On August 2, a Russian Mir submarine (like the one pictured) placed a Russian flag on the Arcticseabed under the North Pole. Russia claims that the seabed there is part of a mountain range that is an extension of Russia’s land mass. Within days, similar claims were made by Denmark, Canada, the United States, and Norway!
There are two questions that arise. The first is about how ownership of a water body and the seabed below it is decided. The second is why there is such strong interest in owning the North Pole and its surrounding area. Lets look at both of these.
The North Pole is permanently covered with shifting ice, and there is no land beneath the ice. Its ownership is defined by the United Nations Convention on Law of the Sea. According to current law, no one owns the North Pole or the region of the Arctic around it. All the countries currently claiming the North Pole are limited to a 200 mile (320km) zone around their coasts. However, they can make claims to extend these zones, and that is what is happening.
So why would someone want to own the area around the North Pole? One big reason is that it is very likely that the seabed below the Arctic Ocean contains oil, minerals and natural gas. Another reason is to be able to own the shipping routes that are becoming possible due to the melting ice.
So can we expect a similar scramble for Antarctica? Luckily, the Antarctic Treaty of 1959 has made Antarctica a common shared scientific region.