AQ: Australian Quarterly

More important than ever: Antarctica – the last frontier

Free from armed conflict, and dedicated to science

Humans have been grappling with the magnitude and magnificence of Antarctica since their first encounters with the white continent. Almost twice the size of Australia, surrounded by ocean, covered by an average thickness of nearly 2 kilometres of ice, and holding 60% of the planet’s freshwater, Antarctica is the highest, coldest, driest and windiest continent on earth. It is also the engine-room of our planet’s climate, and the keeper of its secrets.

Scientific exploration of Antarctica began as 19th century kissed the 20th. Early explorers of the continent, such as Carsten Borchgrevink, Ernest Shackleton, Robert Scott, Roald Amundsen and Douglas Mawson all took scientific personnel on their expeditions and they often collected scientific data themselves.

Science also played a crucial role in shaping the modern era of Antarctic affairs. In the post-World War II period, geopolitical tensions developed around a mixture of concerns about the Antarctic. Seven countries, Australia, Argentina, Chile, France, Norway, New Zealand and the United Kingdom had historical territorial claims to parts of the Antarctic continent. The claims of Argentina, Chile and the UK overlapped.

There was also deep mistrust among western countries about the motivations and intentions of the USSR, which was active in the region. Antarctica was seen as strategically important, and there were a number of attempts to solve ‘the problem of Antarctica’.

The International Geophysical Year (IGY, 1957-58) – a year dedicated to scientific research – saw 12 nations collaborate in scientific missions in the Antarctic (Argentina, Australia, Belgium, Chile, France, Japan, New Zealand, Norway, South Africa, the Soviet Union, the United Kingdom, and the United States).

Antarctica is the highest, coldest, driest and windiest continent on earth. It is also the engine-room of our planet’s climate, and the keeper of

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