Antarctica is huge. The continent that surrounds the south pole comprises nearly 10% of the earth’s landmass. It’s also extremely cold. The annual average temperature is -50°C and 98% of Antarctica is covered by ice that averages a mile thick. Does any country actually own it?
Who Owns Antarctica?
No country or nation is a recognized ‘owner’ of Antarctica but several nations do claim pie-shaped slices of the continent. Thanks to an international treaty signed in 1959, only one thing rules Antarctica – science. The treaty signed back then froze new territorial claims, banned military activity, weapons testing, and made Antarctica off-limits for nuclear testing. One thing the treaty did allow for was scientific research. 47 nations have ratified the treaty and any nation is free to do scientific research as long as they share their research with the rest of the world. Later amendments to the treaty sought to cover Antarctica’s natural resources.
The later additions protect seals, whales, other marine based life while also regulating any possible (future) mineral development. Several countries have attempted to get access to the area for the abundance of natural resources that are believed to be there. Since no company or nation has done thorough surveys, it is believed that extremely rich oil and coal reserves lie deep beneath the ice.
Currently, Argentina, the United Kingdom, Chile, France, New Zealand, Australia, and Norway have all claimed areas to establish research bases. At this time, there are 15 established science bases around the continent with scientists from 28 different nations. There are more than 4,000 scientists that operate the research stations in the summer months but this number decreases to just over 1,000 during the winter months.
What Kind Of Scientific Research is Done in Antarctica?
The first actual scientific research done in Antarctica was largely geography and elemental meteorology. This involved the mapping of the continent and determining its weather patterns and movements of glaciers. After, geologists began to study the rock types and structures in an effort to connect Antarctica to the other continents in the Southern Hemisphere. As more discoveries were made – fish, mammals, and the birds inhabiting the south pole and coastal areas – biologists and zoologists were added to expeditions. Now, virtually all scientific disciplines have their specialists represented in the farthest outposts of Antarctica. The current scientific research taking place now falls mainly among the following disciplines: biology, geology, astronomy, meteorology, glaciology, oceanography, atmospheric sciences, and medical science. Scientists studying volcanology and meteorites are especially thrilled with what secrets Antarctica may reveal.
Astrophysics In Antarctica
Thanks to Antarctica’s thin, dry, cold atmosphere and due to the ozone hole (which has been getting smaller over the years thanks to reduced CFC usage worldwide), Antarctica is the perfect place to study space and the stars. Ongoing research includes the formation of large-scale structure in the early Universe, cosmic microwave background, origins of star-forming molecular clouds, the origin and evolution of protostars, and the interaction between molecular clouds and early stars.
Bonus fact: Interestingly enough, Antarctica has 2 ATM’s. They were installed back in 2000 at the McMurdo Station which is 840 miles from the south pole. A few of the workers were trained to perform minor repairs but a vendor is sent down once every two years to service them and deliver spare parts and/or upgrade software.