With a little help from basic research: Total area of Norway expanded
Basic research played a key role when the area of the Norwegian continental shelf was expanded by nearly 250,000 square kilometers. The new boundary is based on specific geologic conditions.
Knowledge acquired from a ten-year-old basic research project on geologic conditions of the oceanic crust proved invaluable in ultimately successful negotiations between the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and the UN Commission on the Limits of the Continental Shelf in 2009.
While the previous boundary was set at 200 nautical miles, the new boundary is based on specific geologic conditions.
Mapped the seabed
Professor Rolf-Birger Pedersen, head of the Centre for Geobiology at the University of Bergen, led the research activities that resulted in the expansion.
He explains:“The Research Council allocated funding to the SUBMAR project [Surface Biosphere, Hydrothermal Activity and Magmatism along the Arctic Ridges] in 1999. Among other topics, the project was to study volcanic mid-ocean ridges in the North Greenland Sea with the help of remote-controlled mini-submarines. The researchers planned to conduct dives along the underwater mountain walls to investigate how deeper parts of the oceanic crust are built up. One objective was to gain a better understanding of how the oceanic crust is formed through volcanic processes and to study chemical and biological processes that occur when saltwater, the Earth’s crust and the Earth’s mantle meet.”
Little did the researchers know that the knowledge they obtained on geologic conditions in the Norwegian Sea would have such practical significance for the size of the Norwegian continental shelf and would play a key role in international law of the sea negotiations.
Claim supported by research findings
In April 2009 the UN Commission on the Limits of the Continental Shelf fully approved Norway’s claim to an additional area of continental shelf. Norway’s Exclusive Economic Zone – the area in which a coastal state has sovereign rights to natural resources in the sea and above and below the seabed – was increased by 10 per cent.
“The new boundaries are drawn where the ocean plains give way to the continental slope. There is room for interpretation here, so claims have to be bolstered by geological and geophysical data,” says Professor Pedersen. This is precisely the data the researchers on the SUBMAR project at the Universities of Bergen, Tromsø and Oslo were able to provide.
“The basic geological research carried out proved to be invaluable for establishing the size of the Norwegian continental shelf and helped to clarify who has the rights and responsibilities in the various maritime areas,” asserts Rolf Einar Fife, Director General of the Legal Affairs Department at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. Mr Fife led the Norwegian delegation involved in the negotiations.
Expanded Norway’s resource base
With the researchers’ help, Norway’s already substantial deep-sea territory has become even larger, expanding the country’s resource base. Researchers can look forward to tackling major research challenges in an exciting new subsea environment.
The new boundary for the Norwegian continental shelf lies north of Svalbard, at a latitude of 81 degrees 41 minutes North. The Norwegian Sea now covers almost the entire mid-ocean ridge from Jan Mayen in the south to the Fram Strait in the north on the Norwegian continental shelf.
Source: Research Council of Norway