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Abstract

Some 30 years ago the regional aspects of the plate tectonic history of the Norwegian–Greenland Sea and the eastern Arctic Ocean were unravelled and showed that these ocean basins had opened in early Eocene, 55–56 Ma ago. Drilling by Glomar Challenger in the Norwegian–Greenland Sea during Leg 38 of the Deep Sea Drilling Project confirmed the plate tectonic model and established a marine biostratigraphy framework for the region. The leg set the stage for three subsequent Ocean Drilling Program legs of thematically oriented drilling by the Joides Resolution. Leg 104 drilled a deep acoustic basement hole on the Vøring Plateau, which has become a legacy hole for volcanic margin studies, and provided new key information on the Northern Hemisphere Glaciation and the history of the Norwegian Current. Legs 151 and 162 addressed North Atlantic–Arctic gateways problems. During Leg 151 the Joides Resolution succeeded, with icebreaker support, in reaching the ice-free waters north of Svalbard, thus for the first time bringing a scientific drill ship into the Arctic Ocean. In 2004, the Integrated Ocean Drilling Program organized the mission-specific Expedition 302 to the Lomonosov Ridge in the permanently ice-covered central Arctic Ocean. Comprising a flotilla of three icebreakers, it was a major logistical venture, and resulted in a huge scientific success. The same year the deep site on the Vøring Plateau was revisited and a thermal borehole observatory installed. During these legs a large quantity of core samples has allowed the scientific community to address fundamental questions in terms of continental margin development; plate tectonics; nature of basement; marine biostratigraphy; and the temporal and spatial evolution of the high-latitude northern climate and environments. However, major challenges remain, in particular related to the deep basins, ridges and margins of the Arctic Ocean proper. The next advance in knowledge is contingent on new technology and research infrastructure both for drilling and site surveying. Presently, plans for a new research icebreaker with drilling capability are being developed, the Aurora Borealis project. It will allow systematic drilling in most of the permanently ice-covered basins in the high north. The northern high latitudes have been predicted to contain vast hydrocarbon resources and cooperative ventures between industry and academia may be advantageous.

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