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Melting Arctic opens avenues for India

The country eyes the region's huge mineral deposits

Darryl D'monte  |  Oslo 

"We do not know what is happening to the temperatures in the Arctic region," Torgeir Larsen, Norway's state secretary in the foreign affairs ministry said at an Arctic Summit, organised in Norwegian capital by The Economist, today. Much of the summit concerns relate to the discovery of new shipping routes, which could drastically reduce the distance from Europe to East Asia, with rapid meltdown of sea ice.

India has applied for "observer" status of the Arctic Council - a group consisting Canada, Greenland, Norway, Russia, the US, Sweden, Finland and Iceland. Seven non-Arctic countries are permanent observers - all of them from Europe. India's application is due to come up in May.

India is already taking measures to stake its claim to the mineral-rich continent. In January, the took charge of its diesel-driven submarine of Russian origin, Sindhurakshak, which was thoroughly overhauled and modernised at a Russian shipyard. It then sailed for India, escorted by two Russian icebreakers, the first Indian vessel to sail home through the Arctic.

Though India harps on conducting scientific research in the Arctic, its real interest lies in the enormous mineral and natural resources of the region. Oil and Natural Gas Corporation is in joint ventures with Russian partners to explore deep-sea oil and gas as well as metals. The defence ministry has also noted that with the melting of the polar ice caps, new maritime routes will open up. What is known as the "Northern Shipping Route", according to Vijay Sakhuja, director (research), Indian Council of World Affairs, may open alternative sea routes through the Indian Ocean. India will look to transport energy and mineral resources from the Arctic through this route.

As much as a quarter of the world's "undiscovered" oil and natural gas reserves lie in this region. With accelerating climate change - between 1978 and 1990, global temperatures rose by a little less than 1-degree Celsius, while temperatures in the Arctic Ocean rose by 3-degrees Celsius - there will be a runaway greenhouse effect, say experts.

The melting of the Arctic sea ice could release 100 billion tonnes of carbon di-oxide, a "slow-motion time bomb", by the end of this century. This could lead to a complete collapse of the Asian monsoon, with catastrophic consequences for the millions living in the shadow of the Himalayas.

First Published: Wed, March 13 2013. 00:30 IST
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