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America Grew By 400,000 Square Miles This Week

The United States has just grown by a whopping million square kilometers - the size of two Californias.

The State Department enlarged the country’s geography, citing international law, by defining how far under the sea the continental shelf extends. The new additions are spread across seven areas of ocean, and more than half of the claim is in the Arctic.

“America is larger than it was yesterday,” said Mead Treadwell, a former Alaska lieutenant governor and former chair of the U.S. Arctic Research Commission. “It’s not quite the Louisiana Purchase. It’s not quite the purchase of Alaska, but the new area of land and subsurface resources under the land controlled by the United States is two Californias larger.”

Map of USA
Purple areas show the regions the U.S. is claiming as its extended continental shelf | U.S. State Department

State Department project director Brian Van Pay said it took multi-agency efforts over two decades for scientists to collect information about the shape of the seafloor and to measure sediment layers.

“Forty missions at sea, going to areas that we’ve never explored before, finding entire seamounts we didn’t even know existed,” Van Pay said.

The State Department says the extended continental shelf claim was made according to the provisions of the 1982 United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea. This is despite the fact that the U.S. Senate never ratified that treaty, but, after 40 years, the government has decided to expand its continental shelf limits anyway.

“If somebody came back and said, ‘Your science is bad,’ I think the United States would listen,” Treadwell said. “But I don’t think science is bad. I think we’ve had very good science.”

Happily, the State Department’s recognition of its extended continental shelf in the Arctic doesn’t conflict with a 1990 agreement setting the maritime boundary with Russia.

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