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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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  • The U.S. state of Alaska. In 1992, Northwestern America (later called Russian America), discovered by the 1741 expedition led by Vitus Bering and Alexei Chirikov, marked its 250th anniversary.
    Alaska through a Porthole
  • View of the Franz Josef Land archipelago.
    Franz Josef Land archipelago
  • An AN-10 plane on an ice airfield in the Arctic.
    AN-10 plane in the Arctic
  • 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
  • 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”
  • Walruses in their rookery.
    Walruses
  • Tufted Puffins
  • Hummocks at the Franz Josef Land Nature Reserve.
    Hummocks at Franz Josef Land Nature Reserve
  • Shaman’s tambourines in the local history museum in Biysk.
    Shaman’s tambourines
  • 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
  • View of the Franz Josef Land archipelago.
    Franz Josef Land archipelago
  • The icebreaker Krasin and the steamship Sverdlovsk anchored near Schmidt Cape.
    Icebreaker Krasin and streamship Sverdlovsk

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.