Mapping the Arctic Land Grab

A lone polar bear poses on a block of arctic sea ice in Russia's Franz Josef Land.

Image from

Whether you believe in global warming or not, the polar ice caps are shrinking at rates that modern human beings have never seen. As temperatures rise and ice caps recede, waterways are opening up that haven’t been used in thousands of years, if ever, and land masses are open up that haven been viewed by human eyes in modern history.


There are five nations with a vested interest in the melting of the ice caps, specifically as it pertains to new landmasses and reopened waterways. Each of these nations has land and/or water territory that already expands into the Arctic Circle today. The following map explores the Arctic land grab, with color-coded areas defining which nations have claims.



The smallest nation with a claim in the Arctic Circle, Iceland’s proximity to the region makes it a natural combatant in the land grab, though its claim is relatively small and amounts to little more than territorial water claims.



With a long stretch of its northern coast abutting the Arctic Circle, Norway is another natural participant in the Arctic Circle land grab. Much like Iceland, the vast majority of claims made by Norway consist of territorial water claims. There is a portion of Norway’s claim that is disputed between itself and Russia, as well as Greenland.


Greenland (Denmark)

The island territory of Greenland already has the largest landmass in the Arctic Circle, and the Danish territory has water claims surrounding the island, with a small slice of landmass claimed near the true North Pole. Greenland has a small disputed water territory claim with Norway.


United States of America

The US state of Alaska has roughly 1/3 of its expansive landmass within the Arctic Circle. The US has a territorial water claim off the northern coast of Alaska, as well as a sizeable landmass claim inside the Arctic Circle. There is a small slice of water disputed between the US and Canada.



Canada and Russia have the largest existing landmasses in the Arctic Circle as it exists today. Both nations have sizable water claims in the region, as well as potential landmass claims. A true sign of the importance of this land grab is the uncharacteristically aggressive stance that Canada has taken on the issue.



Russia has the largest claim in the Arctic Circle, accounting for almost half of the total region. Its territorial water claim is larger than any other individual nation, and its potential landmass claim is matched only by that of Canada.


The Arctic land grab is being driven by the need for more energy sources on Earth. Vast oil and natural gas reserves are believed to exist underneath the ice caps of the Arctic Circle, and to the nation with the biggest claims, go the biggest spoils. Of course, this is all occurring under the assumption the ice caps will melt enough to allow for exploration and extraction of those resources. In any event, this Arctic Circle land grab map offers a new look at the North Pole rarely found in textbooks.

Leave a Reply