MOSCOW (AP) – An ambitious Russian expedition intended to symbolically claim rich Arctic resources for Moscow was expected to reach the North Pole on Wednesday – part of the Kremlin’s efforts to strengthen the nation’s energy power and expand its global clout.
The planned dive by two mini-submarines to the depth of more than 4,000 metres is intended to prop up Moscow’s claims to almost 1.2 million square kilometres of the Arctic shelf – which by some estimates contains about nine billion tonnes of oil and gas deposits (25% of the world’s oil & gas resources).
A Russian expedition set sail for the North Pole, where it plans to send a mini-submarine crew to plant a flag on the seabed and symbolically assert rights over the Lomonosov Ridge, a barren but energy-rich wasteland that spans 11 time zones.
The expedition is taking place amid an intensifying rivalry between Russia, Canada, the United States and other nations whose shores face the northern polar ocean for vast potential riches hidden in the Arctic.
After reaching the sea floor under the North Pole, Russia’s mini-subs will attempt to leave a titanium capsule containing the Russian flag. The subs will also collect specimens of Arctic flora and fauna and videotape the dives.
The most difficult part of the mission will be getting back precisely to the ice-free point of departure to avoid being trapped under a thick ice crust.
Denmark hopes to prove that the Lomonosov Ridge is an extension of the Danish territory of Greenland, not Russia. Canada, meanwhile plans to spend about C$7.5 billion to build and operate up to eight Arctic patrol ships in a bid to help protect its sovereignty.
Moscow has claimed the polar region since at least the days of the Bolsheviks in the early 1900s and argued that the geological data backed up this claim in 2002 in an application to the United Nations committee that administers the Law of the Sea. The UN rejected Moscow’s application, citing lack of evidence, but Russia is set to resubmit it in 2009.
The LOMROG expedition is focused on the virtually unexplored area of the submarine Lomonosov Ridge ca 350 km north of Greenland. With Swedish icebreaker Oden and support from a Russian nuclear icebreaker, LOMROG will acquire multibeam bathymetry, subbottom and seismic reflection profiles and gravity measurements. In addition to geophysical mapping, geological coring and oceanographic sampling will be carried out. The LOMROG project has two main scientific components:
- Arctic Ocean paleoceanography/oceanography and glacial history
- The tectonic evolution of the of the Arctic Ocean