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Public Radio's Environmental News Magazine (follow us on Google News)

Almanac/Antarctica Territory

Air Date: Week of

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This week, we have facts about the Antarctica treaty. Forty-three years ago countries around the world declared the continent a scientific “safe-zone” free of military occupation and waste disposal.


CURWOOD: Welcome back to Living on Earth. I’m Steve Curwood.

[MUSIC Brian Eno, “Under Stars” ApollO, EG Records (1983)]

CURWOOD: Forty-three years ago this week, a dozen nations met in Washington, D.C., to preserve the continent of Antarctica for scientific research. The 1959 Antarctica treaty set up a scientific “safe-zone” where research would be freely shared among treaty members. It also prohibited military activity and waste disposal.

But the spirit of cooperation didn’t erase all political lines. Back in the early 1800s, explorers began planting their nations’ flags on the continent’s frozen shores with little idea of just what they were claiming.

But when sitting down to hammer out the 1959 treaty, no country would renounce its claim, no matter how shaky. So, today, Argentina, Australia, Chile, France, New Zealand, Norway, and the United Kingdom still officially call portions of Antarctica their own. But don’t expect these nations to press their claims any time soon. No one wants to drill for oil in the harsh conditions, and there’s not much else in terms of minerals. Throw in sub-zero temperatures, tornado-speed winds, and most countries don’t think supporting a South Pole colony is a good idea.

Still, some 1,000 people from 27 nations perform vital geologic and climate research there year-round. And just in case you’re interested, there are still about 800,000 square miles of Antarctic wilderness up for grabs. And for this week, that’s the Living on Earth Almanac.




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