A New Cold War Is Forming At The Top Of The World, As Countries Race To Claim A Melting Arctic

Source: National Geographic/Neil Shea

Photo: Jay Ruzesky/Unsplash

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On a calm, bright morning in August 2007 a pair of Russian submersibles dropped 14,000 feet to the bottom of the Arctic Ocean and planted a flag made of titanium at the North Pole. It was a bold move, made with drama in mind, and images broadcast around the world of the Russian tricolor standing on the seabed drew quick condemnation in the West.

“This isn’t the 15th century,” said Peter MacKay, then foreign minister of Canada, on CTV television. “You can’t go around the world and just plant flags and say, ‘We’re claiming this territory.’”

MacKay was technically correct; the Russian stunt held no legal weight. But his rebuke carried a note of petulance, as though he wished the whole thing had been Canada’s idea. Ten years on, MacKay’s reaction is easier to understand. 2007 was, at the time, one of the warmest years on record, and the Arctic summer ice pack—the vast expanse of floating ice that covers the North Pole even through the summer—had shrunk to the lowest levels ever recorded.

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Photo: Jay Ruzesky/Unsplash

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