Why is the North Pole suddenly so important?
The ice in the Arctic region around the North Pole is apparently melting at an alarming rate. Temperatures in the area have risen by one whole degree in the last hundred years and the thickness of the ice has decreased by 40% in the last quarter of a century. The permanent ice cap at the North Pole has shrunk to half the size it was in the 1960s. This could allegedly have apocalyptic repercussions on the Earth’s climate.
In addition to this, experts estimate that there are huge reserves of energy (in the form of gas and oil) under the Arctic seabed. Given the fact that experts also estimate that we are going to run out of fuel in twenty years or so, this new-found source of energy may prove vital. If the polar ice caps melt, we will be able to reach the energy reserves underneath them, for the first time in history.
Not only that, but if the polar ice caps melt then the Arctic Ocean will become navigable. Ships will be able to sail from the Atlantic Ocean to the Pacific Ocean much more quickly than in the past. This route, known as the Northwest Passage, would cut shipping times between Britain and Japan by 50%. The advantages for the container shipping industry would be phenomenal.
To whom does the North Pole belong?
At the moment it doesn’t belong to anyone. It is in international waters. However, under the UN’s Convention on the Law of the Sea (1982) countries can lay claim to parts of the seabed if they can prove that the part they want is an extension of their own country’s continental shelf. To do this, enormous amounts of information need to be collected, collated and submitted to the relevant authority for assessment. So far, Russia, Canada, Norway, America and Denmark have begun carrying out research projects in an effort to establish grounds for staking a claim.
Things are hotting up in more ways than one at the North Pole these days. Recently Russia sent nuclear-powered ice-breakers into the area along with a famed Russian explorer and planted the Russian flag on the seabed at the North Pole. Canada consequently started reinforcing its military presence in the north. Early warning stations that have been standing derelict since being decommissioned at the end of the Cold War are being reactivated and new ones are set to open soon in Canada, it has been reported. Russia has apparently ordered bomber planes to monitor the Arctic region and is buying three new submarines. It is also said that Britain has despatched nuclear submarines to the area. Are these countries hotting up for a new type of ‘cold war’?
Quick Quiz: Read the clues below and write the solutions on a piece of paper. Then take the first letter of each answer and rearrange them to find the hidden word connected with this Talking Point.
1. The ice in the __________ region around the North Pole is apparently melting at an alarming rate.
2. If the polar ice caps melt, we will be able to reach the energy reserves underneath them, for the first time in __________.
3. The Northwest Passage, would cut shipping __________ between Britain and Japan by 50%.
4. Early __________ stations that have been standing derelict since being decommissioned at the end of the Cold War are being reactivated in Canada, it has been reported.
For use with Talking Point worksheets
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