Mountain range in northern Alaska formed 1,200 MILES AWAY in the eastern Arctic, according to new study that could rewrite the history of the remote oil-rich region
- New research upends the previous geologic history of Alaska and the Arctic
- Mountains likely came from Greenland not the Canadian Arcitc
- The implication may have effects on estimates of oil and natural gas
A new study focused on one of Alaska’s remote mountain ranges could turn previous geologic understanding upside down and realign potential for natural gas and oil beneath the surface.
In a study published in Special Papers that analyzes geology in Alaska’s Brook’s Range, researchers from the University of Dartmouth say current mountains likely traveled from Greenland and areas in the Canadian Arctic much farther east than originally thought.
The new research seems to contradict previous theories on how the region formed, which posited that faulting caused Alaska to rotate away from the Canadian Arctic about 125 million years ago.
A new study of a remote region in the Arctic may rewrite the geological history and change estimates of fossil fuels that lie beneath the surface
If this original theory were true, researchers say samples from the Brook’s Range should match those in areas about 450 miles apart like Bank’s Island and Victoria Island.
Almost a decade of research, however, links the range’s geology to areas 1,200 miles to the east and other evidence of the area’s ‘mountain building’ process to collisions that date back 400 to 450 million years ago in the eastern Arctic.
‘The geology of the northeastern Brooks Range does not match anything that we’ve studied in the neighboring region of North America,’ said Justin Strauss, the lead researcher of the study.
‘This complicates previous models for how you open this major ocean basin.’
Instead of the previous ‘rotation’ theory, researchers say the mountains may have been formed by what is known as a ‘strike-slip’ fault which causes rocks and formations to move horizontally — this same type of fault is similar to California’s notorious San Andreas fault line.
This geologic event caused regions from Greenland to shift to the western Canadian Arctic.
In addition to helping illuminate the ancient history of what researchers call an ‘understudied’ region of the Arctic — the range’s remoteness has deterred many from conducting extensive studies — the new information could have implications on country’s interest in drilling and mining the region for fossil fuels.
According to the United States Geological Society, the Arctic contains about 6 percent of the world’s oil and 25 percent of the world’s natural gas. The study does not predict exactly what impact new research may have on those estimates.
Other estimates of the regions oil wealth have been even more generous, projecting that there could be as much as $30 trillion of resources beneath the Arctic surface.
In a study published in Special Papers that analyzes geology in Alaska’s Brook’s Range, researchers from the University of Dartmouth say current mountains likely traveled from Greenland and areas in the Canadian Arctic much farther east than originally thought
Because of the region’s potential to provide a glut of natural resources, it has attracted the attention of countries around the world, including the United States, Russia, and Canada, all of whom are staking their own claim on the area.
Russia in particular has shown an increasing interest in mining the barren Arctic landscape for resources and has drastically increased its military presence there.
For those countries using geology to ‘prove’ swaths of land are within their domain, the study could have a drastic impact, researchers say.
‘If countries are going to make legal claims based on geology or geophysics, they should consider these much older boundaries that we are highlighting. Governments will to need to confront the complexities of geology meeting politics,’ said Strauss.
WHY IS SHIPPING PREDICTED TO INCREASE IN THE ARCTIC?
In August 2016, the first large cruise ship travelled through the Northwest Passage, the northern waterway linking the Atlantic and Pacific oceans.
The following year, the first ship without an icebreaker plied the Northern Sea Route, a path along Russia’s Arctic coast that was, until recently, impassable by unescorted commercial vessels.
In recent decades parts of the Arctic seas have become increasingly ice-free in late summer and early fall.
As sea ice is expected to continue to recede due to climate change, seasonal ship traffic from tourism and freight is projected to rise.
Travel through the Arctic Ocean is already beginning, with the Russian route having the most potential for commercial ships.
The Northern Sea Route had more than 200 ships from 2011 to 2016, all of which were large vessels.
More than 100 vessels passed through the Northwest Passage during that time, with more than half being small, private vessels like personal yachts.
Experts say even the North Pole could be passable in a matter of decades.