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Rubric: Planet
Section: Earth Sciences

From Arctida to the Present-Day Arctic

The Arctic has long ceased to be a "land of polar bears and aurorae." Today, this territory is a crossing point of the economic and geopolitical interests of many countries, including those without access to the Arctic coast. The subject of the recently enhanced struggle for the Arctic is the huge oil and gas reserves concentrated primarily on the continental Arctic shelf and the availability of strategically important transport arteries such as the Northern Sea Route, whose role will only increase in the case of global warming. The demarcation of the Arctic shelf might have a huge impact on the geopolitical situation in the future. More fuel to the fire comes from the absence of a clearly defined legal status of national borders in this region.

By international law, today the continental shelf area for countries with maritime borders is 200 nautical miles from their coasts. However, if a country can prove that the shelf of the Arctic Ocean is an extension of its continental platform, then, according to the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea, this territory is recognized as this country’s property. Today, Russia is preparing to prove its right to expand the borders of its polar economic zone by substantiating the inclusion of the Mendeleev and Lomonosov underwater ocean ridges into this zone.

The currently available geophysical and geological data, including the results of underwater drilling and sampling at oceanic basement outcrops, allow scientists to identify the age of geological structures on the floor of the Arctic Ocean and to reconstruct the evolution of the paleocontinents from the Precambrian to early Cenozoic. These results make it possible to trace the formation of the modern continental margin of Eurasia and confirm the continental nature of the "controversial" oceanic ridges. These data will substantiate Russia’s claims in its application to the United Nations; if it is approved, Russia’s Arctic continental shelf will increase by an area twice that of France

The Arctic Ocean through the eyes of a geologist

“The Northern ocean, by the way, is a spacious field
where Russian glory can grow, combined
with an unprecedented benefit…”
Mikhail V. Lomonosov

With an area of about 15 million km2, the Arctic Ocean is the smallest and the youngest of the Earth’s oceans. Its  main specificity is that most of the ocean floor is occupied by a continental shelf (over 45%) and offshore continental margins. An increasing interest in the Arctic Ocean is primarily accounted for by geopolitical issues and challenges of managing mineral resources on the Arctic shelf, as well as by environment related problems, climate changes, and permafrost degradation.

Solving these problems largely relies on our knowledge of the geological structure of the Arctic Ocean basement, including the structural features of the Arctic sedimentary basins with respect to their oil and gas potential.

Geological knowledge also provides substantial insights into the correlation between continental margins, including submerged shelves, and different structures largely characterized by terrain features of the Earth’s crust but lying at a considerable distance from the mainland, which appears vital in solving the problem of establishing the outer limits of Russia’s and other Arctic states’ sectors of the continental shelf

“There are cherished places in endmost lands of the earth…”
(from a poem by Lana Grig)

The author of this article is familiar with the Arctic firsthand. While a student, back in 1974, he made his first trip to the Chelyuskin peninsula during his summer practice work and learned his lessons in the geology of the Arctic Region from the geological routes on the shores of the Kara and Laptev Seas, under the supervision of I. D. and A. L. Zabiaka, both having a Cand.Sci. degree in geology and mineralogy and a wealth of practical...
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