There are not only oil and gas in Arctic but also asters and palms

In May-June of this year a group of Russian scientists on atomic ice-breaker “Russia” undertook a scientific expedition to the high arctic latitudes. The result was sensational: preliminary express-analysis allows to claim that the Russian continental shelf beyond the borders of 200-mile exclusive economical zone is directly connected to the continental borderland of Siberia. This means that economical zone of Russia can (if the obtained data will convince the UN Commission on the continental shelf borders) increase by no less than 1.2 mln. sq. km! Undiscovered potential resources on this territory are evaluated by scientists in 8-10 bln.tons of conventional fuel.

Our conversation partner – the head of the expedition, deputy director on science in VNIIOkeangeologia, doctor of geologic and mineralogical sciences, merited of geology, Honored polar researcher of Russia Viktor Poselov:

– Viktor Antonovich, expedition “Arctic-2007” went on for 43 days, 65 scientists participated in it from several scientific institutes of our country. What purposes had such an impressive “landing force” of scientists to the Arctic?

– One of the main goals of our institute is to prepare materials on defining the external borders of continental shelf of Russia in the Arctic basin. Regardless of Russia being always the leader in development of subpolar and polar areas of the Earth, still the borders of the Russian sector of the Arctic basin do not have juridical status. Attempts to gain it were made earlier as well. In 1997 our country ratified “UN Convention on the sea law of 1982”, and in December 2001 directed to the UN Secretary General the representation on the external border of the Russian continental shelf. It had been prepared in accordance with the UN statements, clearly defining the criteria allowing the states to claim the enlargement of their territories beyond the 200-mile exclusive economical zone.

During preparation of our application all requirements were met, and in 2002 the specifically organized UN Commission on the continental shelf borders considered the documents, which were quite many and sizeable and contained the results of thorough scientific researches.

Because this was the first application in the world of such a sort, its appearance was ambiguously apprehended by the world society. Some countries were emphatically against it.

The key role in preparing such an application in 2001 belonged to our institute VNIIOkeangeologia of the RF natural resources ministry, specialists from the Ministry of Defense also participated. The application included the substantiation of the Russian continental shelf external borders in the Arctic ocean, and was based on the concept, that the largest deep sea uplands of the Amerasia subbasin - the Lomonosov range and the Mendeleev upland – have continental crust type and are natural continuations of the continental border of Siberia.

In the UN Commission on the continental shelf borders the experts were invited from different countries, they considered all geophysical, geological and bathymetrical materials, checked all arguments and issued their recommendations. They were mainly related to the Arctic basin, because here Russia claims for the expanded continental shelf with area of 1.2 mln. sq. km.

The UN Commission required from Russia to provide additional experimental data, that would prove the continental nature of the deep sea uplands of the Amerasian subbasin and their structural connection with continental borderland of Siberia, which will evidence their natural continuation from the mainland. Besides, the UN Commission required to present the model of the Arctic basin evolution non-contradictory to experimental data.

Therefore in 2005 by VNIIOkeangeologia the first expedition was undertaken, the data obtained already processed, now we are preparing materials for presentation to the UN Commission.

In 2007 the second expedition was undertaken, which also successfully achieved all its goals.

–These are deep sea works, plus in conditions of complicated ice environment. Please, relate which research methods were used?

– This was the whole complex of geological and physical researches. It included:

  • deep sea seismic explorations,
  • exploration by the seismic reflection method,
  • geological sampling of bottom sediments,
  • high-resolution seismic profiling of the deep sea part of the Arctic basin.

We should say that such highly effective research methods as telephotoprofiling and high-resolution seismic profiling were applied for the first time in deep sea and ice environments of the Arctic ocean.

No less important tool of researches also was the airborne geophysical observations. We have obtained materials for composing maps of anomalous magnetic and gravitational fields.

Now the expedition materials are processed, this is a long-time process. But according to preliminary data our concept of structural connection of the Lomonosov range with adjacent shelf is proved. Accordingly, the concept is also confirmed, that we used to prepare the initial application.

– If the conclusions made in the course of expedition are accepted, then Russia will be able to settle different territory borders in the Arctic?

– In general, yes. Although the UN Commission itself does not make any decisions, it just tells the UN, that the materials presented by this state are fully meeting the requirements of the Convention. This grants this state a right to settle a new economical border by its preliminary agreement with all other near-arctic states. If such an agreement is obtained, the UN Commission will approve of setting the border.

– Viktor Antonovich, because the scientific researches were performed at a large depth in the Arctic ocean, it is interesting to know, whether there is life.

– Oh, yes. The underwater fauna observed on the teleprofiles at arctic deep sea is pretty plentiful. From the actively swimming organisms everywhere there are shrimps of red color and fish of blue color. The moving infauna is represented mainly by brittle stars and millipedes, and the stable – by creatures looking like asters or little palms. So, the unique materials received by us will be of great interest also for the specialists in sea biology.

Interviewed by
Olga Loskutova

Go to Index of # 3(21) 2007


# 3(21), 2007
Ocean and shelf exploration