Limits of Norway’s Arctic seabed agreed

Foreign Minister Jonas Gahr Støre shows the new boundaries of the continental shelf north of Svalbard. Photo: Norwegian Foreign

Norway is the first Arctic nation to settle an agreement with the U.N. Commission on the Limits of the Continental Shelf in the north. Norway’s newly defined continental shelf in the north covers 235,000 km2 or three-quarters the size of mainland Norway.


The Commission on the Limits of the Continental Shelf is a United Nation body of specialized undersea geographers and hydrographers established under the 1982 Law of the Sea Convention.

As reported by earlier this week, the 23rd session of the commission started in New York last Thursday.

The recommendation by the commission is mainly the same as the Norwegian requests presented to the commission back in 2006. The adjustments by the U.N. commission were accepted by Norway.

The final results were presented by the Norwegian Minister of Foreign Affairs, Jonas Gahr Støre, at a press-conference in Oslo on Wednesday.

Huge areas
The three new areas of the Norwegian continental shelf are in the Arctic Ocean north of the Svalbard archipelago, in areas close the disputed zone Norway and Russia have in the Barents Sea, and in the Norwegian Sea between the Norwegian mainland, Iceland and Greenland. In total the area covers about 235,000 km2. The Norwegian claims presented to the U.N. commission in 2006 were 250,000 km2.

The continental shelf comprises the submerged prolongation of the land territory of the coastal State - the seabed and subsoil of the submarine areas that extend beyond its territorial sea to the outer edge of the continental margin, or to a distance of 200 nautical miles where the outer edge of the continental margin does not extend up to that distance.

North Pole
In the high north, Norway’s new continental shelf boundaries is between 84 and 85 degrees north, approx half the way between the northern edge Svalbard and the North Pole.

Foreign Minister Støre told Reuters Wednesday that in the discussion about who owns the North Pole - it’s definitely not us.

According to the Norwegian newspaper Aftenposten Norway and Russia did not have competing claims for the boundaries of the continental shelf north of Svalbard.

As reported on Monday this week, Denmark - through its administration of Greenland, Canada and Russia have competing claims in the high Arctic.

Exploit resources
Agreement on shelf limits gives states the right to exploit resources on and beneath the seabed, such as oil and gas or the genes of marine organisms.

- All that remains is to incorporate the decision into Norwegian law and then the extension of our continental shelf will be effective, said Rolf Einar Fife, director of legal affairs at the Norway’s foreign ministry to AFP after Wednesday’s press-conferance.

Disputed zone in the Barents Sea
Since 1974, Norway and Russia have negotiated over the delineation of the 175,000 square kilometer disputed zone in the Barents Sea.

After the last common meeting between the Norwegian and Russian Foreign Ministers in Moscow in late March, wrote that Mr. Lavrov said that “significant progress” has been made in talks about the delimitation of the disputed zone in the Barents Sea. Also Foreign Minister Støre noted that the atmosphere in the talks is good.

Stoltenberg to Moscow
It is expected that the issue again will be on the agenda when Norwegian Prime Minister Jens Stoltenberg will meet Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin in Moscow on May 19th.