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(978 posts)
Wed Oct 4, 2023, 08:29 AM Oct 2023

On This Day: Treaty signed to protect Antarctic environment - Oct. 4, 1991

(edited from Wikipedia)
Environmental Protection

The Protocol on Environmental Protection to the Antarctic Treaty was signed 4 October 1991, and entered into force 14 January 1998; this agreement prevents development and provides for the protection of the Antarctic environment through five specific annexes on marine pollution, fauna and flora, environmental impact assessments, waste management, and protected areas. It prohibits all activities relating to mineral resources except scientific. A sixth annex on liability arising from environmental emergencies was adopted in 2005, but is yet to enter into force.

Economic actvity

Deposits of coal, hydrocarbons, iron ore, platinum, copper, chromium, nickel, gold, and other minerals have been found in Antarctica, but not in large enough quantities to extract. The Protocol on Environmental Protection to the Antarctic Treaty, which came into effect in 1998 and is due to be reviewed in 2048, restricts the exploitation of Antarctic resources, including minerals.


Tourists have been visiting Antarctica since 1957. Tourism is subject to the provisions of the Antarctic Treaty and Environmental Protocol; the self-regulatory body for the industry is the International Association of Antarctica Tour Operators. Tourists arrive by small or medium ship at specific scenic locations with accessible concentrations of iconic wildlife. Over 74,000 tourists visited the region during the 2019–2020 season, of which 18,500 travelled on cruise ships but did not leave them to explore on land. The numbers of tourists fell rapidly after the start of the COVID-19 pandemic. Some nature conservation groups have expressed concern over the potential adverse effects caused by the influx of visitors and have called for limits on the size of visiting cruise ships and a tourism quota. The primary response by Antarctic Treaty parties has been to develop guidelines that set landing limits and closed or restricted zones on the more frequently visited sites.

Overland sightseeing flights operated out of Australia and New Zealand until the Mount Erebus disaster in 1979, when an Air New Zealand plane crashed into Mount Erebus, killing all of the 257 people on board. Qantas resumed commercial overflights to Antarctica from Australia in the mid-1990s. There are many airports in Antarctica.


In 2017, there were more than 4,400 scientists undertaking research in Antarctica, a number that fell to just over 1,100 in the winter. There are over 70 permanent and seasonal research stations on the continent; the largest, United States' McMurdo Station, is capable of housing more than 1,000 people. The British Antarctic Survey has five major research stations on Antarctica, one of which is completely portable. The Belgian Princess Elisabeth station is one of the most modern stations and the first to be carbon-neutral. Argentina, Australia, Chile, and Russia also have a large scientific presence on Antarctica.

Geologists primarily study plate tectonics, meteorites, and the breakup of Gondwana. Glaciologists study the history and dynamics of floating ice, seasonal snow, glaciers, and ice sheets. Biologists, in addition to researching wildlife, are interested in how low temperatures and the presence of humans affect adaptation and survival strategies in organisms. Biomedical scientists have made discoveries concerning the spreading of viruses and the body's response to extreme seasonal temperatures.

The high elevation of the interior, the low temperatures, and the length of polar nights during the winter months all allow for better astronomical observations at Antarctica than anywhere else on Earth. The view of space from Earth is improved by a thinner atmosphere at higher elevations and a lack of water vapour in the atmosphere caused by freezing temperatures. Astrophysicists at the Amundsen–Scott South Pole Station study cosmic microwave background radiation and neutrinos from space. The largest neutrino detector in the world, the IceCube Neutrino Observatory, is at the Amundsen-Scott Station. It consists of around 5,500 digital optical modules, some of which reach a depth of 8,040 ft, that are held in 0.24 cu mi of ice.

Antarctica provides a unique environment for the study of meteorites: the dry polar desert preserves them well, and meteorites older than a million years have been found. They are relatively easy to find, as the dark stone meteorites stand out in a landscape of ice and snow, and the flow of ice accumulates them in certain areas. The Adelie Land meteorite, discovered in 1912, was the first to be found. Meteorites contain clues about the composition of the Solar System and its early development. Most meteorites come from asteroids, but a few meteorites found in Antarctica came from the Moon and Mars.

Climate change

Over the second half of the 20th century, the Antarctic Peninsula was the fastest-warming place on Earth, closely followed by West Antarctica, but temperatures rose less rapidly during the early 21st century. Conversely, the South Pole, located in East Antarctica, barely warmed during much of the 20th century, but temperatures rose three times the global average between 1990 and 2020. In February 2020, the continent recorded its highest temperature of 18.3 °C (64.9 °F), which was 0.8 °C (1.4 °F) higher than the previous record attained in March 2015.

Temperature change due to climate change in Antarctica is not stable over the whole continent. West Antarctica is warming rapidly, while the inland regions are cooled by the winds in Antarctica. Water in the West Antarctic has warmed by 1 °C since year 1955. Further increase in temperature in water and on land will affect the climate, ice mass and life on the continent and have global implications. Present-day greenhouse gas concentrations are higher than ever according to ice cores from Antarctica, which indicates that warming on this continent is not part of a natural cycle and attributable to anthropogenic climate change.

Antarctica has lost 2720 ± 1390 gigatons of ice during the period from 1992 to 2017, and extrapolated predictions are that in year 2100 the sea level will rise by 25 cm just from the water bound in ice in Antarctica. The melting of the Antarctic ice sheet, particularly the West Antarctic, will shift ocean currents and have a global impact. Climate change affects the biodiversity on the continent, although the extent of this is uncertain as many species in Antarctica remain undiscovered. There are documented changes to flora and fauna on the continent already. Changes include increase in population size in plants, and adaptation to new habitat by penguins. Increase in temperature lead to melting of permafrost, which contributes to release of greenhouse gases and chemicals that trapped in the ice.

Even with goals and limitations made by the Paris Agreement it might be too late to reverse ice melting in West Antarctica, and future changes in climate in Antarctica will affect all parts of the globe.

Antarctic Treaty System

The Antarctic Treaty and related agreements, collectively known as the Antarctic Treaty System (ATS), regulate international relations with respect to Antarctica, Earth's only continent without a native human population. It was the first arms control agreement established during the Cold War, setting aside the continent as a scientific preserve, establishing freedom of scientific investigation, and banning military activity; for the purposes of the treaty system, Antarctica is defined as all the land and ice shelves south of 60°S latitude. Since September 2004, the Antarctic Treaty Secretariat, which implements the treaty system, is headquartered in Buenos Aires, Argentina.

As of 2023, the treaty has 56 parties.



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On This Day: Treaty signed to protect Antarctic environment - Oct. 4, 1991 (Original Post) jgo Oct 2023 OP
Jacques Cousteau was a major force in getting this done and there are pictures of him at the signing LT Barclay Oct 2023 #1

LT Barclay

(2,651 posts)
1. Jacques Cousteau was a major force in getting this done and there are pictures of him at the signing
Wed Oct 4, 2023, 11:58 AM
Oct 2023

of the Antarctic Treaty in Jean-Michel Cousteau’s documentary My Father the Captain.
I remember passing around the petition that was in The Cousteau Society magazine.
The interesting thing is that in a time when we were less divided, some people who signed were probably republican.

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