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IBRU: Durham University’s Centre for Borders Research has updated its Arctic Maps Series to reflect the 6 February 2023 recommendations made by the Commission on the Limits of the Continental Shelf (CLCS) on Russia’s extended continental shelf, as well as the revised submission that Russia filed on 14 February 2023 in response to the CLCS recommendations.

Assuming that the CLCS will amend its recommendations to incorporate Russia’s revised submission, the recommendation will recognise 521,600 square nautical miles (1,791,200 square kilometres) of Central Arctic Ocean seabed as an extension of Russia’s continental shelf.

Submissions by Canada and the Kingdom of Denmark await CLCS recommendations. When recommendations are eventually made on the Canadian and Danish submissions, there likely will be a significant area, including the North Pole, where the three states’ continental shelves overlap. This overlap is a normal part of the process by which continental shelf claims are evaluated. After recommendations have been made on the submissions of all potential claimants the states will engage in negotiations to divide (or co-manage) the areas of extended continental shelf overlap.

In addition to Russia, the CLCS has also made recommendations for the Arctic Ocean extended continental shelves of Iceland and Norway. The United State has not yet made a submission.

Russia’s evolving submission

IBRU Arctic Map Map 6 Russia All maps banner

Russia was the very first country to make a submission to the CLCS, in 2001, but that submission was returned by the CLCS with a request for more data. Russia responded with a partially revised submission in 2015 which largely replicated the original submission, but with two small areas added and one subtracted from the 2001 filing. A further, much more substantive series of addenda were filed in 2021, extending the Russian shelf at points to the limits of the Canadian and Danish exclusive economic zones and also making a significant claim to the Gakkel Ridge, which separates the Amundsen and Nansen Basins on the side of the Arctic Ocean facing western Russia.

The CLCS’ 2023 recommendation is largely aligned with Russia’s revised submission, except along the Gakkel Ridge. The CLCS also identified one area, in the southern portion of the Amundsen Basin, where the Russian data left them unable to draw a precise limit to Russia’s continental shelf. Russia responded one week later with a further revision that proposed a specific location for this limit.

Assuming that the CLCS accepts Russia’s latest revision and incorporates it into its recommendation, IBRU calculates that Russia’s continental shelf in the Central Arctic Ocean will consist of three areas: a main area that covers 516,400 square nautical miles plus two smaller areas of 3,500 square nautical miles and 1,700 square nautical miles. The total area of 521,600 square nautical miles (1,791,200 square kilometres) is a little larger than Libya, the world’s 16th largest country.

In light of the complexity surrounding Russia’s continental shelf recommendation, IBRU has significantly revised its map series depicting Russia’s evolving continental shelf. The series now consists of four separate maps, each depicting the continental shelf at a specific stage in the submission process (the initial 2001 submission, the 2015 revised submission, the 2021 addenda, and the 2023 recommendation and subsequent revised submission), as well as a map that graphically depicts the areas of seabed added and subtracted at each stage in the process.

A consequence of the CLCS’ rejection of Russia’s claim to the Gakkel Ridge is that, for the first time, it can be said with certainty that a portion of the Central Arctic Ocean seabed will become part of The Area, the portion of the seabed beyond any state’s continental shelf which is administered by the International Seabed Authority as part of the ‘common heritage of mankind’. IBRU calculates that this area is about 75,500 square nautical miles (259,100 square kilometres), a little larger than the United Kingdom.

IBRU’s Arctic map series

Although the CLCS’ recommendation slightly reduces areas of potential overlap between Russia, Canada, and Denmark, these areas are still quite large. If the Danish and Canadian submissions are recommended by the CLCS without modification, then there will be an overlap of around 436,500 square nautical miles (about the size of Mongolia) between Canada’s and Russia’s extended continental shelves, as well as smaller overlaps between Denmark and Russia and between Canada and Denmark.

However, IBRU’s Director, Professor Philip Steinberg, stresses that states’ expansive and overlapping claims should not be a cause for concern. “The extended continental shelf system was set up with the understanding that in many cases, for geologic reasons, there would be overlapping areas in adjacent states’ continental shelves. The Law of the Sea calls for states to submit data showing the maximum extent of their claims, and negotiations over areas of overlap are to commence only after the science has been assessed and the CLCS recommendations have been made. So, in submitting overlapping data, the states are doing exactly what they’re supposed to be doing according to the Law of the Sea.”

Steinberg also noted that although a state has exclusive rights to the resources of the seabed of their extended continental shelves, these are the only rights that accrue there. The water column above the seabed remains High Seas.

IBRU began producing its maps of Arctic maritime jurisdictions in 2008. The main map – ‘Maritime jurisdiction and boundaries in the Arctic region’ – shows extended continental shelves, internal waters, territorial seas, and exclusive economic zones (EEZs), as well as a number of special maritime areas and agreed maritime boundaries. Other maps in the series include a map of the Central Arctic Ocean (available in colour or black and white versions), focus maps on each Arctic state’s Central Arctic Ocean claims, and maps of how individual states’ claims have evolved as they have amended their submissions.

The entire map series can be accessed free online.

View the Arctic Map Series

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