Arctic landscapes and seascapes are changing dramatically. Disappearing ice, rising temperatures in air and water, and thawing permafrost are causing all kinds of change for plants, animals—and people. The receding sea ice has inspired the five countries that border the Arctic Ocean to claim rights to large, but overlapping, sections of the seafloor. Three of them say the North Pole is theirs. Diplomats could slowly work out boundaries based on geologic evidence—unless rising geopolitical tension makes the science moot. The Arctic states and other countries are also vying for oil and natural gas deposits, shipping lanes and even military positioning in the high north. Russia is expanding its Arctic military presence, while NATO holds large Arctic exercises, signs that aggression could mount. Yet conflict is not necessarily inevitable: countries may decide they have more to gain by cooperatively developing the vast, emerging region.
Scientific American dives into the technical and strategic details in this special report, complete with highly detailed maps of the changing landscape and competing national interests.