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North Face, by Caroline Coolen

Danish expedition to North Pole

RobK(Caroline Coolen/Photo: mjk23)

A Danish expedition has set off to the North Pole in order to collect evidence that the sea floor and the oil reserves it contains are within Danish territory. Two parties are expected to oppose the Danish effort: Russia and environmental activists.A twenty-strong team of Danish researchers started from Spitsbergen, an Arctic archipelago on the meeting point of the Arctic Ocean and the Atlantic, travelling towards the North Pole on board the Swedish icebreaker Oden. Their mission is to prove that 155,000 square kilometers of the Arctic Ocean floor, including the North Pole, are an integral part of the Greenland continental shelf and should therefore be considered part of the kingdom, which consists of Denmark itself plus Greenland and the Faroe Islands.

The expedition has to complete its work within a narrow six-week time window, because after that ice growth will make it hard for the researchers to reach the area. They are to collect data about the depth of the ocean, the submarine Lomonosov mountain chain and the sediment layers in the Amundsen basin, East of the North Pole. Only these data will enable the Danish state to take their territorial claim to the United Nations in 2014. The Danish claim extends northwards from its 200 nautical mile territorial zone, from Greenland to the North Pole.

Denmark, Russia and other states bordering the Arctic have confirmed that they will respect the rules of the UN Convention on Law of the Sea where the establishment of borders is concerned. Russia can only benefit from a peaceful development of the situation. Considering its 20,000 kilometres of Siberian coastline, Russia will be able to follow suit and acquire an enormous area of Arctic Sea bottom. It is not likely that Moscow will endanger this tempting prospect by beginning a dispute over the modest area that Denmark is claiming.

Moreover, the chance of finding oil in the North Pole area is small. Researchers do not yet have a complete picture of the local geology, but they can say with certainty that exploitable oil reserves are more likely to be found elsewhere in the Arctic.

Another point is the protection which the region enjoys. At the other end of the globe the South Pole and the whole of Antarctica are protected areas. For decades the Antarctic Treaty has banned any military activity in the area, as well as commercial exploitation of oil, minerals and fauna. Greenpeace and other organisations want the central part of the Arctic Ocean, no-man's land until now, to be protected in a similar way to the Antarctic.

Yet the Danish government's intentions remain a mystery. Is Denmark in favour of international protection for a sizable part of the Arctic Ocean, ruling out commercial fishing and merchant shipping, and banning the mining of minerals and oil? Or does Copenhagen prefer a symbolic form of protection, limited to the ice cap over the North Pole? Tje Danish government will probably observe a prudent silence when the United Nations evaluate the claims made by several countries, which will coincide with the publications of the expedition team´s findings. / (IEDE)

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