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Natural Resources

The Arctic contains a wealth of petroleum and mineral resources. Currently, the region produces about one tenth of the world’s oil and a quarter of its natural gas. The Russian Arctic is the source for about 80 percent of this oil and virtually all of the natural gas; Arctic Canada, Alaska, and Norway are the other leading producers. Recent appraisals suggest that a considerable fraction of the world’s undiscovered petroleum reserves lie within the Arctic.

The most developed sector of the region, the Russian Arctic also holds abundant deposits of nickel, copper, coal, gold, uranium, tungsten, and diamonds. As well, the North American Arctic contains pockets of uranium, copper, nickel, iron, natural gas, and oil. However, many known mineral reserves have not been exploited because of their inaccessibility and the steep development costs.

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    The Arctic: Territory of Dialogue - 2011
  • The icebreaker Krasin and an aircraft taking part in an international operation to rescue Umberto Nobile’s expedition.
    Rescuing Umberto Nobile's expedition
  • The Lenin nuclear icebreaker, the flagship of the icebreaker fleet, in the Arctic.
    Lenin nuclear icebreaker in the Arctic
  • The ice-covered Barents Sea.
    Barents Sea
  • Members of the FSB border guard service and the Emergencies Ministry during joint rescue exercises following an airplane crash. The exercises were held under severe arctic conditions on the Franz Josef Land archipelago.
    Joint FSB border guard and Emergencies Ministry exercises
  • The Arctic.
    The Arctic
  • Merited cultural worker of the Republic of Tuva, S. Saaya, performs a ritual featuring traditional shamanic dance and dress.
    Shamanic ritual dance
  • Crews of the Pioner Yakutii and Arktika ships playing football on the ice of the Kara Sea.
    Playing football on ice on Kara Sea
  • Tufted Puffins
  • An Arctic Lemming on Wrangel Island.
    Arctic Lemming
  • A Soviet-Canadian trans-Arctic expedition
    A Soviet-Canadian trans-Arctic expedition
  • A polar bear with its catch at the Wrangel Island Nature Reserve in the Chukotka Autonomous Area.
    Polar bear

Biological resources are similarly bountiful in the Far North. An estimated one-fifth of freshwater and several of the world’s largest rivers are found there. The region encompasses one of the last and most extensive, continuous wilderness areas on Earth, and it is home to hundreds of endemic species of plants and animals. Millions of migratory birds from around the globe breed and live seasonally in the Arctic and a variety of marine mammals inhabit the regional ocean waters. Fish such as salmon, cod, and pollock abound in Arctic and sub-Arctic waters, supporting valuable commercial fisheries. Some two dozen major herds of reindeer and caribou, important resources for indigenous peoples, migrate across high northern landscapes. In sum, humans gain much from the Arctic’s living resources, and the region is uniquely important to global biodiversity.

Climate change in the Far North is expected to transform the outlook on natural resources there.  As rising temperatures accelerate the melting of ice on land and at sea, the prospects for expanding transportation corridors, mineral resource development, and tourism will grow. At the same time living resources will face new pressures. Future developments could well bring considerable new wealth to Arctic state economies, but also significant consequences for northern peoples and environments.