14 million square km (5.4 mill square miles)
Summer (January): 3,600
Winter (July): 960
Number of research stations:
Summer only: 32
Number of airports: 19
Number of heliports: 27
Signed: Dec 1, 1959
Entered into force: June 23, 1961
Number of treaty members: 44
Argentina, Australia, Belgium, Chile, The French Republic,
Japan, New Zealand, Norway, South Africa, U.S.S.R.,
Brazil, Bulgaria, China, Ecuador, Finland, Germany,
India, Italy, Netherlands, Poland, Peru, Republic of
Korea, Sweden, Spain, and Uruguay
Nations acceding to the Antarctic Treaty
(these nations agree to abide by the treaty and may
attend consultative meetings as observers):
Austria, Canada, Colombia, Cuba, Czech Republic, Democratic
Peoples Republic of Korea, Denmark, Greece, Guatemala,
Hungary, Papua New Guinea, Romania, Slovak Republic,
Switzerland, Turkey, Ukraine, and Venezuela
Made by Argentina, Norway, Australia, France, New Zealand,
Britain, Chile. Brazil has a "zone of interest."
of territorial claims.
other Treaty nations have made no claims (although the
U.S. and Russia have reserved the right to do so), and
do not recognize the claims of other nations. The Antarctic
Treaty prohibits future claims.
Military: The Treaty prohibits establishment
of military bases, weapons testing or maneuvers. Treaty
countries can have military personnel and equipment
on the continent for scientific or other peaceful purposes.
not just science that's an experiment in Antarctica
scientists used to working in a more polluted world, Lake
Vostok is the sort of ancient and pure observatory that provokes
a dizzy delight with its possibilities. It's also the sort
of remarkably undefiled place that invites debates over how
it should be explored.
Russians discovered the lake in 1998 while extracting ice
cores for the study of climate
change. So far, they've drilled 3,623 meters into the
ice, and plan to go another 50 meters further in 2002. That
would put them only 100 meters away from the water's surface.
The Russians, along with many Antarctic scientists, want to
reach the actual water of the lake to look for new organisms
and analyze sediments. They argue that since their drills
are already so close to the lake's surface, they might as
well go ahead and make the entrance.
But other countries have objected, pointing out that Russia's
drill hole -- which contains 60 metric tons of kerosene and
freon drilling fluid -- will contaminate the waters of the
lake and destroy what could be a wholly unique natural research
site. In response, Russian engineers say they could lower
the pressure in the drill hole enough so that lake water would
rise up into it and freeze, keeping the drilling fluids from
washing into the lake. But researchers and engineers from
a number of other countries have questioned the plan, suggesting
other approaches they consider less environmentally risky.
Russia has been adamant in its desire to continue drilling.
Beyond that, the United States is eyeing Lake Vostok with
a different interest -- as a potential trial ground for future
NASA missions. NASA astronomers believe the lake and its ice
resemble the surface of Europa, Jupiter's fourth largest moon. They
want to use the area to develop technology that could penetrate
such a surface without contaminating it. Several researchers
and environmental groups have suggested that the United States
use a smaller, less unique lake, saying the NASA proposal
could cost the purity of Vostok's waters, and with it, the
research opportunities of other scientists.
How does the Antarctic Treaty handle a quandary like this?
The short, almost-accurate answer is that it doesn't. Klaus
Dodds, a geography professor at Royal
Holloway, University of London, whose specialty is the
geopolitics of Antarctica, points out that "The 1959
Antarctic Treaty is fundamentally based on freedom of scientific
investigation, and the Treaty has worked because each party
by and large respected the rights of others to conduct scientific
research." The question here is whether or not one party's
scientific pursuits will endanger another's.
The Treaty does provide some safeguards for these types of
situations. It requires, for instance, that environmental
impact statements be made about all new facilities and projects.
The effects of the NASA proposal on the lake will, hopefully,
be further explored in those investigations. Environmental
groups and national governments are battling out the terms
of these assessments even as this article is being written.
While there are real worries about the effects of drilling
into Lake Vostok, the reality is that the very presence of
people on Antarctica poses an even bigger threat to the continents
pristine wilderness. In the past, researchers and engineers
living on Antarctica weren't always the most environmentally
conscious. McMurdo Station, for example, was infamous for
its unfriendly practices of burning trash, dumping waste into
the ocean waters, and installing a nuclear generator for electricity.