Story in ASL from 06/2012: The Arctic Circle and Global Warming

Story in ASL from 06/2012: The Arctic Circle and Global Warming


There’s something called the Arctic Circle. The earth’s globe has lines going across it. There are five major ones. The middle one is the Equator. Then there are two above and two below. The Equator is at 0 degrees, where the top would be at a 90 degree angle. The Arctic Circle is at 66.5 degrees. It makes a circle around the top part of the globe. This area has six months of daylight, and six months of night. On June 2, U.S. Secretary of State, Hillary Clinton, went to take a tour of the Arctic Circle. With global warming, the ice cap is melting, causing changes in the Arctic. 18,000 square miles has melted away in the warmer weather. This open sea is available for oil exploration and for ships to pass through. The melting of the ice cap has exceeded previous predictions. Clinton went on a Norwegian research ship to observe the changes in the area. As the ice melts, there is more open water to reach the vast stores of oil below. There are also pockets of natural gas and minerals beneath the waters. The value of the oil underneath the Arctic is estimated at $900 trillion. That’s not counting the value of the other minerals that could be mined. Five countries have shorelines ringing the Arctic Circle. Russia accounts for half of that. The other countries are Canada, Norway, Denmark and the U.S. They ring the area and can claim it. Many want to claim the areas opened up by melting ice for drilling. The Law of the Sea Convention has been signed by many countries. Any country near the ocean can claim ownership of 200 nautical miles beyond the shoreline. A nautical mile is equivalent to one degree of arc. In other words, it’s the same as 1.15078 miles. It’s a little longer than a mile on land. There is also a continental shelf that extends underwater from the shoreline. If this shelf extends beyond the 200 miles, a country can claim all of it. The five countries I mentioned are the only ones with rights to the Arctic Circle. They can claim 90% with a small area in the middle left open. That area is open to other countries who want to go there and drill. In the Arctic Circle, there is a group called the Arctic Council. It’s in Tromsoe, Norway, which is a university town. The council consists of members from Arctic Circle countries. The U.S. wants this council to manage the changes, and permits for drilling and so forth. Any petitions would go to this council. Many other countries, such as China are interested in the area. So there has to be limitations and rules. Norway submitted a petition to the U.N. for property rights to the sea beyond its shores. That was approved, and oil exploration has begun. Russia also applied, but needed to clarify some information. Russia will re-apply this year or next year. The U.S. never signed the Law of the Sea Convention. It can’t petition for rights to the sea beyond its borders. It has to wait until the other nations in the area file their petitions first. That could take as long as 15 years. The process of applying, re-applying and approval takes time. So the U.S. area is being held back as far as exploring for oil. Other countries not bordering the Arctic are interested in the area. The melting ice has opened up a passage for ships. Ships currently take a long route that is more southerly. If there is a northern passage opened up, it would be 40% shorter. That represents a savings in time and fuel. China is extremely interested. It has already asked Greenland and Iceland for permission to drill and to use their ports for their ships passing through. Only a small number of ships have used this new northern passage. Two years ago, only four ships used it. Last year, there was an increase to 32 ships. It’s estimated that 2013 will see 600 to 700 ships passing through. 70% will probably be to and from China. The U.S. is concerned about the need to protect this passageway. It feels aircraft, navy and land forces are needed. It’s concerned that countries may try to block access even as they deny that. We’ll see if those concerns come true or not. We’ll also see if there will be a big grab for oil or other resources there.

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