Space & Innovation

How Science Is Keeping Antarctica Ungoverned

Antarctica: a research utopia for international governments. Do natural resources threaten the peace on Earth's only non-governed continent?

Antarctica is the most unique of the seven continents for many reasons. Not only is the landscape breathtakingly beautiful and the year round temperature a consistent cold and colder, but Antarctica is also the only continent on earth that has no permanent inhabitants and no government. However, with the plethora of natural resources here, it's very likely this territory won't remain ungoverned forever.

Natacha Pisarenko is an Associated Press photographer who documents scientists doing research in Antarctica. Although the researchers here come from different countries and have varied backgrounds, Pisarenko has frequently observed them all working together peacefully. A big reason for that is The Antarctic Treaty.

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The Antarctic Treaty was established back in 1959 during the Cold War in an effort to encourage cooperative scientific research. The treaty states: "Scientific observations and results from Antarctica shall be exchanged and made freely available." This also supports the idea that no one owns Antarctica. Various nations have tried to claim it over the years but no claims have been globally recognized.

Today there are 75 research stations in Antarctica with scientists from all over the world studying a number of subjects. Measuring air quality here is ideal because Antarctica's air is virtually pollution-free. Astronomers are drawn to the area because it stays dark outside for 24 hours during winter months, giving ample time for studying the night sky.

RELATED: Who Owns Antarctica?

Pisarenko says she worries the peace that currently exists here will soon be broken by those who come to take advantage of Antarctica's valuable resources. "...many fear that countries will rush to explore its mineral resources and oil. For now, countries are banned from drilling or having military bases, but several nations keep research stations as a way to claim territory," she told Seeker.

It's a valid concern considering there could be as much as 200 billion barrels of oil here. However, we likely won't see change to the continent in the near future. The next time the treaty will be reviewed is 2048. Until then, we can still think of Antarctica as a sort of utopia. It's the only continent in the world where there has never been any nuclear testing, wars, or military activity of any kind.

As Pisarenko puts it, "...it's a beautiful world, there are no borders, and people rely on generosity and kindness to survive." We can only hope it will stay that way for many centuries to come.

-- Molly Fosco

See more of Natacha Pisarenko's work.

Read More:

South Pole 1911-2011: Did You Know That Many Countries Have Research Stations in Antarctica?

BBC: Why Do So Many Nations Want A Piece Of Antarctica?

Discovering Antarctica: Future Of Antarctica