The southernmost continent on planet Earth, Antarctica is the only place that does not have a native human population. The reasons are obvious, as Antarctica is quite far from other continents and has largely inhospitable climate. Most of Antarctica is covered with around 1.9 km layer of ice and surface temperatures can reach more than 80° Celsius. Another interesting fact about Antarctica is that it holds 80% of earth’s freshwater in the form of ice. If all of that ice melts, sea levels will rise by around 60 meters.
Who owns Antarctica?
Antarctica seems like an interesting place, but who actually owns it? Well, the answer to that is not one but several countries have made claims to different parts of Antarctica. These countries include Argentina, Australia, Chile, France, New Zealand, Norway, and United Kingdom. However, as the region is largely inhabitable, Antarctica is currently used only for research and scientific observation. In that context, these countries have setup laboratories and study facilities that are manned by scientists and researchers all throughout the year.
Since there are no plans for mass migration of people to Antarctica, territorial disputes rarely occur on the continent. That’s why countries that have not even made any claims to Antarctica have setup their research facilities there. These include countries such as USA, Russia, Italy and India. Not much has changed on the continent since several thousand years, which is why it is a good place to understand the natural evolution of earth. Scientists in Antarctica are currently studying various aspects of the continent such as weather, geology, climate and wildlife.
Antarctic Treaty System
In the mid twentieth century, claims to Antarctica had started to create a conflict like situation between various countries. To ensure that everyone has equal rights to the continent, the Antarctic Treaty System (ATS) was adapted and implemented in 1961. As of now, Antarctic Treaty has 54 member countries who abide by the terms and conditions of the treaty. According to the treaty, Antarctica is to be used only for scientific studies and there should not be any military activity. Any disputes between nations arising in Antarctica are to be settled by the International Court of Justice (ICJ). However, the treaty does not revoke the earlier claims made by various nations.
Can you visit Antarctica?
Yes, you can. Tourism is allowed in Antarctica, but tourism companies need to have a valid permit from the Antarctic Treaty organization. Many cruise ships offer helicopter rides to the continent. When you are in Antarctica, you can enjoy various activities such as skiing, camping and mountaineering. You can also visit the South Pole.