Who Owns Antarctica?

Instructional Module #9



  Rob Lonning
  University of Minnesota, Minneapolis, Minnesota

  Keith Randa
  Apple Valley High School, Apple Valley, Minnesota


The continent surrounding the South Pole constitutes nearly a tenth of the
world's land but is owned by no one.  It has no indigenous people, as has
the Arctic.  Pie-slice sections are claimed by seven nations -- the United
Kingdom, Argentina, Chile, Australia, New Zealand, France, and Norway.
Neither the United States nor the Soviet Union, prime players on the
southern stage, claims Antarctic territory nor honors the claims of others;
however, both consider the continent politically important.  In addition, a
number of developing countries in the United Nations since 1983 have
expressed interest in being informed of and participating in the governance
of Antarctica.

Up to now, science has been king, thanks to the Antarctic Treaty of 1959, a
highly successful international agreement concluded by 12 scientifically
active nations -- Argentina, Australia, Belgium, Chile, France, Japan, New
Zealand, Norway, South Africa, Soviet Union, United Kingdom, and the United
States.  Thirty-nine other nations now participate and 25 of these have
active scientific research projects.

The Antarctic Treaty grew from the International Geophysical Year (IGY) of
1957-58, a scientific assault on the Antarctic, and called for scientific
cooperation in the area south of latitude 60 degrees.  It froze territorial
claims, banned all military activity and weapons testing, and established
Antarctica as off limits to nuclear explosions and the disposal of
radioactive waste.  It provided all nations freedom of scientific inquiry
but obligated them to share the results.  The question of resources was
avoided in 1959, but since that time two additional treaties protect seals
and marine living resources and regulate possible minerals development.

The Antarctic Treaty has evolved through regular meetings of its
consultative parties, originally the 12 nations who conducted the IGY.
Since then, 13 other nations who have carried out substantial scientific
research in Antarctica -- East Germany, Poland, Brazil, India, China,
Uruguay, Italy, West Germany, Spain, Sweden, Finland, Peru, Republic of
Korea -- have been accepted into the "club."  Fourteen more nations have
agreed to abide by its terms.

The Treaty vowed not to interfere with historical claims, and at the same
time preserved the position of the countries that do not recognize these
claims.  Australia, Chile, and Argentina have been most active in keeping
their claims alive.  Argentina has set up a post office and in 1978 flew a
pregnant woman to its base at Esperanza, where Emilio Marcos Palma was born
and promptly declared an Argentine citizen.

Most nations party to the Treaty seem content with it, but 1991 draws near.
In that year any consultative nation will be able to ask for a review of
the Treaty and if it remains unsatisfied with the conclusions of the
review, withdraw from it.

The most pressing issues of the Antarctic relate to resources.  The
southern waters are fertile, supporting a short, delicate food chain:
great whales, seals, penguins, and their primary diet -- squid, fish, and
shrimp-like crustaceans called krill.  To regulate commercial harvesting
and protect the continent's environment, the consultative parties have
adopted two conventions.  One, which was entered into in 1978, protects
Antarctic seals.  Another, to protect "marine living resources," took
effect in 1982.

The world thirst for oil, gas, and other minerals will probably determine
the continent's future, even though today's recovery technology seems
inadequate.  While it is clear that minerals are locked under the immense,
year-round sheet of moving ice, as much as five kilometers (three miles)
thick, no commercial deposits have yet been discovered.  Even if needed
resources lie beneath, since the cost of extraction in harsh Antarctic
conditions would be staggering, recovery is not expected to be economical
anytime soon, if ever.

Oil, tapped from offshore rigs, is another possibility.  Although there is
no proven potential, there have been encouraging core samples and much
speculation.  Major oil companies, have in the past stayed away because
there are no agreed upon laws governing oil development and alternative,
more accessible sources exist.  Even if discovered, high costs and the
difficulty of extraction would deter development of anything but a giant or
super-giant oil field -- and then only after technology, adapted to the
harsh conditions, and any applicable laws had been developed.  Experts
estimate that the price of oil would have to rise to four or five times the
current $13 dollars a barrel to justify the cost of developing the
necessary technology.  Nonetheless, several oil companies are pursuing
plans that involve Antarctica, according to the American Petroleum

Over the past six years the Treaty's consultative parties worked on
hammering out a farsighted minerals regime that will examine if, when, and
how the extractions of the future should proceed.  On June 2, 1988, 33
nations agreed to a framework to regulate mining exploration and development
in all Antarctica.  A key to the convention's approval is that, like all the
Antarctic treaties, it sidesteps the issue of whether the seven nations who
assert sovereignty over different regions of Antarctica have a rig-htful
claim.  One of the philosophies that underlies the convention is that
claimant and non-claimant nations couldn't out-vote each other.  The
agreement calls for strong environmental standards.  Activities will not be
permitted if they will cause "significant changes" in atmospheric,
terrestrial, or marine environments.  Approval for intensive exploration
activities and commercial mining will involve a commission and regulatory
committees set up by the convention.  The commission has the authority to
d-ecide whether a party can explore in a proposed area.  Formal objection by
a single country can bar any area from even being a candidate for
exploration activities.  It has been argued, however, that this veto power
is likely to be used very selectively, because a nation refusing activities
in one area might find itself in the future being blocked by another country
to explore in another area of its own choice.  On the other hand, countries
with strong environmental convictions, who may have no interest i-n
exploiting Antarctic minerals, could always try to veto development.

Once an area is approved, the chief oversight responsibility for protecting
the environment rests with the regulatory committees, which will issue
licenses.  Each committee will have ten members, four of which are claimant
nations and six non-claimant nations.  The approval of seven nations is
required for a license.  The United States, the Soviet Union, and the
claimant nation or nations where exploration or mining is proposed have
standing membership on each committee.  The committees will rely on a
scientific advisory body to review information about the environmental
impact of the proposed activities.  But talk of mineral wealth, even in
potential terms, has excited strong reaction.  Environmental groups such as
Greenpeace, distrust the motives of the consultative nations.  They push to
preserve Antarctica as a world park, the last unsullied continent.  The
environmentalists' case against mining is not a trivial one, either.  A
mile-thick, continuously flowing ice sheet covers 98 percent of the
continent.  As a result, mining or drilling would probably be concentrated
initially along the rocky coasts or at sea.  But offshore drilling is risky
in the stormy, iceberg-filled waters.  A major oil spill, especially during
the winter when a cleanup operation would be virtually impossible, would
devastate fish, seal and penguin populations.

Another possible scenario is that some governments may develop mines or
wells to strengthen territorial claims even though transportation and
extraction costs are high.  This type of sanctioned, politically motivated
"gold rush", would add tremendous strain to the fragile environment.  On
the other hand, it would be extremely expensive to mount such a venture in
conformity with the environmental standards included in the 1988 minerals

Meanwhile, more than a hundred developing nations have challenged the
Treaty organization as unfair.  In 1983 they raised the "Antarctic
question" in the United Nations, borrowing a phrase from the 1982 Law of
the Sea Convention that labels unclaimed deep-sea beds "the common heritage
of mankind."  In their view the Treaty organization is self-appointed and
thus arbitrary, secretive in its meetings and thus arrogant.  Membership in
the "club" is open to all nations who support active research stations; the
cost of which is prohibitive to many third world nations.

Treaty nations, led by Australia, in the United Nations, answer that they
have spent great sums of money and many years in the interest of science,
and that the present agreements have maintained peace and stability.  What
would be the alternative?  If oil were found in great quantities, for
example, would there be a chaotic land rush subject to no rules at all?

For now, the Antarctic Treaty protects the common interest.  National
claims are frozen.  Exploration continues, but without the exploitation
that usually follows.



1-The students will be able to explain how ownership and use of Antarctica
is presently being determined.

2-The students will be able to explain implications for all nations should
the Antarctic Treaty not be renewed.


1-The students will identify the countries with territorial claims in
Antarctica and those who do not recognize them.

2-The students will be able to list some consequences of failing to renew
the Antarctic Treaty.

3-The students will know what nations are involved in the 1959 Antarctica
Treaty and what the Treaty controls.

4-The student will understand the 1988 tentative agreement on mineral and
resource management in Antarctica.


Concept Invention Activity

  Globe or world map for reference
  Colored pencils

Application Activity #1

  Construction paper
  Color pencils
  Resources from LEARNING LINK


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

Using world maps and globes for reference and inspiration, have students
write the answers to the following questions:

1-Who owns Antarctica?

2-What interest does the United States have in Antarctica?

3-Who should determine Antarctica's future?


The most important issues about Antarctica relate to human interaction with
the continent.  Who is in charge?  Who is responsible?  Who shall benefit
from the resources of the continent.

The purposes of the concept development activity are:

1-To familiarize students with the Antarctic Treaty which currently
regulates the uses of Antarctica and may come up for review in 1991.

2-To familiarize students with the political and economic implications for
all countries which stem from the exploitation of fish or minerals in

It is suggested that students use the background material as a reference
when completing this activity.



1-Using a globe or world map for reference, locate the seven nations making
territorial claims on Antarctica.

2-Using an outline map of Antarctica (such as the one constructed in
Application Activity #2, of the geography module) and the data from Table
1, draw the approximate territorial boundaries claimed by the countries

3-Write a paragraph explaining your opinion of the following questions:

  a-What should be done if a large petroleum source were discovered in one
of the claimed regions?

  b-What should be the role of the United States in exploration and
exploitation of natural resources in Antarctica?

  c-Should Antarctica be preserved as a "world park" or should any natural
resources discovered be extracted for world needs?

  d-What justification do you think the seven countries have for making
territorial claims in Antarctica?


1-How does the land area of the countries compare to the territory claimed
by them in Antarctica?

2-Which nations have overlapping territorial claims?  How do you think this
could be resolved?


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

  Application Activity #1

  Antarctica Mineral Resource Dilemma

Purpose:  To have students understand the complexity of land and resource
management in Antarctica.

Background:  Setting the Stage

Many people believe that Antarctica has a great mineral and resource wealth
that is untapped.  They will be wanting to exploit the land and resources
for financial gain.  Antarctica is the southern most continent on the
Earth.  It has a very harsh climate.  The working season is very short
because of the severe temperatures and 24 hours of night during the winter
months.  Winter also brings problems in that the continent doubles in size
because of freezing sea water turning to ice around the continent.  Because
only 2% of the continent is ice free, what is known about the geology and
mineral resources is based on the theory of plate tectonics.  According to
the theory, the southern continents were formed under similar conditions.
This means that assumptions about minerals are based on the fact that those
portions of the southern continents, at one time adjacent to Antarctica,
have similar minerals.

There are great costs for developing resource recovery in Antarctica.  The
cost of fuel and transportation is enormous.  Also, air travel is very
difficult due to extreme weather conditions and sudden changes in them.
Sea travel is difficult due to weather, icebergs and moving ice floes.  The
environment of Antarctica is very fragile.  This is due to the harsh
climate.  It takes a long time for any plants to grow and those that do are
extremely vulnerable to pressure from humans or other animals.

Because of the cold temperatures, special problems occur in terms of
chemical reactions. This means that waste an-d chemical pollution act
differently in Antarctica than they do in other parts of the world.  The
marine mammals that live in the Southern Ocean around Antarctica are not
accustomed to dealing with humans.  Any industrial activity will clearly
have some effects on their populations.

The following companies have asked to present their proposals for approval
by the commission for development of resources in Antarctica. Desert Water
Company would like to tow icebergs to other parts of the world. The Skelly
Gas Company would like to develop off shore drilling platforms. The Penn.
Coal Company would like to mine the coal in the Transantarctic Mountains.
The Chile Mineral Company would like to mine copper and uranium.  The
Argentina Cruise Company would like to develop an Antarctica cruise along
with a summer hotel and recreation complex.  The U.S. Expedition Co. would
like to develop skiing, dog sledding and snowmobiling expeditions to the
interior of Antarctica.


1-Familiarize your students with the background material.

2-Assign two students to each of the following roles:

  - Desert Water Co. President.

  - Skelly Gas Co. President.

  - Penn Coal Co. President.

  - Chile Mineral Co. President.

  - Argentina Cruise Co. President.

  - U.S. Expedition Co. President.

3-Assign the rest of the class to act as members of the Antarctica Minerals
and Resource Commission.

4-Each group should prepare itself for its role using the information given

5-Each of the presidents should prepare a presentation to give the
commission trying to convince them to approve their plans for resource use.

6-Have the commission appoint one of the members as chairman to run the

7-Have each president make their presentation to the commission.

8-After all presentations, the chairman should open the floor for

9-After discussion, have each president make a closing statement about
their plans.

10-Have each board member vote on which companies should be granted
permits.  A majority vote should decide the outcome.

11-Close the period with a final class discussion of the role playing
activity.  Use the following questions to stimulate discussion:

  a-Do you feel you need more information before making a decision? If so,
what information would you need?

  b-How would each company benefit from approval of their plan?

  c-How would Antarctica have benefitted from the approval of each plan?

  d-How would the world have benefitted from the approval of each plan?

  e-How do you distinguish between facts and opinions in the statements
given before the board?

  f-Is there a better way to determine the use of resources in Antarctica?

Roles for the Antarctica minerals and resources hearing: Mineral and
Resource Commission members: You must decide which companies have an
adequate plan in order to approve their development of Antarctic Resources.

Does the proposal:

  -Protect the Antarctica Environment?

  -Represent a fair use of the resource.

  -Make economic sense?

  -Present a sensible plan to deal with the conditions in Antarctica?

  -Consider the effect the prosed actions will have on the whole earth?

  -Include plans for reclamation of the area where they are removing a
resource or have plans to minimize the environmental impact?

  -Have plans to deal with pollution of air, water, and land caused by the


Your proposal is to tow large icebergs from the Ross Ice shelf to locations
on the Earth which are in need of fresh water. The ships that you will
build will simply pick up icebergs that are floating free and tow them
behind the ship. The icebergs will lose some size as they are towed into
warmer water, but will still be large enough for use when they each their
destination.  To help improve the economics of the plan, the ships on their
return will bring grain and other items that need to be stored in large
freezers cut into the ice of Antarctica.


The plan is to drill for oil off the coast of Antarctica. Your company
geologist feels that since many large deposits of oil have been found along
the coast of South America and South Africa that there will also be large
deposits along the coasts of Antarctica.  You have designed a very light
and portable drilling platform that can be moved to avoid large icebergs
floating towards them.  You also have plans to allow the platforms to be
moved on top of the forming ice during the winter so that work can continue
year round. The oil will be shipped out in tankers in the summer and in the
winter a series of pipelines will be built to transport the oil across the


The plan is to take coal from the Transantarctic Mountains. The deposits
can be seen along the mountains and will be removed by taking the coal out
with large front end loaders adapted to the colder temperatures and
conditions. The coal will be moved across the ice with trains that will
allow transportation even during white out and blizzard conditions. Since
the water is frozen there will be very little water pollution.


The plan is to dig underground mines through the ice near exposed rock
surfaces to remove copper and uranium. Since the mines will be below the
surface of the ice there will be very little environmental impact. The
minerals will be put on a train to be moved to the coast to be shipped to
the processing plants.


The plan is to develop a cruise that will start in Argentina and end up at
a summer resort community in Antarctica. It will include stops at penguin
rookeries, points of interest, and research stations along the way.  We
plan to build a hotel and convention center along the peninsula to serve as
a stay over spot for tourists.  It will just be open during the summer
season, but will include downhill skiing, cross country skiing,
snowmobiling, day trips to points of interest, shops and other luxuries.
It will be a way to raise money for the development of more improvements in


The plan is to offer expeditions by ski, sled dog and snowmobile into the
interior of Antarctica. We will need to develop a system of storage and
emergency shelters along the routes to handle storage of extra equipment
such as food, fuel etc.  We also will develop an airport to handle our
smaller planes which we will use in flying in food and supplies and to
handle any emergencies that arise.  Our company will employ people who have
experience in guiding and planning trips in Antarctica.  We will also build
a large main lodge to have people stay before they leave on their
expedition and to serve as a pre-trip training site to prepare them for the
Antarctic conditions.


  Country                      Territorial Boundaries

  United Kingdom           20 degrees West to 80 degrees West

  Argentina                25 degrees West to 75 degrees West

  Chile                    52 degrees West to 90 degrees West

  Australia                45.5 degrees East to 130 degrees East,

                           142.5 degrees East to 160 degrees East

  New Zealand              160 degrees East to 150 degrees West

  France                   130 degrees East to 142.5 degrees East

  Norway                   80 degrees West to 45 degrees East
                           (limits undefined)*

*Except for Norway, all claimant nations claim boundaries from the South
Pole to 60 degrees North Latitude.

  Application Activity #2





To have students decide whether or not to develop Antarctica's mineral
resources and then design a campaign poster and brochure to persuade


In June 1988 a tentative agreement was reached to develop the mineral
resources in Antarctica.  There are basically two opposing views in terms
of resource development:

1-The world is running out of resources that are needed to continue
economic growth and to maintain or improve the standard of living.
Antarctica may have a large storehouse of mineral resources.  Although we
do not yet have the technology to recover these resources, if markets exist
for the minerals, it could be designed.

2-There is evidence that Antarctica has a great amount of mineral
resources.  The cost of developing the resources is so high that it is not
economical in the world markets today.  In the future, the cost of other
world mineral resources could be high enough to make Antarctica's resources
competitive in the same market. But by that time we should have developed
other types of technology and energy resources that make the development of
Antarctica unnecessary.

There is also the problem of recovering the mineral resources in
Antarctica. The environment in Antarctica is both harsh and very fragile.
It will be extremely difficult to develop minerals and this development
poses a threat to the environment.  So far, the environmental record of
industry has been very poor.  Consequently, the best thing to do is to
designate Antarctica as a world park.


1-Each member of your group should read the above background material.

2-You may also like to read any other sources on Antarctica that your
teacher has for you.

3-Make a decision about the future of Antarctica -- World park or
development of resources?

4-Come to a decision with your group.

5-List the reasons for your group's decision.

6-After you have made a group list of reasons, do the following:

a-Design a brochure that could convince people of your decision. It should
include the following:

-Reasons you believe in your decision.

-Facts and details to support your decision.

-Diagrams or pictures to help explain your ideas.

-Anything else that you think would help.

B-Design a poster that could be placed in the community to illustrate your
position.  It should include the following:

-An eye catching phrase or picture.

-Explanation of your ideas.

-Some facts and details to support your position.

-An explanation of where to get more information.

-Anything else you think would help.

Patricia A. Weeg
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