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According to the United States' National Snow and Ice Data Center, the amount of Arctic ice (usually at a minimum during September) was 3.61 million square kilometers (1.39 million square miles) in September 2012 -- close to 49 percent lower than the average amount of ice seen between 1979 and 2000. The melting of the ice facilitates natural resource exploration in the high north. U.S. Geological Survey estimates from 2008 suggest that 13 percent of the world's undiscovered oil and 30 percent of undiscovered natural gas reserves are located in the Arctic Circle.
Moreover, the retreating and thinning of the ice opens up new trade routes. In 2012, 46 ships transporting a total of 1.3 million tons reportedly used the Northern Sea Route, which runs along the northern coast of Russia; this represents a considerable increase from 2011, when 34 ships transported approximately 820,000 tons.
Read more: The Growing Importance of the Arctic Council | Stratfor
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