LANCASTER SOUND, Nunavut -- From a distance, the northern shores of Baffin Island in the Arctic appear barren -- a craggy world of snow-capped peaks and glaciers surrounded by a sea of floating ice even in the midst of summer.
Beneath the forbidding surface of the world's fifth-largest island lies an exceptionally pure strain of iron ore, and the Baffinland mine is believed to hold enough of it to feed smelters for decades.
As climate change causes the ice to shrink a little farther north each year, it is spurring talk of a rush in the remote Arctic for abundant natural resources, prized shipping routes and business opportunities in tourism and fishing. In April, President Donald Trump signed an executive order to reverse Barack Obama-era restrictions on oil drilling.
The Arctic, including the fabled Northwest Passage between the Atlantic and the Pacific, is among the last regions on earth to remain largely unexplored. However, experts say there remain many obstacles to reaping the riches once blocked by the ice.
The Associated Press took a first-hand look at the region on a monthlong, 6,200-mile journey aboard the Finnish icebreaker MSV Nordica, along with researchers specializing in Arctic development.
"As the world demand for raw materials is ever increasing, and [with] a realization that a large part of the unexplored deposits are in the Arctic, there is a natural shift to focus on that area," said Mads Boye Petersen, head of Denmark's Nordic Bulk Carriers Shipping.
Petersen's company sent a freighter through the Northwest Passage four years ago to show the route can be used to haul cargo in summer. However, he also noted that rising temperatures make operations harder because moving floes are less predictable than unbroken sheets of ice.
"On the surface, it might look like a slam dunk," he said. "But it's actually a lot more complicated than just something you decide to do overnight."
The U.S. Geological Survey has estimated that up to 30 percent of the world's undiscovered natural gas and 13 percent of oil waiting to be found are inside the Arctic Circle. Precious minerals also sit beneath the icy surface, along with rare earth elements, lithium and cobalt, which are used in batteries for electric cars and handheld devices, said Morten Smelror, director of the Geological Survey of Norway.
"The Arctic is certainly among the last frontiers with respect to undiscovered mineral resources, along with the deep oceans," Smelror said.
The geography also opens up new opportunities. Sailing through the Northwest Passage has the potential to cut the distance from East Asia to Western Europe by more than 6,200 miles, compared with the traditional route through the Panama Canal, offering huge fuel savings.
The battle for the Arctic is being fought by geologists and legions of lawyers.
Greenland has staked its claim to the Lomonosov Ridge beneath the Arctic Sea, which would greatly extend its rights to the sea bed for possible mining. Russia contests the claim. Russia boldly planted an underwater flag at the North Pole 10 years ago, and it has been expanding infrastructure along its northern coast.
Canada contends that the Arctic archipelago's waters are its internal waters, and it has stepped up its presence in the region, including creating a new Arctic research center. The United States contests the claim, which would give Canada the right to stop ships from freely traveling through the Northwest Passage.
Some smaller firms are pressing ahead. The Alaska-based company Quintillion is laying a fiber-optic cable through the Northwest Passage to provide high-speed Internet traffic to local communities and an additional link between London and Tokyo.
The growth in adventure tourism and the lengthening summer season have also produced a surge of traffic. Last year, the cruise ship Crystal Serenity, with 500 crew members as well as 1,100 passengers paying at least $22,000 each, sailed through the passage. Part of the revenue goes to local communities whose hunting grounds and travel routes might be disrupted.
Some Inuit are hoping for new economic opportunities from the region's growing fishing industry.
"Moneywise, it's great," said Maatiusi Manning, a 33-year-old Inuk from Baffin Island. "It's going to help a lot of families."
Climate change is even opening new avenues in agriculture. Mette Bendixen, a climate researcher at the University of Copenhagen, projects that global warming will extend the growing season by two months.
"Not many people know that potatoes, strawberries are grown in southern Greenland," he said.
Business on 08/24/2017
Print Headline: Arctic's thaw bode a rush for resources