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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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  • Ice flow for a Russian drifting station in the Arctic was found on Sunday. It is located in the Chukchi Sea at 76.00.5N 175.34W and is 8 km by 12 km. It meets all the basic requirements.
    Icebreaker Rossiya in the Chukchi Sea
  • Walruses in their rookery.
  • The Soviet pilot Mikhail Vodopyanov preparing for a flight to the Arctic.
    Soviet pilot Mikhail Vodopyanov
  • Tufted Puffins
  • Russian explorer Fyodor Konyukhov
  • Deer sled.
  • 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
  • Ice floes in the Arctic Ocean near the Franz Josef Land archipelago.
    Franz Josef Land archipelago
  • A polar bear with its catch at the Wrangel Island Nature Reserve in the Chukotka Autonomous Area.
    Polar bear
  • The icebreaker Krasin and the steamship Sverdlovsk anchored near Schmidt Cape.
    Icebreaker Krasin and streamship Sverdlovsk
  • 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
  • During the two rounds of helicopter flights over an area of about 200 by 100 km a total of 12 ice floes in Ice Field No. 1 were surveyed
    Icebreaker Rossiya in the Chukchi Sea

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.