A new map of the Arctic sea floor may help the United States should it decide to join in on the international land grab going on up north. While the U.S. clearly owns all the above-water land in Alaska, the land beneath the Arctic Ocean is trickier. It is literally uncharted territory, mostly unclaimed, and butts up against Russia, Greenland, the U.S., and other countries who are now trying to extend their borders northward.
The map, made with NOAA data, shows that Alaska’s continental shelf extends more than 115 miles further than believed. An international sea treaty gives countries the rights to govern their continental shelf beyond 230 miles if the country can prove the shelf extends that far. So the further the shelf, the more seabed the United States potentially has to drill for oil. There are estimates that as much as 25% of the world’s undiscovered oil reserves lie beneath the Arctic sea floor, making it a possible future fuel source, though most likely a deadly one for the strange, new species scientists have only recently discovered there. Not only would it disturb their habitat, if there was an oil spill in the Arctic, it would be harder than usual to clean up because it’s so far from land, so cold, has moving ice, and lack of natural light during some times of the year. However, as the U.S. has yet to even officially claim the land, the legality of oil drilling by American companies is still undetermined.
NOAA plans a second research expedition for fall this year.