In the past few years the question of who owns the Arctic Ocean has become the subject of much discussion and even some fiery rhetoric. Experts point out that the Arctic is warming at twice the rate of the rest of the world. As a result, its ice cover has been decreasing rapidly in both area and volume. Some estimates say that within 20 years the area could be substantially ice-free for several months each year.
The Arctic is the smallest and shallowest ocean, with an average depth of 3,450 feet compared to 12,600 feet for all the world's oceans. It accounts, however, for about 22 percent of the world's continental shelves. These wave-cut underwater terraces adjacent to continental shorelines were created at the end of the last ice age. At that time, the global sea level was about 460 feet lower than today, and as the ice melted, wave action of the rising waters pushed back shorelines, forming the submarine shelves along coastlines.