Published: May 2009

Healy Mapping Mission

Denmark and Sweden hired a Russian icebreaker to help map the Arctic seafloor around Greenland.

Arctic Landgrab

As rising temperatures melt the polar ice cap, five countries race to map their claims to a new energy frontier. The stakes are huge. Nearly a quarter of the world’s undiscovered oil and gas may lie beneath the seabed of this vast wilderness.

By McKenzie Funk
Photograph by Björn Eriksson

The office of Artur Chilingarov, the bearded polar explorer and anointed Hero of the Russian Federation, is at the end of a long hall in the Duma, Russia's parliament, where he is deputy speaker. Its entrance is guarded by a poster of a nuclear icebreaker, the Yamal, a 492-foot monster with rows of painted-on fangs, and inside is a knee-high wooden penguin and two chicks, a pair of carved walrus tusks, and eight miniature porcelain polar bears—an iconography of the Arctic and Antarctic. On a wall is a portrait of Vladimir Putin. Chilingarov sits in a leather chair in a dark suit with the Hero's gold star pinned to his breast, and next to him sits a four-foot-high globe, normal in every way but one. It has been spun off its axis, reoriented such that both Poles are visible: the Earth turned on its side.

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