Natural Resources in Antarctica

Instructional Module #3



  Keith Randa
  Apple Valley High School
  Apple Valley, Minnesota

  Rob Lonning
  University of Minnesota
  Minneapolis, Minnesota


Antarctica is the southern-most continent on the Earth and the continent
that we know the least about geologically.  Two factors make it difficult to
study the geology and mineral resources of Antarctica.  One, the cold
temperatures and strong winds, along with the 24 hour period of darkness
during the Antarctic winter, make it a very difficult place to work and
collect geological data.  Two, less than 3% of Antarctica is ice-free, which
makes the study of geology of Antarctica very difficult.


What we know about the geology of Antarctica comes from studying the small
percentage of the rocks that are exposed either at the coast or the tops of
mountain ranges which extend above the ice.  Our understanding of the
geology of the Antarctic region is based on the theory of plate tectonics.

Plate tectonics is the theory that the earth's crust is made up of a series
of pieces.  Each piece is called a plate.  These plates float on top of the
semi-fluid mantle like rafts.  The mantle is believed to have convection
cells within it which move these plates around.  Because of the theory of
plate tectonics, most geologists believe that up until about 180 million
years ago, South America, Africa, India, Australia, and New Zealand were all
joined together in one very large mass called Gondwana.  One piece of
evidence that supports the idea of this large land mass is that all of these
continents fit together like a jigsaw puzzle.  It has also been found that
when these continents are placed together they share matching fossils, rock
types, and land features.  The best explanation for this similarity is that
the rocks, fossils and land features formed when the continents were joined

When Gondwana started to break up, the land masses gradually moved into the
positions that we see them today.  This idea that all the land masses were
formed together allows us to make some assumptions about the geology of
Antarctica even though very little of the crust of Antarctica is exposed.


Much of what we know about the geology of Antarctica and about the minerals
present is based on what we know about the geology of South America, South
Africa, and Australia.  For example, if minerals found in the rocks that
were formed before the break up of Gondwana are found in the mountains of
South America, then we assume that we will find the same minerals in the
mountains of Antarctica.  This is because we can assume that they were
formed at the same time and with the same basic processes.

Many people believe that Antarctica is a place of unlimited resource wealth.
But the harsh climate, short work season, and thick ice make the recovery of
these resources very difficult.  The economic value of a resource is
determined by the current market value of the resource, the cost of moving
the resource to where it is needed, and the cost of moving equipment and
workers to recover the resource.  The technology to remove and transport
mineral resources has not yet been developed but as supplies worldwide are
depleted, it will become more cost effective.

There are two opposing views about the feasibility of resource recovery in
Antarctica.  One side is that by the time it is feasible to use an
Antarctica resource, alternative sources will exist.  Instead of using
petroleum for energy there will be development of fusion reactors, solar, or
geothermal energy.  The other view is that increasing economic pressure will
force mineral and petroleum exploration into more and more remote regions as
resources are gradually depleted in other lands.



One of Antarctica's most important resources is ice.  It is said that
Antarctica's ice accounts for 90% of the worlds fresh water.  As a resource
it has potential as a fresh water supply.  Some people have considered
towing icebergs from Antarctica to parts of the world in need of fresh
water.  At present the delivery costs make these ventures unprofitable.
Another possible use of the ice on Antarctica is as a long term deep freeze
storage site for grain and other foods.  Again the costs of shipping and
handling are prohibitive.


There are coal deposits found along the coast of Antarctica.  It is also
very wide spread throughout the Transantarctic Mountains.  These deposits
were formed between 35 million and 55 million years ago when Antarctica was
covered by ancient swamps.  Coal forms in swamps as plants die and are
buried before they can be completely decomposed.  They are then covered by
other sediments such as sand and mud.  This burial allows the hydrocarbons
in the coal to be preserved for future generations to use.

Coal is used as a source of direct heat and also to generate electricity in
coal burning power plants.  The main problem of developing coal in
Antarctica is that the cost of mining and delivering the coal is so much
higher than the cost of coal in the rest of the world market.  It may be
possible for coal to be used in some small research stations for a source of


Petroleum deposits are formed when plants and small animal remains are
buried in a marine environment by sand and mud. These remains then build up
as hydrocarbons and are trapped by a layer of rock that the hydrocarbons
cannot pass through. These cap rocks then store the petroleum underground
until it is pumped out by wells.  At this time there has been no petroleum
exploration attempted and there are no known petroleum resources in

Most of the speculation about petroleum in Antarctica comes from finding
petroleum on the other Southern continents which were at one time connected
together.  The petroleum deposits thought to be on the offshore regions of
Antarctica would probably be most feasible to obtain although they would
have to be exceptionally large to be considered for exploitation because of
the following enormous exploration and development problems:

  -Deeper water over the continental shelves;

  -The presence of sea ice and icebergs;

  -Short work season and hostile climate.

Comparisons with other Gondwana continents suggest the existence of
petroleum reserves in the interior of Antarctica.  But these lie below the
thick ice, ruling out development.  This is due not only to the thickness of
the ice but also the fact that it is sliding slowly towards the coast.  This
makes drilling through the ice and into the rock very difficult.


Mineral resources have not been found in great quantities so far due to the
small amount of rock that is exposed.  It is believed that since the other
continents that were once attached to Antarctica to form Gondwana have
metallic and nonmetallic minerals, that Antarctica probably has similar
minerals.  It is also known that rock layers such as those in Antarctica
commonly contain large amounts of cobalt, chromium, nickel, vanadium,
copper, iron and platinum group minerals.

The search for sizable concentrations of metallic minerals below the ice
will be a difficult prospecting venture which will require costly
geophysical and geochemical surveying and core drilling.  Geologists have
found small deposits of minerals in Antarctica but these deposits are low in
quality and occur in widely scattered places.  The peninsula seems to have
the highest probability of containing economic base-metal deposits.  Most of
the minerals were formed or deposited during the formation of Antarctica and
the other continents that made up Gondwana.

There are three basic process which could have formed these minerals:


When fluids such as water are heated by the earth's interior, they can carry
dissolved minerals in their fluid state such as quartz, gold, etc.  When the
solution of liquid and dissolved minerals cools in a new environment, the
minerals are deposited as a solid.  (The same way that candy forms crystals
as it cools and hardens.)


As liquid rock (magma) cools, the minerals in it separate.  This is because
the minerals have different densities and will separate with the denser
minerals towards the bottom.  (Think of how a bottle of Italian dressing
separates into layers.) This separates the minerals into different layers
resulting in concentrations of minerals in different places as the magma
cools and hardens.


As the earth is worn down and broken into pieces by wind, water, ice and
other weathering processes, the pieces of the earth are carried by water
into the oceans where they are deposited in layers.  Since the pieces are
different sizes and have different solubilities in water, they settle to the
bottom and form different layers.  This results in concentrations of the
minerals separated into layers.

Below is a table which list the minerals found in Antarctica, how they were
formed, and how they are used.

  MINERAL             FORMATION           USE

  Iron                Sedimentation       Steel making

  Cobalt              Hydrothermal        Petroleum refining, pigments

  Chromium            Magmatic            Heat & corrosion resistant steel

  Nickel              Magmatic            Stainless steel, heat and
                      segregation         corrosion-resistant steel

  Copper              Hydrothermal        Alloys with tin (Bronze) and Zinc
                      Sedimentation       Electrical equipment(Brass)

  Platinum            Magmatic            Chemical and metallurgic
                      segregation         industries, jewelry

  Manganese           Sedimentation       Steel making

  Uranium             Hydrothermal        Nuclear fuel,
                      Groundwater         Explosives

  Lead                Hydrothermal        Storage batteries,
                                        gasoline, construction


Many people feel that the scenic resources have the greatest potential for
near future economic development.  Already there are a variety of cruises
along the coastal waters of Antarctica.  The most popular are
education/expedition cruises where stops are made at research stations and
animal communities along the coast.  There are also a few government cruises
that go to local research stations to visit and observe.

Some airborne tourism takes place, mainly over the peninsula, but there are
the problems of no international air traffic control, virtually no
navigational aids, and blizzards with whiteouts.  These problems and a few
crashes, in which search and rescue have been difficult, have limited the
pleasure flights over Antarctica.

There are also expeditions by people who see Antarctica as the last
frontier;  one of the last places that they can test themselves against
nature.  In the past, expeditions with limited knowledge and experience in
Antarctica have not come equipped for the conditions they experience.  If
problems arise there is often no system set up for rescue or resupply.

Some visionaries see an all weather landing strip, with one or more hotels
near by, and possibly a center for alpine skiing and mountaineering as the
next development in Antarctica tourism.

There are many problems with tourism in Antarctica.  There is no local
populace to benefit economically from it.  Because the environment is so
fragile, tourism can do a lot of damage and there is no way to monitor the
impact on the environment.  They have found that due to the harsh
conditions, the plants that do live on Antarctica are easily damaged by the
human traffic.  They have also found that penguins' nesting is disturbed by
human contact.

There is also the problem of waste disposal from those that already live on
Antarctica and from tourists.  Tourism interferes with research at the
stations by demands for visits and by using station's resources to assist in
rescue of expeditions.  There are also no international agreements for legal
jurisdiction and handling of civil and criminal cases that would arise as
more people visit Antarctica.  The treaty regulations recognize the right of
tourists to visit the area but do not address these problems.



1-The student will be able to describe Antarctica's resources.

2-The student will be able to explain how the resources are formed.

3-The student will be able to discuss the problems of economic  recovery of
Antarctica resources.


1-The students will be know that the geology and mineral resources of
Antarctica are determined from limited rock samples and inferences from
plate tectonics.

2-The student will understand how to evaluate the economic feasibility of
trying to recover Antarctica's resources.

3-The student will know that each of the following is a resource of
Antarctica and how each resource is formed.




  -Metallic minerals

4-The student will understand the problems associated with the recovery of
the following resources:




  -Metallic minerals

5-The student will know that tourism is one of Antarctica's resources.

6-The student will understand what types of tourism takes place in
Antarctica and the problems associated with each.


Paper, Writing Utensils, Library or Encyclopedia, Construction paper,
Scissors, Color pencils, Rulers, Dictionary, Resources from Learning Link,
Antarctica resource puzzle sheet, Glue or Tape.


This is an activity designed to stimulate student interest in the topic and
provide an indication of students' prior knowledge of the topic.  The
information is important for determining the starting point and level of
difficulty for instruction.

As a first activity, have students answer the following questions:

1-Draw a map of the earth showing North America and Antarctica.  Or
describe in words where Antarctica is compared to where you live.

2-Describe what you think Antarctica is like compared to where you live
(weather, land, number of people, activities).

3-What is a natural resource?

4-List three examples of natural resources that you have in your community.

5-List five natural resources that you think Antarctica has.

6-Explain how these resources from number 5 where formed?

7-What are some uses of the natural resources that you listed in number 5?


Here are few suggested ways to present the background materials for this

1-If you have an audio visual program of Antarctica, show it to your
students so they can get a picture of Antarctica in their minds.

2-Have your students go to the library and look in books or magazines for
pictures of Antarctica to share with the class.  Have students bring
pictures from home that they may have of Antarctica.

3-Give a lecture and set of notes on the Resources of Antarctica using
the background information for a reference.

4-Have the students read the background material and answer the questions
on the Resources of Antarctica Worksheet.


Select one or more of these activities to provide students practice
applying their new knowledge.

1-Exploiting Antarctica's Resources: Is There Another Solution?

In this activity students pick one of Antarctica's resources and research
how our society uses that resource.  They then try to formulate a plan to
develop alternatives to using that resource or if alternatives don't exist
they then come up with ways to conserve that resource.

2-Antarctica Resources group project:

Groups of students research a resource and report either in writing or
orally to the class the following information.

  -How resource is used.

  -How resource is mined or recovered around the world.

  -Some environmental impacts of recovering that resource.

  -Design some possible methods of recovering that resource in Antarctica.

  -Describe some possible environmental Impacts of recovering that resource
in Antarctica.

  -Explain how you are going to eliminate or minimize the Environmental
impacts caused by recovery.

3-The Antarctica Resource Puzzle.

In this activity students will piece together Gondwana and see if they can
determine where the resources in Antarctica are located.  This will be based
on the theory of plate tectonics and make the assumption that all of the
resources were formed before the large land mass broke up.






1-Where is Antarctica?

2-What makes the geology and the mineral resources of Antarctica so
difficult to determine?

3-How do the continents of South Africa, South America and Australia help
us determine if there are minerals in Antarctica?

4-If we found gold in the mountains in South America why can we assume that
we will find gold in the mountains of Antarctica?

5-What are natural resources?

6-What factors are controlling whether it is worth the money to recover the
resources in Antarctica?

7-What are the two opposing views when it comes to whether it will be worth
the effort and money to recover the resources in Antarctica?

8-Why is the search for sizable mineral concentrations in Antarctica so

9-Explain the three basic process for the formation of metallic minerals.

10-What are some ways that tourist can visit Antarctica?

11-What are some problems associated with tourism in Antarctica?

Fill out the table below giving the following information:

  -How resources is formed (Formation)

  -How the resource is used or could be used. (Use)

  -Problem of recovery of the resource? (Problems)

  Resource                 Formation           Use                 Problems
















To have students find out how our society would use the potential resources
from Antarctica and to come up with alternatives to using those resources or
ways to conserve them.

Background:  Every day we consume natural resources.  From the water we
drink, the food we eat, the clothes we wear, and all of the other objects
that we find important to own in our society.  Because of the use of
resources in our everyday lives we will, at some point, run out of our
current supply of resources.  Because of this many people view Antarctica as
the next place to go to obtain needed resources.  In this activity you will
look at the resources that Antarctica is supposed to have, and look at h-ow
they would be used by our society.  You will then come up with alternative
resources or ways to conserve them so that we will not have to use
Antarctica's resources.


1-Your teacher will assign you a resource from Antarctica.


2-Write a report about your resource using the following outline.

  A-Name of the resource.

  B-How the resource is formed.

  C-Estimate or find out how long it takes to form the resource.

  D-Where does our society currently get the resource from?  (i.e., coal
from Montana.)  List as many as possible.

  E-How does our society use the resource.  List as many as possible (i.e.,
petroleum used in cars, to make plastics).

  F- Problems of recovering the resource from Antarctica.

  G-Come up with alternative resources to use to do the same thing. (i.e.
paper plates instead of foam plates) or come up with ways to conserve on
the resource. (i.e., use metal washable utensils instead of plastic.)




  -Library books


  -Science Text books

  -Your teacher




To allow students to explore how resources are recovered around the world
and to apply that knowledge to Antarctica.


Mineral resource recovery in Antarctica is different than it is in the rest
of the world because of the special conditions that exist in Antarctica.

The first problem is that the amount of daylight in Antarctica is not the
same year round. In the summer they have 24 hours of daylight and in the
winter they have 24 hours of night.

The weather also presents problems.  Along the coast of Antarctica the
temperature ranges in winter from 32 degrees F. to -40 degrees.  Inland the
temperatures range from -40 degrees to below -100 degrees . There are also
great winds which blow the snow into whiteout conditions making seeing more
than a foot in front of your face a problem. The precipitation varies
greatly from less than 2 two inches per year inland, to about 35 inches per
year along the coast.  The ice also presents problems.  The ice of
Antarctica is moving by the force of gravity downhill towards the coast.
It is basically a large continental glacier.  Drilling a hole or digging a
mine shaft is difficult due to the fact that these holes will need to bend
and shift with the ice.


Your group will be assigned a specific resource by your teacher and you
will either give an oral presentation (6-8 minute) or write a written (4-6
page) report about the recovery of that resource in Antarctica.

Your report or presentation should follow the outline below.

1-Name of the resource.

2-How the resource is used.

3-How the resource is mined or recovered from the earth in other locations.

4-List some of the environmental impacts from mining or recovering this
resource from present methods.

5-Design some possible methods to mine or recover that resource taking into
account the problems talked about in the background material above.

6-Describe some possible environmental impacts of recovering your resource
in Antarctica.

7-Explain ways to minimize or eliminate the environmental impacts from
recovering your resource.

  SUGGESTIONS: Do #1-4 above first.

Split up the work among group members to share the work load.  Use the
following resources:

  -Books from the library


  -Newspaper or magazine articles

  -Articles from LEARNING LINK

  -Each other

  -There may not be a correct answer for #5-7.  Do some creative thinking
based on #1-4 and the background material.  Your answers should make sense
and be based on sound ideas and reasoning.


-Bounce your ideas off other group members.


To be sure that all members of the group are participating and helping on
the project, make sure your do the following:

-All members of the group should speak in presentation.

-The written report is split into parts and everyone should write a part.

Your group project is due on (DATE).




To see how the theory of plate tectonics can be used to find the location
of resources under the ice and around the edge of Antarctica.


The theory of plate tectonics states that the earth's crust is made up of a
series of pieces called plates.  These plates slide and move as they
"float" on top of the earth's mantle.  At one time all of the continents
formed one large continent.  This supercontinent was called Gondwana.

Since Australia, South America, Africa, India and Antarctica were all
connected at one time, we can make some assumptions about Antarctica's
mineral resources.  By examining the types and locations of minerals
presently found in Australia, South America, Africa, India, and by putting
the continents back together as they were 200 million years ago, we can
estimate where those minerals should be found in Antarctica today.


1-Carefully cut out the continents from the top of the Antarctica resource
puzzle sheet. Be sure you save the key to the minerals; Do not throw it

2-Using the diagram of the continents from the late Jurrasic found on the
bottom of the Antarctica resource puzzle sheet, place your cut out
continents in the same location as shown in the late Jurassic.  The
continents will not fit exactly together due to the continental shelves
that are under water, but are a part of the continents. This is how the
continents were connected during this time.

3-Tape or glue all of the continents in the position that you placed  them
for #3.  Do not tape or glue Antarctica.

4-Place Antarctica in its position.  Notice that all of the other
continents have their resources marked by different symbols.

5-You should now try to make a model of where the resources will be in
Antarctica. Remember the following:

  -The resources were formed at the same time.

  -They seem to form in bands.

  -Connect similar resources across continents if possible.

6-Draw and label on Antarctica where you think the coal, oil, gas, and
metallic minerals would be located.

7-Attach Antarctica to the sheet and answer the summary questions.


1-What resources did you think would be found on Antarctica?

2-How did each of these resources form?

3-What kind of environment was needed to form these resources?

4-Is the environment that you talked about in #3 different then the
environment found in Antarctica today? Explain?

Give a reason why the environment could be different than it is today in

5-What assumptions did we have to make in using this method to find  the
resources under the Ice of Antarctica?

6-In the space below do the following:

  -Draw a large supercontinent. Shade and label some resources on it.

  -Draw a sequence of pictures showing how the large continents would split
up and form four small continents. Shade and label the resources on each
small continent.





  Part 1:

Multiple choice.  Circle the correct answer.

1-How much of the surface of Antarctica is exposed above the Ice?

  a. 5%     b. 10%     c. 25%     d. 3%

2. How much of the worlds fresh water is trapped in The Ice of Antarctica.

  a. 85%     b. 90%     c. 25%     d. 63%

3-Much of what we know about the geology of Antarctica is because of:

  a. Studying the exposed rock of Antarctica

  b. The geology of North America

  c. The geology of the southern continents

  d. All of the above.

4-Coal and oil are both formed by:

  a. Living things being buried by lava.

  b. Living things that die and decompose.

  c. Living things being buried under sediments.

  d. Living things being dissolved in hot water.

Part 2:  Match the resource with its use in our society.

  1-Lead              a-Steel making

  2-Copper            b-Gasoline

  3-Iron              c-Storage batteries

  4-Coal              d-Electrical equipment

  5-Petroleum         e-Nuclear fuel

  6-Uranium           f-Fuel for heat

Part 3: Essay

1-What are three problems with tourism in Antarctica?

2-List four problems of trying to recover resources in Antarctica.

3-What are natural resources?

4-Pick two resources of Antarctica and explain the following:

  -Name of the resource

  -How the resource is formed

  -How we use the resource

  -Problems of recovering that resource from Antarctica.

Patricia A. Weeg
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