The Arctic may be one of the last frontiers for the development of oil, gas and gold, nickel and diamond resources, as nations are already competing to secure tomorrow's resources today.
Canada, Russia, the United State and European Arctic states are already filing their claims on the ocean floor, which is believed to hold billions of tons of oil and natural gas. Russia believes the Arctic shelf may contain gold, nickel and diamonds.
An estimated 122 countries are expected to submit their petitions by May 13, 2009.
Last week the foreign ministers of Russia, Denmark, Norway, Canada and the United States met in a conference in Greenland to work toward a mutually acceptable solution for the time in the future when the exploitation of natural resources from coastal shelf zones becomes profitable.
This year alone, the United States will spend $5.6 million to prove that its continental shelf extends more than 200 nautical miles and that the continental shelf of northern Alaska is 124 miles wider than previously thought.
Canadian Prime Minister Steven Harper is using military and scientific expeditions to lay claim to large sections of the Arctic. The county is at odd with Russia over several maritime zones, and arguing with the United States over the Northwest Passage, which may become navigable as Arctic ice melts.
Subsea floors which are proved to be a continuation of a nation's continental shelf can give that country control over submerged land and access to potential offshore resources. A race is on among Arctic nations to claim the polar ocean bottom. Two ridges lie under the Arctic Ocean, the Alpha Ridge and the Lomonosov Ridge.
The Lomonosov Ridge is one of Russia's main arguments to claim the North Pole and the Arctic seabed. They claim their evidence shows that Moscow could control more than 1 million square kilometers of Arctic seabed.
However, The Geological Survey of Canada claims Lomonosov is attached to the North American continent and extends well into the Arctic Ocean. Canada's Arctic and East Coast claim is roughly equivalent to the size of Canada's Prairie Provinces.
In 2004 Denmark claims a share of the seabed, based on the premise that Lomonosov is an extension of the continental shelf of Greenland, which belongs to Denmark. Norway is also competing to secure subsurface rights to the Arctic seabed.
During last week's meeting, the five coastal nations bordering on the Arctic Ocean-Canada, Denmark, Norway, the Russian Federation and the United States adopted the Ilulissat Declaration, named after the Greenland town where the meeting took place.
The declaration aims to block any new comprehensive international legal regime to govern the Arctic Ocean.
Instead, the declaration reinforces a legal framework, which the nations say provides a solid foundation for responsible management by the five coal states and other users of this ocean through national implementation and application of relevant provisions. We therefore see no need to develop a new comprehensive international legal regime to govern the Arctic Ocean. We will keep abreast of the developments in the Arctic Ocean and continue to implement appropriate measures.
The declaration also stressed protection of the unique ecosystem of the Arctic Ocean. In this regard we intend to work together including through the International Maritime Organization to strengthen existing measures and develop new measures to improve the safety of maritime navigation and prevent or reduce the risk of ship-based pollution in the Arctic Ocean.
We will work to prompt safety of life at sea in the Arctic Ocean, including through bilateral and multilateral arrangements between or among relevant states, the declaration proclaimed.
In a news conference last week, U.S. Deputy Secretary of State John Negroponte said, We affirmed our commitment to the orderly settlement of any possible overlapping claims.
Denmark's Foreign Minister Per Stig Moeller said in a statement, We're sending a signal to local populations and the rest of the world that we will act responsibly. Hopefully we will once and for all kill the myth that there's a race for the North Pole going on.
Meanwhile, the Arctic Council-an eight-nation coalition, which includes the five coastal states along with Sweden, Finland, Iceland, and various Arctic indigenous peoples-have also been working to develop rules for managing Arctic resources and environmental protection.