100 Places – No. 11 • The Arctic Ocean

100 Places to Remember Before they Disappear features 100 photographs from one hundred different places around the world in risk of disappearing or seriously threatened by climate change. On this website you can see the photographs and find further information and news about climate change and the project. Among ambassadors are Joss Stone, Desmund Tutu for more info visit 100places.com.

Until relatively recently, the Arctic Ocean remained unexplored. The lack of knowledge about what lay north of the shifting barriers of ice led to conjecture and speculation, nourishing persistent myths about an open polar sea. However, as explorers inched further and further towards the pole, it became obvious that the ice cover was in fact massive and permanent all year round.

Occupying an almost circular basin of about 14,056,000 square kilometres at the top of the world, the Arctic Ocean is surrounded by the land masses of Euroasia, North America and Greenland, as well as several smaller islands.
The Norwegian explorer and scientist Fridtjof Nansen was the first person to cross the Arctic Ocean. He spent more than three years there from 1893 to 1896 but never reached the North Pole latitude 90° North getting only as far as 86°14N. At the time, this was further north than anyone had ever been before. More than 70 years would pass before a dog sled expedition led by the British polar explorer Sir Wally Herbert crossed the entire frozen Arctic Ocean from Alaska to Svalbard and, in April 1969, reached the northernmost point on Earth. This epic crossing of more than 5,800 km is considered the last great journey on Earth.

Every summer, the Arctic sea ice breaks up and partially melts. In the last decade, global warming has caused the summer melting of the North Pole to break all records, and the sea ice cover has retreated much faster than had previously been predicted. If the trend continues at the same rate, it is thought summers at the North Pole could be completely ice-free by as early as 2013.

Currently, none of the five countries surrounding the Arctic Ocean – Russia, Norway, Denmark/Greenland, Canada and the USA – owns the North Pole region. The area is believed to hold significant reserves of oil, gas and minerals. As the sea ice melts and the underground becomes accessible, disputes will arise over who is entitled to its resources, disputes that could potentially trigger confrontations.

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