In depth: Three countries rush to claim an underwater mountain
There’s a huge mountain range on earth which is not shown in any map you would see. And a number of countries have already started to fight over its ownership.
What is this hidden gem?
Hidden below the North Pole in the Arctic region is Lomonosov Ridge. It is a vast mountain range running from the continental shelf of Siberia towards Greenland and Canada. The mountain range stretches for more than 1,700km, its highest peak is 3.4km above the ocean floor. The ridge was first discovered in 1948 by researchers of the Soviet Union’s early expeditions to the central Arctic. In 1954, the researchers published a map showing an underwater mountain range, which they named after the 18th-Century poet and naturalist Mikhail Lomonosov, who had predicted 200 years before that such features would be found in the Arctic basin.
The three-nation tussle
This little-known mountain range is at the centre of three nations seeking sovereignty over the seabed around the North Pole. Denmark claims that the mountain range is an extension of its autonomous territory of Greenland. Russia says it is an extension of the Siberian archipelago Franz Josef Land. And Canada is of the view that it is an extension of Ellesmere Island in the Canadian territory of Nunavut. The three countries are fighting for the ownership of the range which is rich in natural resources.
The rich range
Though it’s difficult to mine underwater, scientists were able to dredge till almost 3 km. The found layer upon layer of fine lines, much like tree rings. This layered crust was rich in manganese oxide, which forms in nodules on the seafloor where there is very little sediment. They believe that the rock may be as old as eight-million-year. But it was sandstone below the rust-orange crust that had the most interesting information about the mountain range. It turned out the mountain-folding event was 470 million years ago. The sand grains that made up the rock, though, were much older – closer to 1.6 billion years. No doubt, the nations are fighting over this rich piece of underwater land.
So who owns it actually?
As coastal nations, Russia, Denmark and Canada of course already have sovereign rights over the seafloor close to their own shores. They can indulge in various economic activities till 370km from shore like fishing, building infrastructure and extracting natural resources. With countries already exhausting their existing natural resources, it is no surprise that they are fighting for this new discovery. While the ridge may well be an extension of Greenland, if you look at it from the other end it is also an extension of Russia. And Canada, too, has evidence that the Lomonosov Ridge is a prolongation extending from Ellesmere Island. In fact, it’s perfectly possible that the Lomonosov Ridge is Russian, Canadian and Greenlandic all at once. But would the countries be ready to share it?