In the summer of 2007, a group of geologists began an arduous journey to a remote, barren part of Spitsbergen Island in the Svalbard archipelago. Their destination was Festningen, an isolated inland area that lies between Is Fjord and the Russian settlement at Barentsburg, where they were planning to take a close look at some of the local rock formations. If they could find enough samples, then they hoped to get a much better idea of the region's geochemistry, mineral composition, fossil content and age, as well as gauging the approximate direction of the Earth's magnetic field during earlier ages.
Making this trip a particular success story was the fact that it was a joint venture by experts from two countries. In the course of the previous year, Norwegian scientists had struck a deal to work closely with their Russian counterparts to map a huge geological area that runs all the way across Svalbard, Franz Josef Land and Novaya Zemlya, stretching across thousands of square miles of land and water. This presented a daunting scientific challenge, reasoned the geologists, and their chances of success would be much enhanced if they pooled their expertise and resources with neighbours and worked closely together.
On a relatively tiny scale, this international joint venture illustrates how the lure of the Arctic's resources might serve to bring different countries together instead of acting as a source of conflict and division. Svalbard acts as a microcosm of this wider spirit of cooperation because 13 countries have permanent research bases there, and experts from every corner of the globe undertake sporadic visits to conduct their own projects. Of course cooperation between some countries, most obviously Russia and the United States, is much less likely than in the case of others, such as Norway, Denmark and Iceland.
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