Antarctica. The coldest driest and windiest continent on the planet. It is a vast cold sheet of ice that’s over 4 ½ kilometres thick, contains 90% of the world’s ice and 80% of the world’s water. The lowest temperature in the world has been reached there, −89 °C, at the Russian Vostok Station. Due to the Antarctic circumpolar current, Antarctica is an isolated desert and has gone from a tropical climate to the freezing wilderness that it has become. The ancient Greeks were the first to imagine ‘Terra Australis’ (‘Southern Land”), but it was only seen in 1820, and the first person set foot on it in 1821. It only receives a minute 200mm of annual precipitation and even that mostly along the coast. Creatures that live that live on this inhospitable place are extraordinary; they have adapted to the harsh challenges of living on Antarctica and have unique characteristics that you don’t see in other places of the world. The total area of Antarctica is 13,829,430 km2, to put that into perspective, that’s 58 times the size of the UK! Antarctica has and will always greatly affect the rest of the world and that’s why we are so in awe of it.
For a continent that has so much significance over man-kind how do you tell who it belongs to? As you can see from the diagram, many countries have made claims to Antarctica, and some of these overlap, causing conflict. Antarctica could have become a war-ground if these conflicts were to be developed, and Antarctica would also have been exploited and all of its valuable resources carted off to other lands. That is why the Antarctic Treaty was introduced. The Antarctic Treaty does not get rid of claims to Antarctica; it just temporarily resolves the problem. The Treaty covers five main areas, but over time, four more rules have been added; to summarise they are:
• No military activities are allowed on Antarctica – it must be used for peaceful purposes only
• The Treaty promotes undertaking scientific research in Antarctica.
• Countries that sign the Treaty are free to carry out scientific research in Antarctica, but they must share their results
• No testing of nuclear weapons or dumping of nuclear/radioactive waste is allowed in Antarctica.
• Claims to Antarctica are ignored as long as the Treaty exists
There are currently 49 countries who have signed this Treaty, but there is a lot of pressure on it. It may be the answer long term, but it may not for now it only sets aside claims.
Many people see Antarctica as a continent full of valuable resources to be exploited like we have done to nearly every other country in the world, and are already arguing against the Treaty. The Convention on the Regulation of Antarctic Mineral Resource Activities (CRAMRA) wanted to regulate minerals prospecting, exploration and development activities; although mining would only be permitted if all Parties agreed that there was no risk to the environment. As the CRAMRA required agreement from all the Treaty nations, the agreement failed to come into force because some countries did not sign CRAMRA. This was the first real threat to the Antarctic Treaty. As I said, there are many people who want to develop and exploit Antarctica, and a main reason is the abundance of things like coal and oil and many minerals and precious substances, these could help to satisfy the demands for fossil fuels. Some fishermen also want to change of the rules of the Treaty, they argue that nobody owns the ocean and that they cannot put a limit on how much they can fish because it is their living and they have done it there for hundreds of years. Although the fishermen have hunted on the waters for years, the hundreds of years of intense fishing has had a devastating effect on whales and seals especially, nearly wiping them out. Whaling was banned in 1986, but their numbers are still too low to relax laws regarding them. Some tourists are also against the Treaty, they...