We once predicted that World War III would be fought over the moon, but now it looks like it will fought over the newly-opened (thanks to glacier melt) passage in the Arctic.

The Northeast Passage from Russia to Asia is a shortcut from the traditional route through Europe, the Suez Canal and around India. It’s a great opportunity for Russia, which wants to sell more oil and gas to energy-hungry china. But Canada is already making a rival claim to the territory.

It turns out that there are is lots of oil right there, that is has long been covered up by the Arctic glaciers, so both countries want to secure drilling rights. An underwater mountain range called the Lomonosov ridge may contain as much as 75 billion barrels of oil, and Russia needs to collect soil samples from the seabed to prove the ridge is an extension of the Russian landmass. Could this become a shooting war with casualties?

In BBC News Richard Galpin quotes Russian geologist Vladimir Kotlyakov as saying, “Russia does not want conflict with the other countries surrounding the Arctic, but naturally nobody wants to give up their territory. So we will make a huge effort to hang on to the territory which we think belongs to Russia. Of course conflict is always possible, but I repeat that the politicians currently in power in Russia want compromise.”

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