Interest in the Arctic is intensifying as global warming shrinks the polar ice, opening up possible resource development. That’s why Denmark plans to request formal recognition for an extended area of continental shelf.
Denmark was set to lay claim to energy-rich but contested territory around the North Pole on Monday by submitting data to the UN which it says demonstrates the area is an extension of its continental shelf.
The Danish government said it would tell the UN Commission on the Limits of the Continental Shelf (CLCS) that data collected since 2002 supports its claim to ownership over an area of about 895,000 square kilometers (346,000 square miles) beyond the current nautical borders of Greenland, an autonomous Danish territory.
"The objective of this huge project is to define the outer limits of our continental shelf and thereby ultimately of the Kingdom of Denmark," Foreign Minister Martin Lidegaard said in a statement.
Potential overlap with Canada, Russia and the US
Claims on a continental shelf beyond 200 nautical miles from a country's borders must be supported by scientific and technical data. However, the remote region is hotly disputed by other countries.
Between 2007 and 2012, Danish scientists, with colleagues from Canada, Sweden and Russia, surveyed a 2,000 kilometer long (1,240 miles) underwater mountain range that runs north of Siberia. They concluded that the ridge is geologically attached to Greenland, a huge, sparsely populated island that is a semi-autonomous Danish territory.
Norway already lays claim to an area overlapping the one outlined in the Danish submission to the UN, and there is "potential overlap with Canada, the Russian Federation and the US," the Ministry of Foreign Affairs said.
Moscow has increased its military presence in the pristine but energy-rich Arctic region, while Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper's government has made asserting sovereignty over an expansive Arctic archipelago and surrounding waters a key policy. In August 2007, Russia placed its flag on the seabed under the North Pole.
Part of North America, but also a part of Europe
Greenland geographically forms part of North America rather than Europe and is largely self-governed, but it remains part of former colonial master Denmark, which controls its foreign affairs and defense policy.
Environmental activist groups, including Greenpeace, expressed concern over an emerging race to exploit potential untapped natural gas and oil reserves in the Arctic as the burning of fossil fuel drives global warming.
According to a study by the US Geological Survey from 2008, the Arctic could hold 13 percent of the oil and 30 percent of the natural gas which is yet to be discovered. The melting of the ice cap also offers shorter shipping routes between the Pacific and the Atlantic oceans, which has attracted the interest of countries far from the Arctic region, including China.