Monday, August 11, 2008

Nyah Nyah Lomonosov Is Ours Says Canada

No they didn't quite put it that way. After last year's dramatic planting of it's flag on the north pole sea bed by Russia to draw attention to its interest over the resource rich Arctic sea floor, you would think Canada would have retaliated with something equally spectacular, but no, the announcement when it comes will be sober and scholarly:

Crustal Structure from the Lincoln Sea to the Lomonosov Ridge, Arctic Ocean will be how Canada makes it's case at the 2008 International Geological Congress in Oslo for sovereignty over the Lomonosov ridge, a vast undersea ridge thought to be composed of continental crust stretching from Ellesmere Island and Greenland to Siberia.

Countries have exclusive right over mineral deposits extending to 200 nautical miles from their coasts. This zone can be extended if any country can prove that their continental shelves (which are composed of continental crust) extend to a distance more than 200 miles. Russia claimed that the Lomonosov ridge is a natural extension of Siberia sometime back, now Canada along with help from Denmark is trying to demonstrate that the ridge is part of the North American plate. The critical piece of evidence will be the nature of the contact between the ridge and the North American and Siberian continental crust. On the Siberian side the geology looks to be quite complicated, the contact between the ridge and the Siberian shelf is faulted. This may be because the ridge originally came from a different part of the Eurasian shelf and has over the last few million years slid along a transform fault to its present location. Are transported terrains in faulted contact to be considered part of the natural extension of the shelf? I don't see why not. In the absence of oceanic crust in between the two, the ridge has become a natural extension of the shelf. It will be interesting to follow what evidence the Canadians have that shows geological continuity between Ellesmere Island, Greenland and Lomonosov.

There is a lot of energy locked in various Arctic basins. Lomonosov is only part of the overall exploration and assessment by circum-Arctic countries of resources that may become easier to exploit as global warming melts Arctic ice. A recent assessment by the United States Geological Survey of undiscovered oil and gas resources in the Arctic suggest that up to 90 billion barrels of oil and 1,669 trillion cubic feet of natural gas may remain to be discovered. Out of this about 84% of the resources may occur offshore. The table below summaries the USGS study.

Denmark has a lot to gain by collaborating with Canada over Lomonosov as several Greenland (which Denmark administers) and adjoining Canadian basins look to be exceptionally rich in oil and gas, containing possibly up to 17 billion barrels of oil. Lomonosov at least according to this USGS study may contain much less oil (1.1 billion barrels) than some other basins over which issues of sovereignty are settled. Experts feel it unlikely that any one country will end up with sovereign rights over Lomonosov. Expect a three way split between Canada, Denmark and Russia.

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