Denmark to Claim Ownership of the North Pole - Atlas Obscura
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Denmark to Claim Ownership of the North Pole

photograph by Simon / Pixabay

Despite being 2,000 miles away, Foreign Minister Martin Lidegaard said Denmark will deliver a claim to the North Pole to the United Nations panel that will ultimately determine which countries control the Arctic, according to the Associated Press.

The claim is the result of a study conducted by Danish scientists, along with colleagues from Canada, Sweden, and Russia, from 2007 to 2012. The scientists concluded that the Lomonosov Ridge, a 2,000-kilometer underwater mountain range that crosses the North Pole, is geologically attached to Greenland, a semi-autonomous Danish territory. Russia has been conducting similar studies, and asserts that the ridge is continuous with the Siberian continental platform.

Though Denmark is the first to claim the actual pole, the other countries bordering the Arctic —Russia, Canada, Norway, and the United States — all have or are expected to assert rights to parts of it. Currently all countries’ borders end 200 nautical miles from their coasts, leaving a huge swath of the Arctic unowned (although in 2007 Russia went so far as to plant a meter-high titanium flag on the seabed). The land is likely to become increasingly valuable: according to the US Geological Survey, about 30 percent of the world’s undiscovered natural gas and 15 percent of its oil will be found in the Arctic. In addition, as the polar ice continues to melt, the Northern Sea Route is likely to open, becoming the fastest way to ship goods around the world.

Map of the Arctic region showing the Northeast Passage, the Northern Sea Route and Northwest Passage (image from Arctic Council / Wikimedia) 

There’s another element likely motivating Denmark to make this claim: keeping Greenlanders happy. Greenland has been under Danish rule for 300 years, and in recent years has sought to assert independence from its colonial ruler. In 2008 a Greenlandic self-governing referendum passed with 75 percent approval, although lately the government has been plagued with scandals, and low oil prices have curbed some of the fervor for independence. But the Arctic claim is “very, very popular” in Greenland. As Jon Rahbek-Clemmensen, assistant professor at the University of Southern Denmark, told The Guardian, “For the Greenlanders, it’s more about a feeling of nationhood, and being part of the Arctic. It’s symbolism.”