August 10, 2007

Denmark Maps Arctic Ridge in Claim Race

OSLO, Norway -- Danish scientists head for the Arctic ice pack on Sunday seeking evidence to position Denmark in a race to claim the potentially vast oil and other resources of the North Pole region.

Russia sent two small submarines to plant a tiny national flag under the North Pole last week. Canada, the United States and Norway also have competing claims in the vast Arctic region, where a U.S. study suggests as much as 25 percent of the world's undiscovered oil and gas could be hidden.

The monthlong Danish expedition will seek evidence that the Lomonosov Ridge, a 1,240-mile underwater mountain range, is attached to the Danish territory of Greenland, making it a geological extension of the Arctic island.

That might allow the Nordic nation to stake a claim under a U.N. treaty that could stretch all the way the North Pole, although Canada and Russia also claim the ridge.

"The preliminary investigations done so far are very promising," Helge Sander, Denmark's minister of science, technology and innovation told Denmark's TV2 on Thursday. "There are things suggesting that Denmark could be given the North Pole."

The Danes plan to set off from Norway's remote Arctic islands of Svalbard aboard the Swedish icebreaker Oden, which will be assisted by a powerful Russian nuclear icebreaker to plow through ice as thick as 16 feet in the area north of Greenland.

"No one has ever sailed in that area. Ships have sailed on the edges of the ice but no one has been in there," the expedition leader, Christian Marcussen, said in Copenhagen. "The challenge for us will be the ice."

The team includes 40 scientists, 10 of them Danish, and the crews of the icebreakers, which will use sophisticated equipment, including sonar, to map the seabed under the ice.

"We will be collecting data for a possible (sovereignty) demand," said Marcussen, of the Geological Survey of Denmark and Greenland. "It is not our duty to formulate a demand of ownership."

A team of Swedish researchers studying glacial history in the Arctic is also part of the expedition.

The race for sovereignty in the Arctic is heating up partly because global warming is shrinking the polar ice, which could someday open up resource development and new shipping lanes.

The pressure is also on the Arctic nations because of the 1982 U.N. Convention on the Law of the Sea, which gives them 10 years after ratification to prove their claims under the largely uncharted polar ice pack. All but the United States have ratified the treaty.

Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper traveled to the Arctic this week to assert his country's sovereignty, and the United States sent an icebreaker north to map the ocean floor for its own claims.

"The Russians, Canadians and Danes all have overlapping claims in the polar region. It is unclear how this can be resolved," said Oeystein Jensen, a maritime law expert with Oslo's Fridtjof Nansen's Institute. "There is a lot of prestige and vast resources at stake."


Associated Press writer Jan M. Olsen contributed to this report from Copenhagen.


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