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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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  • Prime Minister Vladimir Putin (third right, background) attending the plenary meeting of the Second International Forum "The Arctic: Territory of Dialogue", September 22, 2011. Left: Albert II, Sovereign Prince of Monaco.
    Second International Arctic Forum
  • Photographer Boris Korobeinikov’s “Moving from the Arctic to a Zoo” on display at the APN-67 exhibition.
    Photograph by APN’s Boris Korobeinikov
  • 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 Sibir nuclear icebreaker in the Arctic during a high-latitude expedition.
    Sibir nuclear icebreaker in the Arctic
  • The first of the expedition’s two tractors being put onto the ice floe.
    Russian polar explorers descend on drifting ice floe
  • 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 dogs were the first to run down the ramp onto the ice floe.
    Russian polar explorers descend on drifting ice floe
  • The team of polar explorers led by Ivan Papanin and a group of rescuers leaving the North Pole-1 station in the Arctic.
    The team led by Ivan Papanin leaving camp
  • A reproduction of Rockwell Kent’s 1932 painting “Artist in Greenland” in the Pushkin Fine Arts Museum, Moscow.
    Rockwell Kent’s “Artist in Greenland”
  • Greenland seals dwelling in the Arctic Ocean head for the White Sea each February when mating season begins.
    Greenland seals
  • Ice floes in the Arctic Ocean near the Franz Josef Land archipelago.
    Franz Josef Land archipelago
  • Researchers from the Soviet drifting station North Pole-11 building a sauna from snow.
    Building a sauna at the North Pole

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.