ANTARCTICA UNDER THREAT
Antarctica, the coldest continent on the planet made up entirely of ice. Antarctica is uninhabitable due to the extreme cold climate present and therefore does not have a native population; however people are currently live in the research bases located in the region. The coldest temperature ever recorded in Antarctica was -89.2°C.
Antarctica is currently subject to warming in the Peninsula region. Over the past 50 years the regions temperature has increased by 3°C resulting in a thinning of the ice sheets. It is believed that 70% of the Earth’s water is stored as ice sheets in Antarctica. The current problem with the warming is that there could be a drastic rise in sea level. If all the ice in Antarctica were to melt, it is believed the sea level would rise 60m. However there is huge debate over what is causing the warming.
Some say human activity resulting in global warming is to blame others believe it is part of the Earth’s natural cycle.
In 2002, a huge chunk of ice known as the Larsen B ice shelf broke away from the Antarctica Peninsula drifting off into the sea and broke up into hundreds of icebergs. This was not unexpected however it happened much sooner than scientists had predicted. Since then, scientists have been closely monitoring the Antarctic’s temperature. There is great concern over the rapid retreat of the ice sheets, around 50 meters a year.
Conservation, protection, development and sustainability are all important issues that need to be addressed to minimise human activity in the Antarctic.
The Antarctic Treaty System (ATS) was put into force in 1961 aiming to manage and protect the continent. The continent has been set aside and preserved solely for scientific research, any type of military action or involvement has been banned.
The three main provisions of the treaty are:
1. ‘Antarctica shall be used for peaceful purposes only’
2. ‘Freedom of scientific investigation in Antarctica and cooperation toward that end … shall continue’.
3. ‘Scientific observations and results from Antarctica shall be exchanged and made freely available’.
(The Antarctic Treaty, 2012)
In 1991, the treaty signed the Protocol on Environment protection ensuring all plants and animals are protected, this was put into force in 1998. However, the Antarctic Treaty management is only local and there are greater issues relating to human activity such as the carbon emissions being emitted globally resulting in temperature rises.
Alongside the extensive resources found in the region, Antarctica also boasts a range of wildlife including fish, penguins, seals and whales. As a result, Antarctica has become an increasingly popular destination for tourists. Tourism has grown rapidly, in the early 1990s Antarctica was receiving around 4-5000 tourists a year however 2010 welcomed over 40,000 tourists. The high influx of tourists is managed by restricting the locations tourists can visit and ensuring all tour operators are members of the International Association of Antarctica Tour Operators (IAATO) which aims to promote safe and environmentally friendly tourism in the region.
Major short –term threats
Climate change on marine systems
Marine resource use
Invasive alien species
Using the websites provided, can you find out some information on these short term threats?
Antarctica is rich in resources including:
- Minerals such as copper and iron ore
- Coal found along the coasts of Antarctica
- Petroleum which is believed to be stored beneath the Antarctic ice sheets.
The world’s resources are becoming scarce and it’s only a matter of time before humans exploit the continent. At present, the Antarctic Treaty ensures human activity does not exploit the region.