Denmark, together with Greenland, is claiming around 906,495 square kilometers (350,000 square miles) of the continental shelf in the Arctic Ocean, in an area that is bigger than Texas and includes the North Pole. (NPR)
Use our resources to better understand why the region is so important—and then map it yourself!
Teachers, scroll down for a short list of key resources in our Teachers’ Toolkit.
- According to our encyclopedic entry, the North Pole sits in the middle of the Arctic Ocean, on water that is almost always covered with ice. How can Denmark claim territory that is in the middle of the ocean?
- Well, first of all, Denmark is making the claim with Greenland, which sits closer to the pole than any other piece of land. Greenland is an autonomous country, but part of the Kingdom of Denmark.
- Denmark contends that its data show Greenland’s continental shelf extends to the North Pole. A continental shelf is part of a continent that extends underwater to the deep-ocean floor. Greenland’s continental shelf may be connected to the Lomonosov ridge, a enormous underwater mountain range bisecting the Arctic Ocean. (Russia has also claimed the entire Lomonosov Ridge.)
- Does this mean the North Pole is now part of Denmark and Greenland’s exclusive economic zone? Is Santa Claus Danish?
- Not yet. An exclusive economic zone extends 200 nautical miles off a country’s coast, not a country’s continental shelf. Claims beyond 200 nautical miles must be supported by scientific and technical data. According to NPR, “Denmark said it would file paperwork with the U.N. to support its claim.”
- Check out this great BBC map showing the extent of Denmark and Greenland’s new claim—which extends well into regions claimed by Canada and Russia, as well as the North Pole.
- Denmark is not the only nation that has claimed the North Pole as part of its territory. (Russia famously planted a flag at the site in 2007.) Why is the North Pole such a contested area? Read through the “Resources and Territorial Claims” section of our encyclopedic entry or this blog post on the Northeast Passage to get some ideas.
- Natural resources. According to NPR, the region around the North Pole “is estimated to hold 30 percent of the world’s untapped natural gas and 15 percent of its oil.”
- Shipping lanes. The possibility of an ice-free trade route between Europe, North America, and Asia makes the North Pole an economically valuable territory.
- What nation, if any, do you think has a “claim” the North Pole? Use our Polar Regions MapMaker Kit to map different nations and organizations’ interests in the region. Issues to consider:
- geography. Take a look at the topographic and bathymetric maps above. Does proximity or geology always help determine political territory?
- political stakeholders. Right now, the North Pole region is in international waters, with Russia supporting the most comprehensive scientific research stations. How would a territorial claim impact
- the Arctic Council, composed of nations with territory in the Arctic Circle?
- the scientific community?
- the environment?
- the indigenous peoples of the Arctic?
- the international community. How would establishing a claim to the region around the North Pole impact nations and organizations outside the Arctic Circle? (Nat Geo would have to update its maps, for one!)
- technology. The U.N. Convention on the Law of the Sea limits exclusive economic zones to 200 nautical miles from a nation’s coast. How should sophisticated GIS and mapping technology, which can help identify continental shelves more precisely than ever before, be incorporated into this law?
NPR: Denmark Claims Part Of The Arctic, Including The North Pole
Nat Geo: North Pole
Nat Geo: Geography in the News—The Arctic’s Northeast Passage
Nat Geo: Polar Regions MapMaker Kit
4 thoughts on “Polarizing Region”