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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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  • The Soviet icebreaker Krasin taking part in the international operation to rescue the expedition led by Umberto Nobile following his airship’s crash.
    The icebreaker Krasin in the Arctic
  • Crews of the Pioner Yakutii and Arktika ships playing football on the ice of the Kara Sea.
    Playing football on ice on Kara Sea
  • The edge of the ice floe.
    Russian polar explorers descend on drifting ice floe
  • 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 on dog sleds
  • All-terrain vehicles making their way through the Arctic snow.
    All-terrain vehicles driving through snow
  • The crew of the Arctic expedition sponsored by the Komsomolskaya Pravda newspaper setting up a tent during the march from the North Pole-26 drifting ice station to the North Pole-27 station along the Arctic ice.
    Komsomolskaya expedition sets up tent
  • The Arktika nuclear icebreaker clearing the way for cargo ships off Kharasavei Cape in the Kara Sea.
    Nuclear Icebreaker clearing the way for cargo ships
  • Russian President Vladimir Putin, second left, at the International Arctic Forum "The Arctic – Territory of Dialogue" held in Salekhard. Left: President of Finland Sauli Niinisto. From right: Patrick Borbey, Chair of the Arctic Council’s Senior Officials, with President of Iceland Olafur Ragnar Grimsson
    Third International Arctic Forum
  • Very hazardous area - one of the crewmembers sank chest-high under the floe, but everything turned out well.
    Russian polar explorers descend on drifting ice floe
  • 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
  • The Arktika nuclear icebreaker in the Arctic ice.
    Arktika nuclear icebreaker
  • A polar bear 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.