Russians travel to the North Pole
An expedition aimed at strengthening Russia's claim to much of the Arctic Ocean reached the North Pole yesterday afternoon.
An advance party of six researchers flew to the North Pole in a helicopter early Wednesday and spent 11 minutes on the ice scouting the route for the icebreaker Rossiya and the scientific research vessel Akademik Fyodorov.
Nuclear-powered icebreaker Rossiya
Mir-1 and Mir-2, the mini-submarines, each carrying one pilot, reached the seabed at a depth of 1,311 meters (4,301 feet), 47 nautical miles (87 km) north of Russia's northernmost archipelago, Franz Josef Land in the Barents Sea during the test dive on July 30.
Mini-sub Mir during the test dive. These mini-subs are best known for doing all the under-water filming for the blockbuster movie Titanic
The mini-submarines are capable of working at depths down to 6,000 meters (20,000 feet).
At the pole, Russian scientists are preparing to dive in two mini-submarines beneath the pole to depths of more than 13,200 feet, and drop a metal capsule containing the Russian flag on the sea bed.
The symbolic gesture is intended to prop up Moscow's claims to more than 460,000 square miles of the Arctic shelf - which by some estimates may contain 10 billion tons of oil and gas deposits.
International law states that the five countries with territory inside the Arctic Circle -- Russia, the United States, Canada, Norway, and Denmark through its control of Greenland -- can claim only a 200-mile (320-km) zone around their coastlines for economic activity.
About 100 scientists aboard the Akademik Fyodorov are looking for evidence that the Lomonosov Ridge - a 1,240 mile underwater mountain range that crosses the polar region - is a geologic extension of Russia, and therefore can be claimed by Russia under the U.N. Convention on the Law of the Sea.
Akademik Fyodorov research vessel
Other nations are a slightly behind Russia in terms of their actions to claim the North Pole territories:
- Denmark hopes to prove that the Lomonosov Ridge is an extension of the Danish territory of Greenland, not Russia.
- Canada plans to spend $7 billion to build and operate up to eight Arctic patrol ships in a bid to help protect its sovereignty.
- The U.S. Congress is considering an $8.7 billion budget reauthorization bill for the U.S. Coast Guard that includes $100 million to operate and maintain the nation's three existing polar icebreakers. The bill also authorizes the Coast Guard to construct two new vessels.
Russia has claimed the polar region since the beginning of the 20th Century. It argued in 2002 in an application to the United Nations committee that administers the Law of the Sea, that geological data backed up this claim, The U.N. rejected Moscow's application, citing lack of evidence, but Russia is set to resubmit it in 2009.
Russia Blog joins the U.S. State Department spokeswoman Leslie Phillips in wishing "the Russian scientists a safe expedition."