On This Day

Antarctica, Riiser-Larsen Ice Shelf
Ben Holt/NASA

On This Day: Antarctic Treaty Sets Aside Antarctica as Scientific Preserve

December 01, 2011 05:00 AM
by findingDulcinea Staff
On Dec. 1, 1959, representatives of 12 countries, including the United States and the Soviet Union, signed a treaty in Washington setting aside Antarctica as a scientific preserve, free from military activity.

The Antarctic Treaty

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Prior to the signing of the Antarctic Treaty, “Activities in the Antarctic had generally been conducted peacefully and cooperatively,” explains the U.S. State Department. “Yet the possibility that exploitable economic resources might be found meant the possibility of future rivalry for their control. Moreover, isolated and uninhabited, the continent might at some time become a potential site for emplacing nuclear weapons.”

The Antarctic Treaty recognized that it was “in the interest of all mankind that Antarctica shall continue forever to be used exclusively for peaceful purposes and shall not become the scene or object of international discord” and therefore stipulated that “any measures of a military nature” be prohibited.

The treaty was signed by 12 nations including seven that that made claims to parts of Antarctica: Antarctica: Argentina, Australia, Britain, Chile, France, Norway and New Zealand. The treaty did not affect these claims though it did ban all future claims.

The Antarctic Treaty remains the basis for international relations in Antarctica. It has been supplemented by many other agreements concerning issues like flora and fauna protection and waste dumping. The treaties, collectively known as the Antarctic Treaty System, currently have 48 signatory nations, 28 of which conduct scientific research in the area.

Reference: Antarctic Treaty System

The Secretariat of the Antarctic Treaty offers an archive of meetings and documents relating to the Antarctic Treaty System.

Resources for Learning About Antarctica

The CIA World Factbook provides almanac information for Antarctica.

The Landsat Image Mosaic of Antarctica, a project created by the USGS, NASA, NSF and British Antarctic Survey, presents high-resolution satellite images covering nearly every foot of Antarctica.

National Geographic has an interactive map displaying facts and photographs of the wildlife in Antarctica.

The National Science Foundation’s Office of Polar Programs describes its scientific discoveries in Antarctica and provides a virtual tour and webcam broadcasts of the South Pole Research Station.

The Royal Geographical Society’s Discovering Antarctica site is a very thorough information source on Antarctica. Learn the Who, What, and Why of the frozen continent, or explore images, interactive activities, videos and audio clips.

The Exploratorium online museum exhibit offers field notes, webcasts, articles and photo galleries about Antarctica.
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