At the end of the second decade of the millenium no one knows how human activity would affect its pristine ecology
Rising temperature and melting Arctic ice are changing global geopolitics. Oil, natural gas, minerals and fish — there is enough of these trapped under the melting sea ice to satiate the world’s growing hunger. Receding ice caps are opening up new sea lanes, making the exploitation easier.
The eight nations surrounding the Arctic Ocean are in a frenzy not to let go of even an inch of their territory. The new-found resource is also attracting distant players like India and China. Countries are delving deeper into the ocean — least explored part of the planet — to explore its mineral wealth. Here as well a new regime is emerging. Here's a lookback"
The Arctic rush
Recent scientific studies confirm that the Arctic is warming twice as fast as the rest of the globe. The period between 2005 and 2010 was the warmest since record keeping began in 1840. In September 2011, at the height of its summertime shrinkage, ice caps covered 4.33 million square kilometres of the Arctic Ocean. This, according to the US National Snow and Ice Data Center (NSIDC), was a 50 per cent drop from the average sea ice cover between 1979 and 2000.
The Arctic is also getting thinner and younger. Its thicker, older ice caps that have formed over several years and were able to survive through the summer melt season are increasingly being replaced with ice that accrues over the winter every year and then melts away. This makes the Arctic more vulnerable to global warming. By the reckoning of NSIDC, only five per cent of the Arctic ice caps were over five years old last summer. In the early 1980s as much as 40 per cent of the Arctic sea ice was over five years old.
The Arctic’s vast reservoirs of fossil fuel, fish and minerals, including rare earth materials, are now accessible for a longer period. But unlike Antarctica, which is protected from exploitation by the Antarctic Treaty framed during the Cold War and is not subject to territorial claims by any country, there is no legal regime protecting the Arctic from industrialisation, especially at a time when the world craves for more and more resources. The distinct possibility of ice-free summer has prompted countries with Arctic coastline to scramble for great chunks of the melting ocean.
Of the eight Arctic nations — Russia, Sweden, Norway, Iceland, Denmark (Greenland), Finland, Canada and the US — several have explored the Arctic waters and found over 400 oilfields with proven reserves of around 240 billion barrels of crude oil and natural gas. This is about 10 per cent of the world’s known hydrocarbon reserves. They have also discovered significant deposits of various minerals on the seabed.
Also in the decade
This year, the extent of the Arctic Sea ice was the second lowest on record, and its volume was the lowest, revealed a provisional statement by the World Meteorological Organization.
The International Maritime Organization’s Maritime Safety Committee signed the Polar Code and other amendments to the Safety of Line at Sea Convention as a precaution to protect people and the environment as shipping has been predicted to increase in the Arctic.
We are a voice to you; you have been a support to us. Together we build journalism that is independent, credible and fearless. You can further help us by making a donation. This will mean a lot for our ability to bring you news, perspectives and analysis from the ground so that we can make change together.
Comments are moderated and will be published only after the site moderator’s approval. Please use a genuine email ID and provide your name. Selected comments may also be used in the ‘Letters’ section of the Down To Earth print edition.