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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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  • Russian President Vladimir Putin, left, speaks during the plenary session of the Third International Arctic Forum "The Arctic – Territory of Dialogue" held in Salekhard
    President Putin Speaking
  • The Rossiya is headed for the next ice field it should reach shortly before daybreak for helicopter flights to resume.
    Icebreaker Rossiya in the Chukchi Sea
  • The Soviet pilot Mikhail Vodopyanov preparing for a flight to the Arctic.
    Soviet pilot Mikhail Vodopyanov
  • 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
  • An Il-14 plane flying over ice floes in the central Arctic.
    Il-14 flying over Arctic ice
  • Prime Minister Vladimir Putin (second left) to attend the Second International Forum "The Arctic: Territory of Dialogue", September 22, 2011. Right, foreground: Arthur Chilingarov, Vice-President of the Russian Geographical Society, the Russian president's special envoy for international cooperation in the Arctic and Antarctic. Left: Albert II, Sovereign Prince of Monaco.
    Second International Arctic Forum
  • The tractor pulling the first load of construction materials.
    Russian polar explorers descend on drifting ice floe
  • An Arctic tern in its nest at the Kandalaksha State Nature Reserve.
    Arctic tern
  • A bear cub on Wrangel Island in the Arctic Ocean.
    Bear cub on Wrangel Island
  • ... but none could meet the basic requirements, especially for thickness.
    Icebreaker Rossiya in the Chukchi Sea
  • 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
  • The Krasin icebreaker delivering a geological expedition to Franz Josef Land.
    Krasin 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.