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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.

Related Photos

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  • A polar bear on the Franz Josef Land archipelago.
    Franz Josef Land archipelago
  • Followed closely by its young, this beautiful marine animal glides effortlessly through the Arctic.
  • View of the Franz Josef Land archipelago.
    Franz Josef Land archipelago
  • Merited cultural worker of the Republic of Tuva, S. Saaya, performs a ritual featuring traditional shamanic dance and dress.
    Shamanic ritual dance
  • A polar bear on the Franz Josef Land archipelago. Russian researchers placed a satellite collar on the bear to monitor its migration, track its daily and seasonal activity, and identify its habitat and migration routes.
    Franz Josef Land archipelago
  • The crew of the Twin Pole-95 international trans-Arctic expedition riding from the Arctic Cape in an attempt to cross the Arctic Ocean on dog sleds in one season for the first time in history.
    Expedition’s crew riding on dog sleds
  • Reached the first ice field area.
    Icebreaker Rossiya in the Chukchi Sea
  • A female bear living at the Wrangel Island Nature Reserve
    Female bear at Wrangel Island Nature Reserve
  • The first of the expedition’s two tractors being put onto the ice floe.
    Russian polar explorers descend on drifting ice floe
  • Crew of a nuclear-powered ship
    Crew of a nuclear-powered ship
  • View of the Franz Josef Land archipelago.
    Franz Josef Land archipelago
  • The bow of Arktika icebreaker
    Bow of Arktika icebreaker

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.