The search for the Northwest Passage spurred the European exploration of the Pacific Northwest. With global warming, Arctic land claims are heating up as the U.S., Canada, Denmark, Russia, Iceland and Norway vie for sea lanes, the seabed and once ice-bound islands. Finally, there's a great visual to sort out these competing claims.
The BBC News reports that a Durham University team has mapped the complex border disputes in the far north. The need was highlighted when last year the Russians planted their flag on the seabed of the North Pole as if staking out new territory. That, plus the promise of year-round ice-free passages and access to mineral wealth, has set off an international scramble that is hard to visualize.
The map views the north pole from above [pdf] and shades in the various and often overlapping claims and potential claims based on international agreements, treaties, traditional national and maritime boundaries, new claims, and areas long in dispute that were mostly academic until now.
An example is a significant overlap between U.S. and Canadian claims in the Beaufort Sea. Canada says that boundary was determined in an 1825 treaty between Britain and Russia that also settled the boundary between Alaska and the Yukon. the U.S. says the boundary has yet to be set. According the the Durham team, that disagreement alone means some 7,000 nautical miles in dispute. Why does it matter? As John McCain might say, "Oil, my friends."
Maps document the history of exploration and political and territorial claims. Significant maps are highly collectible, and often highly symbolic of an age. The Durham map captures a complex land grab as it is at the starting line of a 21st century race for resources. It'll be interesting to see what it looks like in 10 years.