Tag Archives: Antarctic Treaty


30 Dec

Commercial exploitation follows potentially profitable discoveries.  Could Antarctica become a commercial necessity, a victim to mans’ quest for profit? – a pursuit independent of any consideration of damage? Antarctica’s very inaccessibility gives some protection to her riches, but the future is worrying.

In the 1800s, seals and whales in the Arctic were hunted to virtual extinction. Seal fur was prized and blubber from the animals was rendered down to be used for lighting.  This wholesale slaughter diminished stocks to a non-profitable level, so the lure of commercial advantage, plus the spirit of adventure drew sailors and whalers towards the South. Nations were not slow in wanting to cash in on any possible resources in the unknown continent: By the early1900s Russia, Germany, America, South American Countries, France, Sweden, Scotland, England, Norway and Australia (amongst others), had been near or on Antarctica and those explorers who landed, always staked their claim to territorial rights.

The Antarctic Treaty of 1959 was the international agreement that set aside these territorial claims and agreed on the principal of international cooperation for peaceful collaboration in scientific research, protection of plants and animals and conservation of the environment. A ban on mining was imposed by the 1991 Protocol 0n Environmental Protection. This will be reviewed in 2048

But Antarctica is now known to have many tempting prizes: huge reserves of oil, natural gas, minerals such as iron oil and magnesium, enormous reserves of fresh water and an abundant marine life: whales, seals, penguins. Small animals: limpets, crabs, snails and most importantly krill, abound.   Unsurprisingly, she is now the victim of a vigorous if undeclared race to benefit from this huge potential. Already populations of whales have diminished significantly. Japan is frequently in the news in relation to the killing of hundreds of whales, ostensibly for scientific reasons. Also, the krill and small crustaceans,  staple food for the animals, have been trawled (krill for health supplements and for fish farm food) their numbers decrease. Oil is a most powerful magnate to countries with few reserves..  .

The Antarctic Treaty allowed Antarctica not only to remain a continent of peace but it expanded to areas such as environmental protection. Pressures to amend sections of the treaty will no doubt be powerful and immense and further ratification will be needed, not only to protect the ecology of the region but to protect Antarctica as a natural wilderness, free from mens’ exploitation.

Queen Elizabeth Land

21 Dec

The decision by the Foreign Office to rename a 169,000 square mile chunk of the British Antarctic Territory, ‘Queen Elizabeth Land’ is a lovely ‘retro’ step.

Before the Antarctic Treaty entered into force in 1961, explorers named discoveries after their monarch/country routinely: Victoria Land, Queen Maud Land etc. When Mawson reached the area that contained the South Magnetic Pole in 1909 he took possession of it in the name of the British Empire and, in the Imperial Conference of 1926, he proposed that the Empire should control the Antarctic section between 45 and 160 degrees East (nearest to Australasia).

The Foreign Office decision, that rounds off the Diamond Jubilee Celebrations, is bound to cause  diplomatic problems with Argentina. Argentina disputes British claims to the area and has its own claim to land some of which overlaps the newly renamed land.

Undoubtedly more to follow!

Science in Antarctica

10 Jan

I am giving a number of talks on Antarctica this year; obviously a most important year in relation to the commemoration of the deaths of the British Polar Party in 1912.  People remain fascinated by the achievements of the early twentieth century explorers.

But history is only a part of Antarctica; scientific advances on the continent have focussed the world’s attention on it as a platform for pivotal new information about the universe.

Since the International Geophysical Year of 1957-58 (when scientists from many nations cooperated for the first time on scientific projects) and the Antarctic Treaty of 1961 (which set aside territorial claims and ensured the freedom of scientific projects), a vast amount of information has been gathered: weather balloons floating above the continent raised the first concerns about global warning, the South Pole telescope will survey thousands of galaxies. ‘Ice Cube’s a powerful telescope that searches for dark matter and is collecting information on neutrinos, Ice Cores (which retrieve a core of ice from deep below the Antarctic surface), give us information about the geological conditions existing hundreds of thousands of years ago. Antarctic lakes have been found deep below the ice with living creatures in them.

Truly a place of important ongoing possibilities, potential and fascination.