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Executive Summary for January 22nd

We review and analyze the latest news and most important developments in the Arctic, including Russia’s bid to extend the borders of its continental shelf under the U.N. Convention on the Law of the Sea, and the mixing of ocean species as Arctic sea ice retreats.

Published on Jan. 22, 2016 Read time Approx. 2 minutes

Russia to Present Claim for Arctic Shelf Expansion

The U.N. will hear the supporting evidence for Russia’s request to extend the borders of its continental shelf in the Arctic in February, Resource and Ecology Minister Sergei Donskoi told Sputnik.

Russia says it has evidence that a resource-rich zone of the Arctic seabed is a natural continuation of its continental shelf, including the Lomonosov Ridge and the Mendeleev Ridge. The expansion would add 1.2 million square kilometers (463,322 square miles) to its territory.

Russia originally laid claim to these areas in 2002, but the U.N. rejected the submission, citing lack of scientific evidence. It refiled last year with geologic charts and underwater survey data.

Under UNCLOS, countries with Arctic coasts can claim additional offshore territory if they have evidence that the submarine geology is a natural continuation of their continental shelf. They are interested in the oil, gas and mineral reserves that may lie there.

The U.S. is the only Arctic nation that hasn’t ratified UNCLOS. It will not be able to submit a claim until it does.

Ocean Species Mix as Sea Ice Melts

Scientists have caught sight of marine birds and mammals in the wrong ocean. Whales and seabirds, such as the northern gannet, may be moving into Arctic waters as the sea ice retreats, reports CBS News.

Marine mammals need open-water access to breathe, and seabirds require it for diving. But the reduction in Arctic sea ice means they are able to feed in areas that might have previously been blocked off. Many of the sightings have come from citizen scientists.

Accelerated sea ice loss has created longer openings along routes that connect the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans, C. Seabird McKeon and his colleagues write in a study published in Global Change Biology.

The outcome is uncertain. When one species moves from one ocean into another, it could compete with others for food or prey on the species living there, or it could have no effect.

One Pacific species of a tiny diatom, a type of phytoplankton, was found in the Labrador Sea in the late 1990s and has now spread to northern Nordic waters.

In some cases, these species may be moving into new northern waters on their own accord. But ships could also move small species when they take on ballast water in one place and release it in another.

Recommended Reading

Top image: An iceberg is seen melting off the coast of Ammasalik, Greenland. A new study suggests that the retreat of Arctic sea ice may give some species the opportunity to move into Arctic waters. (AP Photo/John McConnico)

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