By LARA JAKES
WASHINGTON (AP) â¿¿ The icy Arctic is emerging as a global economic hot spot â¿¿ and one that is becoming a security concern for the U.S. as world powers jockey to tap its vast energy resources and stake out unclaimed territories.
Diplomats from eight Arctic nations, including Secretary of State John Kerry, will meet next week over how to protect the thawing region as its waterways increasingly open to commercial shipping traffic.
U.S. officials estimate the Arctic holds 13 percent of the world's undiscovered oil reserves, and 30 percent of undiscovered gas deposits. Until recently, however, the lucrative resources that could reap hundreds of billions of dollars in revenues were frozen over and unreachable.
But global warming has melted sea ice to levels that have given rise to what experts describe as a kind of gold rush scramble to the Arctic.
On Friday, President Barack Obama announced a new U.S. strategy for the Arctic, calling the region "an amazing place" and maintaining a need among nations to protect its fragile environment and keep it free of conflict.
"An undisciplined approach to exploring new opportunities in this frontier could result in significant harm to the region, to our national security interests, and to the global good," the 13-page strategy concluded.
The Arctic is getting hotter faster than any part of the globe. Experts predict the region will be free of sea ice during the summer within about 20 years. Sea ice is important because it keeps the rest of the world cooler, and some scientific studies suggest that its melting may be indirectly connected to the extreme weather in the United States and elsewhere in the past few years, changing global weather patterns, including the track of Superstorm Sandy.
The environmental changes could threaten not only polar bears, whales, seals and indigenous communities hunting those animals for food, but also islands and low-lying areas much farther away, from Florida to Bangladesh.