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Posted on on August 4th, 2007
by Pincas Jawetz (

The Arctic is Heating Up As If It Were The Site of Burning Oil.

Russia Planted Flag Over North Pole Ice, Claiming Sovereignty. Now India Launches Its First Arctic Expedition – the Himalya Ice is also melting and they also suffer from the monsoons – this is clear indication that they deserve also some Arctic oi compensation.

Earlier this week, it was reported that Russia was planning to stake a claim on the North Pole. Or, rather, the seabed deep underneath -because there is a seabed shelf somewhere there under the ice.

Yesterday, two mini-submarines planted a titanium national flag on the sea floor, causing celebration in Moscow and consternation in Canada, which also claims ownership of the area. “You can’t go around the world these days dropping a flag somewhere,” said Canada’s Foreign Affairs Minister Peter MacKay. “This isn’t the 14th or 15th century.”

Denmark, Norway, and the U.S. also own territory within the Arctic Circle; scoffed U.S. State Department spokesperson Tom Casey, “I’m not sure of whether they’ve put a metal flag, a rubber flag, or a bed sheet on the ocean floor. Either way, it doesn’t have any legal standing or effect on this claim.”

A less blustery expedition is heading north this month: a team of scientists from India will make that country’s first-ever Arctic research trip, exploring the link between the polar reaches and India’s fabled monsoons. We expect they will find a link indeed, but the world will forget the science and remember the potential for oil. We expect that China will not be far behind. Will this lead to some sort of talks at the UN. We would like to suggest that the Small Island States get the mining rights for the riches of the Arctic. They are the main losers of Climate Change and are clearly first in line for compensation.


Russian Arctic Underwater Oil Expedition Reaches North Pole.

By Charles Digges, for the Environmental News Service.

NEW YORK, New York, August 2, 2007 (ENS) – In an expedition reminiscent of the last century’s race to the North Pole, a Russian expedition today laid a territorial claim to the vast underwater oil and gas fields along the Arctic’s Lomonosov Ridge.

Two Russian mini-submarines made “a plunge into the abyss” beneath the pole and returned from a depth of over 4,000 meters with samples of water and ocean floor, according to the government owned Russian news agency ITAR-Tass.

In addition to planting a rust-proof titanium metal Russian flag and leaving a time capsule message, the subs collected specimens of Arctic flora and fauna and videotaped their dives.

The Russian research vessel Akademik Fyodorov (Photo courtesy European Polar Consortium)

Russia says it has strong scientific grounds to support the theory that the Lomonosov Ridge, extending from the New Siberian Islands in the eastern Laptev Sea towards the Canadian Arctic Archipelago, is a submerged geological extension of the Siberian platform and, therefore, is part of the Russian continental shelf. On Wednesday, the convoy, comprised of the Russian nuclear ice-breaker Rossiya and the Russian research vessel Akademik Fyodorov, approached the North Pole, and members of an advance party flew by helicopter to the pole, scouting the ice breaker’s route.

The mission is expected to set up atmospheric measurement posts in the Arctic to gauge the effects of global warming – a phenomenon that Russian officialdom is ambivalent about combating, even though it is a signatory of the Kyoto Protocol.

Many economic and trade circles in Moscow see global warming not as a threat but a welcome boon to open Arctic Sea shipping and more use of Russia’s northern ice-bound ports.

The symbolic Arctic mission, along with geologic data being gathered by expedition scientists, is intended to prop up Moscow’s claims to more than 460,000 square miles of the Arctic shelf – which by some estimates may contain 10 billion tons of oil and gas deposits.

Mission to lay claim to underwater regions:

The voyage, led by noted polar explorer and Russian legislator Artur Chilingarov, is part of the Kremlin’s effort to buttress its claims under international agreements to a large portion of the northern polar region.

Expedition leader Artur Chilingarov (Photo courtesy

The scouting of hard to reach Arctic oil and gas deposits has been an obsession of the Kremlin for the past two years. The Shtokman field, off the north coast of Russia and Norway has been a site of special interest and controversy. While Russia has a territorial claim to that area, and many other hard to explore Arctic sites, it does not have the technical savvy to actually work these fields.

The Russians have, therefore, attracted the participation of international oil companies, such as British Petroleum, Royal Dutch Shell and Norwegian giant Statoil to supply sophisticated equipment in exchange for drilling rights.

But Russia has proven to be a fickle partner in these ventures, as shown by the Royal Dutch Shell fiasco last year. The company had been promised almost unlimited drilling rights in the far east Russian region of Sakhalin. As the project neared success, however, Moscow found Royal Dutch Shell in violation of a little observed environmental law.

The end result was that Royal Dutch Shell – which had done all of the preliminary speculation and brought in all of the sophisticated equipment necessary to work the ice-bound field – was forced to capitulate to Russia’s insistence that the oil giant cede all but 30 percent of its drilling rights to Russia.

The move gave many international oil giants pause, and as evidenced by the current and unprecedented expedition, Moscow is now going it alone to reveal the theoretical riches of the Arctic oil fields.

Map of the Arctic showing the Lomonosov Ridge (Map courtesy Aagruuk)

While the Kremlin has stressed the current expedition has scientific aims, its main intention is to help expand both Russia’s energy reserves and its global political clout. “There’s no question that this particular expedition does have some kind of larger political and economic focus,” said Rose Gottemoeller, director of the Moscow Carnegie Center.

The expedition reflects an intense rivalry between Russia, the United States, Canada and other nations whose shores face the northern polar ocean for the Arctic’s icebound riches.

About 100 scientists aboard the Akademik Fyodorov are looking for evidence that the Lomonosov Ridge – a 1,995 kilometer underwater mountain range that crosses the polar region – is a geologic extension of Russia, and therefore can be claimed by Russia under the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea.

Denmark hopes to prove that the Lomonosov Ridge is an extension of the Danish territory of Greenland, not Russia. Canada, meanwhile, plans to spend $7 billion to build and operate up to eight Arctic patrol ships in a bid to help protect its sovereignty.

The U.S. Congress is considering an $8.7 billion budget reauthorization bill for the U.S. Coast Guard that includes $100 million to operate and maintain the nation’s three existing polar icebreakers, AP reported. The bill also authorizes the Coast Guard to construct two new vessels.

{Published in cooperation with Bellona Foundation, an international environmental NGO based in Oslo, Norway.}


BOLSHOI SOLOVETSKY ISLAND (Reuters, August 3, 2007) – Summer doesn’t last long on the edge of the Arctic circle, but on the remote Solovetsky Island on Russia’s White Sea it marks the remarkable return every year of Beluga whales just meters from the shore.

Scientists say it is the only place in the world where the whales come so close. Like many whales worldwide, these belugas are threatened — not by hunting but by the quest for energy and people’s gradual encroachment on their habitat through shipping.

The whales come most days in good weather. Highly gregarious, the adult white mammals frolic and twist together with their calves, sometimes in schools of 50, lazily breaking the surface with their long backs, before diving underwater again at a location now known as Beluga Cape.

Described by environmentalists as one of Russia’s national treasures, the beluga — which resemble large dolphins — will be fighting for survival as the Arctic develops and shipping, energy projects and pollution threaten their natural habitat, Russian scientists say.

“The greatest dangers for beluga whales are oil and gas – energy development, marine traffic and even eco-tourism,” said Dr Roman Belikov, of the marine mammal group at the Institute of Oceanology in the Russian Academy of Sciences.

He fears that unless properly managed, tourists seeking to enjoy the wildlife could disturb the whales.

Belikov has spent every summer for the last eight years with a small band of marine biologists studying the belugas. He is optimistic that given time, the whales can adapt.

“They can learn to accept motor engines, if fishermen are careful with the distance and speed. It’s like people in cities adopting to the nearby sound from underground trains,” he said.

Climate change may also threaten the belugas, but so far, there is no conclusive proof whether warming seas or changing currents are affecting them, he says.

Like the other biologists, Belikov talks affectionately of the animals and willingly spends two months in basic conditions with no electricity, running water or toilets, so he can observe them.


Wading out to the observation tower on the foreshore of the cape every day the whales appear, his colleague and team leader, Vera Krasnova, is returning for the 12th summer.

Her husband is also a researcher on the island and they work together, leaving their young daughter with her grandmother in Krasnoyarsk, East Siberia. Krasnova laughs when asked to explain why she finds the belugas so fascinating, as they swirl around in the sea, meters away.

“These are animals with a very graphic, very vivid social organization, it’s interesting to study their behavior in a group, to see how they come together,” she says.

In eight colonies around the world, there are an estimated 100,000 belugas, with 2,000 in the White Sea.

Krasnova and her three assistants spend hours making careful notes of individual animals, with nicknames like ‘quasimodo’ for a male and ‘belle’ for a female.

Belikov, an acoustic expert, has been trying to crack beluga communications, but says he still has a lot to learn.

“They’re very noisy and when they gather here for reproduction, they communicate with each other very intensively,” he says. The observation tower fills with these sounds, transmitted from the seashore by special microphones.

“They have a very diverse vocal repertory, with many different sounds, like whistles, squeaks and howls. Some sounds seem like a baby crying or a bird when it chirrups,” he says.

Belikov recoils when asked if he believes the whales should be fished commercially for their meat. “Eat them? They are very kind, clever and nice. I think it’s impossible, I see no reason to do it — why? why?” he asks.


The project receives aid from the International Fund for Animal Welfare (IFAW) which shares the concerns for the belugas’ natural habitat as Russia plans to develop energy reserves in the Barents Sea, said Igor Belyatskiy, IFAW’s spokesman.

“Like any major oil and gas development, it might pollute the sea with intense ship and air traffic, with a lot of noise. The whales are very sensitive to any kind of noise,” he said.

Belyatskiy said that Russia’s biggest challenge is not an absence of laws, but implementing existing controls in full.

“People are starting to understand that the main treasure of Russia is its nature, after the people. Oil and gas will disappear, but nature, and these animals must stay.”

IFAW hopes the entire Solevetsky island will also be declared a UNESCO heritage site, as well as the famous monastery on its Southern tip which was converted into Stalin’s first major gulag and lies close to the belugas’ isolated playground.

“We have these dark times behind us. And its good to come here and see a corner of untouched nature. You have a feeling of a long culture and of nature — still mostly untouched.”

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