Quiz: What You Don’t Know About Energy in the Changing Arctic


Photograph by Paul Nicklen, National Geographic

You know that climate change is reshaping the Arctic, but how much do you really know about how shrinking sea ice is opening up the resources at the top of the world for exploration and development?

Quiz by Marianne Lavelle

In September 2012, the monthly Arctic sea ice extent declined to a record low. How did it compare to the average between 1979 and 2000?

  • About 10 percent less
  • About 30 percent less
  • About 50 percent less
  • About 70 percent less

The average Arctic sea ice monthly extent for September 2012, the lowest observed in the satellite era, was 3.6 million square kilometers, 50 percent lower than the 1979-2000 average of 7.0 million square kilometers, says the U.S. National Snow and Ice Data Center.

Over the past several decades, what has happened to surface air temperatures in the Arctic?

  • They have cooled as global air temperatures have warmed.
  • They have warmed at half the rate of global air temperatures.
  • They have warmed at the same rate as global air temperatures.
  • They have warmed at double the rate of global air temperatures.

According to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, surface air temperatures in the Arctic have warmed at approximately twice the global rate, a trend that will produce feedbacks with “globally significant consequences.”

The area north of the Arctic Circle, with 6 percent of the Earth’s surface area, holds how much of the undiscovered, technically recoverable oil and natural gas resources in the world?

  • 1 percent
  • 6 percent
  • 22 percent
  • 50 percent

The U.S. Geological Survey estimates that the Arctic holds 22 percent of the undiscovered, technically recoverable oil and natural gas resources in the world.

How much of the Arctic’s oil and gas resources lie offshore?

  • 4 percent
  • 24 percent
  • 44 percent
  • 84 percent

The U.S. Geological Survey estimates that 84 percent of the Arctic’s estimated oil and natural gas resources are expected to lie offshore.

What country owns the North Pole under international law?

  • The United States
  • Canada
  • Russia
  • No country

No country owns the North Pole, 400 miles (643 kilometers) north of any land. Under international law, countries are limited to an exclusive economic zone 200 nautical miles (370 kilometers) from their coasts. But nations in some cases may extend claims if their continental shelf extends into international waters.

An expedition from what country used submersible vessels to plant a flag on the seafloor near the North Pole in 2007?

  • Norway
  • Russia
  • Canada
  • The United States

Two members of parliament joined a Russian expedition to plant a flag on the seafloor to garner attention to the nation’s disputed claim to nearly half of the floor of the Arctic Ocean and the resources there.

Where was the first commercial oil field and refinery in the Arctic?

  • Alaska, the United States
  • Northwest Territories, Canada
  • Siberia, Russia
  • Svalbard, Norway

Norman Wells, in Canada’s Northwest Territories, began commercial production in 1932. It was the first commercial oil field and refinery in the Arctic, operated by Imperial Oil, an ExxonMobil affiliate.

How does the amount of undiscovered oil estimated to be in Alaska’s Arctic compare to the estimated proven reserves of the entire United States as of 2013?

  • A small fraction of total U.S. reserves
  • About 10 percent less than total U.S. reserves
  • About equal to total U.S. reserves
  • About 10 percent more than total U.S. reserves

The U.S. Geological Survey estimates that Arctic Alaska holds 30 billion barrels of undiscovered oil, about 13 percent more than U.S. crude oil reserves of 26.5 billion barrels.

Which geological basin in the Arctic is believed to have the most natural gas?

  • Arctic Alaska
  • West Greenland-East Canada
  • Western Siberia
  • Norwegian Margin

The Western Siberia geological basin by far is estimated to hold the most natural gas, 651 trillion cubic feet, or nearly 40 percent of the total undiscovered gas estimated to be in the Arctic.

What is the only baleen whale that spends its entire life in and around the Arctic? (Preservation of its habitat is a concern for the authorities that oversee industry development.)

  • Blue
  • Humpback
  • Bowhead
  • Beluga

The endangered bowhead is the only baleen whale to spend its entire life in the Arctic. Baleen whales filter their food rather than using teeth. The beluga, a toothed whale, also spends its life in the Arctic.

When did the first commercial ship break through the Northwest Passage?

  • 1778
  • 1906
  • 1940
  • 1969

The U.S. oil tanker Manhattan became the first commercial ship to break through the Northwest Passage in 1969. Its tanks carried water to simulate loading, but it picked up a symbolic barrel of oil in Alaska that it delivered on its return journey to New York.

What’s the largest group of islands in the Arctic?

  • The Canadian Archipelago
  • The Aleutian Islands
  • Franz Josef Land
  • Svalbard Islands

The Canadian Archipelago comprises 36,000 islands, islets, and rocks, making it one of the most complex geographies on Earth and a major barrier to development of commercial transit on the Northwest Passage.

How much shorter is the Arctic Northern Sea Route across Russia than the traditional southern route via the Suez Canal from European markets to the Asia-Pacific region?

  • 20 percent shorter
  • 33 percent shorter
  • 50 percent shorter
  • 75 percent shorter

The Northern Sea Route, over which nearly 50 ships completed transit in 2012, is about one-third shorter in length. The need for icebreaking and navigational escorts, and the potential of weather-related delays make the route more costly and uncertain than the Suez.





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