Global battle over a new ocean
A GLOBAL battle is underway for an ocean that sits at the top of the earth.
Over the past three decades, global warming has contributed to the melting of the Arctic, which is warming twice as fast as the rest of the world.
But while much of the globe sees this as an encroaching disaster, five Arctic nations stand to benefit from it.
As the ice continues to melt, the US, Canada, Denmark, Norway and Russia see a chance for new trade routes and potentially lucrative deals in untapped natural resources.
But one country in particular has proved it won't back off without a fight.
THE BATTLE FOR THE ARCTIC
There's a lot more to the North Pole than Santa Claus.
The region is the northernmost point of the Earth's axis, located around 725 kilometres north of Greenland.
The Arctic has been melting at an alarming rate since the 1980s due to global warming. You may find this alarming - but for five Arctic nations, it presents significant investment opportunities in the form of a brand new ocean.
According to the Royal Institute of International Affairs, the Arctic could contain as much as 90 billion barrels of oil and 47 trillion cubic metres of natural gas.
The US Geological Survey estimates that the Arctic region holds 30 per cent of the world's undiscovered natural gas, and 13 per cent of its oil.
On top of this, the US Government Accountability Office estimates that around $1 trillion in minerals like gold, zinc, nickel and platinum lie in the region.
While these resources remain difficult to access, global warming is rendering them more and more accessible every year.
As the ice turns to water, new shipping routes are opening up. In summer, the region is more navigable, cutting weeks off the trips between Asian and Western markets.
WHO DOES THE OCEAN BELONG TO?
That's the big question.
In 2007, a Russian-led polar expedition planted a Russian flag on the sea bed directly underneath the North Pole.
"The Arctic has always been Russian," declared Artur Chilingarov, one of the polar explorers.
But under international law, which is governed by the United Nations, each country can claim up to 200 nautical miles (370 kilometres) off its coast - what's known as an "exclusive economic zone" (EEZ).
Beyond that, everything is up for grabs - provided a country can prove to the UN that the outer zone belongs to them.
So far, Norway and Iceland are the only two countries that have submitted claims that have been approved by the United Nations.
But it's when countries' claims overlap that the problems arise. Russia, Denmark and Canada have submitted overlapping claims that are still waiting for approval.
Greenland, an autonomous country owned by Denmark, has the nearest coastline to the North Pole.
In 2014, Denmark claimed an area of 895,000 square kilometres extending from the Greenland border into the limits of Russia's 200-mile EEZ. Russia remains unwilling to concede to the smaller nation.
The Kremlin is publicly holding military exercises and building bases in the Arctic region, in its bid to send a message to the rest of the world that it's willing to do whatever it takes to take ownership of the region.
The same year it annexed Crimea, Russia carried out extensive military exercises in the region for the first time since the end of the Cold War.
It forms part of Mr Putin's mission to restore Russia to its "great power" status.
Prior to the 2018 NATO summit, Chatham House Research Fellow Mathieu Boulegue urged the organisation to develop a stronger military presence in the region.
"As NATO does not have a clear, united strategy for the Arctic or the Black Sea, both regions will face heightened risks as the Kremlin further builds up its military capabilities," he wrote.
"These risks include restricted freedom of access and operation in this contested environment due to Russia's strengthened air defence and interdiction capabilities.
"The risk of miscalculation and tactical errors is also present. An unintended incident could spark disastrous military escalation between Moscow and the alliance."
SO WHERE IS THE US IN ALL THIS?
President Donald Trump has been surprisingly quiet on the Arctic front.
The issue failed to get a mention in his National Defense Strategy, which was released earlier this year.
It also wasn't raised during his Helsinki summit meeting with Vladimir Putin.
That's not to say the conflict isn't on America's radar.
Admiral Harry Harris, then-US Navy Commander of the US Pacific Command, made reference to it earlier this year.
"Of particular note are Russian efforts to build presence and influence in the High North. Russia has more bases north of the Arctic Circle than all other countries combined, and is building more with distinctly military capabilities," he said.
But apart from some isolated Alaskan outposts, the US is relatively isolated from the North Pole.
CHINA IS ALSO MUSCLING IN ON THE ARCTIC
China is now attempting to get in on the new trade routes by making it part of its international Belt and Road Initiative.
The Belt and Road Initiative is a trillion-dollar project that seeks to connect countries across continents on trade, with China at its centre.
The ambitious plan involves creating a 6000km sea route connecting China to South East Asia, Oceania and North Africa (the "Road"), as well as through building railway and road infrastructure to connect China with Central and West Asia, the Middle East and Europe (the "Belt").
Earlier this year Beijing issued a White Paper detailing its Northern Sea Route plans.
"China is an active participant, builder and contributor in Arctic affairs who has spared no efforts to contribute its wisdom to the development of the Arctic region," it said.
Beijing is ultimately wishing to take advantage of the opening sea route as a shortcut to trade with Europe, which would slash travel times, and with that costs.
Russia isn't pleased with this, fearing China wants to muscle in on its claims. But the rising superpower is going forward.
And as the Arctic ice continues to melt, the value of the region will only increase.
So too will the fight for it.