The UN Commission on the Limits of the Continental Shelf has a big job. As some 60 countries rush to claim the ocean seabed—and the oil reserves beneath—the 21-person team of part-time scientists must settle disputes, relying on geology and the sometimes arcane Law of the Sea. “Are we up to the task? Not really, to be honest,” says the commissioner.
Law of the Sea signatories, which don't include the US, must submit their claims by 2009, the Wall Street Journal explains, so the commission has more work than it can handle. Each claim requires hydrographers to pore over technical details like the slopes of seabed sediment. At stake, says the chairman: "Money. Money, of course."