists punched through the sea ice to find waters richer in phytoplankton than any other region on earth. Phytoplankton, the base component of the marine food chain, were thought to grow in the Arctic Ocean only after sea ice had retreated for the summer. Scientists now think that the thinning Arctic ice is allowing sunlight to reach the waters under the sea ice, catalyzing the plant blooms where they had never been observed. REUTERS/Kathryn Hansen/NASA (UNITED STATES - Tags: ENVIRONMENT SCIENCE TECHNOLOGY) THIS IMAGE HAS BEEN SUPPLIED BY A THIRD PARTY. IT IS DISTRIBUTED, EXACTLY AS RECEIVED BY REUTERS, AS A SERVICE TO CLIENTS. FOR EDITORIAL USE ONLY. NOT FOR SALE FOR MARKETING OR ADVERTISING CAMPAIGNS - RTR33FOY
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Not the ice, but what’s underneath.

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

By Kabir Chibber

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.