US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton took a first-hand look Saturday at the way a warming climate is changing the Arctic, opening the region to competition for vast oil reserves.

Experts here estimate the value of the Arctic’s untapped oil alone — not including natural gas and minerals — at $900 trillion, making it a huge prize for the five countries that surround the Arctic if they can reach it.

And with climate warming opening up some 46,000 square kilometres (18,000 square miles) a year that had once been bound in ice, the region is expected to burst open, not just with oil exploration but with East-West trade along a more accessible northern route.

Returning from a tour of the Arctic coastline aboard a Norwegian research trawler with scientists and government officials, Clinton told reporters that she learned “many of the predictions about warming in the Arctic are being surpassed by the actual data.”

“That was not necessarily surprising but sobering,” she said.

The United States wants to see that change managed by the Arctic Council, an advisory group composed of the Arctic’s closest neighbours, even as other countries, among them China, are drawn to the region for oil, gas and trade.

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