Four environmentalists have placed a flag at the North Pole in a move symbolizing environmental protection of the region.
The campaigners, who held backing from the organization Greenpeace, dropped the flag at the North Pole through a hole they cut in the ice. Along with the flag was a capsule containing nearly three million signatures calling for protection of the area.
"I offer my full support to these young people who travelled to the North Pole on behalf of those whose lives are being turned upside down by climate change," South African Archbishop Desmond Tutu said in a statement.
"We're here to say this special area of the Arctic belongs to no person or nation, but is the common heritage of everyone on Earth," Sami parliament member and activist for the Greenpeace team Josefina Skerk said. "We're asking that this area be declared a global sanctuary, off-limits to oil companies and political posturing."
The flag planting came partly in response to a move by Russia, whereby the country positioned a flag in the same area about 13,980 feet deep in 2007. Russia claims that it is entitled to all mineral and oil resources between the North Pole and its border.
Prior to his expedition, explorer Artur Chilingarov commented, "The Arctic is Russian. We must prove the North Pole is an extension of the Russian landmass."
The Arctic region remains an important area for oil harvesting, with an estimated 25 percent of Earth's remaining gas and oil reserves located beneath and in proximity to the Arctic Ocean. Oil companies in Russia, the U.S. and Greenland have been particularly invested. However, Greenland put a moratorium on fresh gas and offshore oil-drilling licenses in its waters in March. Shell closed its drilling operations in the Arctic region near Alaska one month earlier, following a slew of mechanical problems and other failures.
Thirst for oil and gas in the Arctic region is being driven by record loss of sea ice. It is projected that the Arctic Ocean could have no ice at all in the summer by the year 2050.
In completing their expedition to the North Pole, the Greenpeace activists voyaged for one week through temperatures that measured -30C. They hauled sleighs weighing 176 pounds. In the face of diminishing supplies, the team benefitted from the services of a helicopter, which took them closer to their destination.
The activists aren't the only ones to make an environmental statement at the North Pole. In 2012, over 100 celebrities including Robert Redford, Paul McCartney and entrepreneur Richard Branson teamed up with Greenpeace for a North Pole protection campaign.