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    Russians to dive below North Pole Aug. 1-2

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    ST. PETERSBURG, July 30 (RIA Novosti) - Russian researchers plan to dive 4,200 meters (14,000 feet) in two mini-submarines to explore the ocean floor below the North Pole August 1-2 and back the country's claim to Arctic, a research institute spokesman said Monday.

    "This is a serious, risky operation," Sergei Balyasnikov, press spokesman for the St. Petersburg-based Arctic Research Institute, said. "It is an extremely important act for Russia, which will demonstrate our capabilities in the Arctic. It is like hoisting a flag on the Moon."

    Russia claims a vast maritime territory stretching from its New Siberian Islands, between the Laptev and East Siberian Seas, up to the North Pole, which is believed to contain mineral resources. The claim has been challenged by other countries.

    But Balyashnikov said "a one-time dive would not naturally prove anything," and "continuous, regular work is needed" to substantiate the territorial claim.

    Researchers will also take soil and fauna samples on the ocean bed and will leave a Russian flag in a capsule.

    Russia has to prove the structure of the continental shelf is geologically similar to its territory. Moscow has said the underwater Lomonosov Ridge is an extension of its continental territory.

    The UN has yet to rule on the claim. The area around the Pole is currently an international territory administered by the International Seabed Authority.

    Russian Veteran explorer Artur Chilingarov will take part in the first ever dive below the North Pole. The Akademik Fyodorov research vessel, carrying Mir 1 and Mir 2 mini-submarines, is heading for the Nansen-Gakkel and the Lomonosov Ridges, where the dive will take place, following the trail of the icebreaker Rossiya. The ship left Murmansk, on the Barents Sea, July 24.

    The mini-submarines were successfully tested Sunday when they submerged to a depth of about 1,500 meters (4,900 feet).

    As a second phase of the Akademik Fyodorov's expedition, a new floating polar station with equipment to monitor climate changes in the region will be set up and opened in mid-September.

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