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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 reproduction of Rockwell Kent’s 1932 painting “Early November: North Greenland” in the Pushkin Fine Arts Museum, Moscow.
    Rockwell Kent’s “Early November: North Greenland”
  • The icebreaker Krasin and the steamship Sverdlovsk anchored near Schmidt Cape.
    Icebreaker Krasin and streamship Sverdlovsk
  • Helicopter takes off from Barneo to deliver food for the Konyukov-Simonov expedition.
  • The Mikhal Somov research vessel of the Arctic and Antarctic Research Institute stuck in ice in the Ross Sea.
    Mikhail Somov research vessel
  • Deer. The photo was taken in the 1990s.
    Deer
  • At tne North Pole
  • Arthur Chilingarov (second left), Vice-President of the Russian Geographical Society, the Russian president's special envoy for international cooperation in the Arctic and Antarctic, and Yury Trutnev (second right), Minister of Natural Resources and Ecology, attending the plenary meeting of the Second International Forum "The Arctic: Territory of Dialogue".
    Second International Arctic Forum
  • Russian Emergencies Minister Sergei Shoigu speaks at the 2nd International Arctic Forum "The Arctic: Territory of Dialogue” in Arkhangelsk.
    The Arctic: Territory of Dialogue - 2011
  • Polar explorers walking amid ice hummocks.
    Ice hummocks
  • A shaman at the opening ceremony of the Arthur Chilingarov Cup national snowmobile racing contest Buran-Dei 2010 in Naryan-Mar.
    Arthur Chilingarov Cup snowmobile race Buran-Day 2010 in Naryan-Mar
  • An Antonov An-72 aircraft on the Franz Josef Land archipelago.
    Nagurskoye frontier post
  • An iceberg in the Arctic.
    Iceberg

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.