Wednesday, December 6, 2006

Antarctic History

A view of the Canada Glacier with Lake Fryxell in the foreground

Antarctica’s age of discovery and exploration began during the 19th century and continues through today. It is one of the least explored areas on Earth, and the largest. Notable explorers include Ernest Shackleton, Robert Scott, and James Ross. The (magnetic) South Pole was first reached by Roald Amundsen, a Norwegian explorer.

Although there are no native Antarcticans, so to speak, the first year-round residents of the continent were whalers during the 1800s. A number of semi-permanent settlements were established for this purpose; the majority of them were Norwegian. During this time and through 1959, various countries made land ownership claims; Australia’s claim being the largest at over 25% of the landmass. It is interesting to note that part of West Antarctica is the only land on Earth not claimed by any nation. Beginning in 1959, the Antarctic Treaty and other related agreements were signed by nations wanting to be involved in the future of the continent. The treaty suspended recognition of any land claims and set forth a variety of articles outlining the activities that may occur. Among other things, the treaty states that Antarctica is to be used for “peaceful purposes only,” prohibiting military activity or weapons testing. It does not prohibit the mere presence of military. In fact, US flights to Antarctica take place on air force planes, and many of the helicopters are flown by members of the military. The treaty also prohibits the storage of nuclear wastes and promotes the continuation of scientific activities. Disputes between treaty signers are settled by the parties themselves or by the International Court of Justice (World Court) of the UN. Signing countries of the Antarctic Treaty have consultation meetings yearly. Accessory agreements can be proposed and adopted by the members of the treaty at any time. Currently there are over 200 accessory agreements, including ones that govern the use everything from mineral resources to seals.
Antarctica isn't all ice...although I do appreciate the glaciers.

1 comment:

Kevin said...