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America to probe Arctic for oil as sea ice melts

America to probe Arctic for oil as sea ice melts

Last Updated: 7:01am BST 12/08/2008


The US is sending a scientific expedition to explore the Arctic seabed, allowing it to gather data to build a claim to the region’s natural resources.

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  • A Coast Guard cutter will seek to determine the extent of the continental shelf north of Alaska and gather information on oil and gas deposits.

    The three-week voyage will create a three-dimensional map of the Arctic Ocean floor in a relatively unexplored area known as the Chukchi borderland.

    A second expedition is also planned when the Coast Guard cutter Healy will be joined by Canadian scientists aboard an icebreaker, who will help collect data to determine the thickness of sediment in the region.

    That is one factor a country can use to define its extended continental shelf. With oil at $114 a barrel, after hitting a record $147 in July, and sea ice melting fast, countries like Russia and the US are looking north for possible energy riches.

    “These are places nobody’s gone before, in essence, so this is a first step,” said Margaret Hays, the director of the oceanic affairs office at the U.S. State Department. She said the data collected may provide information to the public about future oil and natural gas sources for the United States.

    This will be the fourth year that the US has collected data to define the limits of its continental shelf in the Arctic.

    Russia, which has claimed 460,000 square miles (1.19 million sq km) of Arctic waters, last summer planted its flag on the ocean floor of the North Pole.

    Larry Mayer, a university scientist, said melting sea ice, presumably from global warming, helped last year’s mission. “It was bad for the Arctic, but very very good for mapping.”

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