[Editor's note: Nations around the world are laying claim to areas beyond their 200-nautical-mile limit to lay claim to underwater mineral riches like oil and gas, including the Gulf of Mexico and the Arctic, as detailed in last month's National Geographic magazine. Note the use of Southern Ocean on this map for waters around Antarctica south of 60 degrees.]
Republished from the Economist. May 14th 2009
Related story: St Pierre and Miquelon – Squaring off for a seabed scrap
The scramble for the seabed: Coastal states have now made their bids for vast new areas of continental shelf
YOU never know what may come in handy. That is the principle behind the rush for the seabed that reached a climax of sorts this week with the deadline on May 13th for lodging claims to extensions of the continental shelf. When Russia sold Alaska to the United States for two cents an acre (five cents a hectare) in 1867, it thought it was parting with a useless lump of ice. After gold was discovered there, it began kicking itself. Now it is one of a host of countries eagerly laying claim to swathes of the seafloor that may one day yield huge riches. That is the hope anyway.
The rules for this carve-up derive from the 1982 United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea. These gave all countries that had ratified the treaty before May 13th 1999 ten years in which to claim any extension of their continental shelf beyond the normal 200 nautical miles (370km), so long as that extension was no more than 100 miles from the point at which the sea reached a depth of 2.5km, and no more than 350 miles from land. Any other country wishing to make a claim has ten years from the date on which it ratified the treaty. It must then, like all the states that have now made their claims, submit copious scientific evidence to show that the seabed in question is indeed continental shelf.