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.

Antarctica A research utopia for international governments, keeping it ungoverned
Antarctica A research utopia for international governments, keeping it ungoverned – Photo Credit

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.

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.

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.


Antarctica is Earth‘s southernmost continent. It contains the geographic South Pole and is situated in the Antarctic region of the Southern Hemisphere, almost entirely south of the Antarctic Circle, and is surrounded by the Southern Ocean. At 14,000,000 square kilometres (5,400,000 square miles), it is the fifth-largest continent. For comparison, Antarctica is nearly twice the size of Australia. About 98% of Antarctica is covered by ice that averages 1.9 km (1.2 mi; 6,200 ft) in thickness, which extends to all but the northernmost reaches of the Antarctic Peninsula.

This map uses an orthographic projection, near-polar aspect. The South Pole is near the center, where longitudinal lines converge.

Antarctica, on average, is the coldest, driest, and windiest continent, and has the highest average elevation of all the continents. Antarctica is a desert, with annual precipitation of only 200 mm (8 in) along the coast and far less inland. The temperature in Antarctica has reached −89.2 °C (−128.6 °F), though the average for the third quarter (the coldest part of the year) is −63 °C (−81 °F). As of 2016, there are about 135 permanent residents, but anywhere from 1,000 to 5,000 people reside throughout the year at the research stations scattered across the continent. Organisms native to Antarctica include many types of algae, bacteria, fungi, plants, protista, and certain animals, such as mites, nematodes, penguins, seals and tardigrades. Vegetation, where it occurs, is tundra.

Although myths and speculation about a Terra Australis (“Southern Land”) date back to antiquity, Antarctica is noted as the last region on Earth in recorded history to be discovered and/or colonized by humans, being only first sighted in 1820 by theRussian expedition of Fabian Gottlieb von Bellingshausen and Mikhail Lazarev on Vostok and Mirny, who sighted the Fimbul ice shelf. The continent, however, remained largely neglected for the rest of the 19th century because of its hostile environment, lack of easily accessible resources, and isolation. In 1895, the first confirmed landing was conducted by a team of Norwegians.

Antarctica is a de facto condominium, governed by parties to the Antarctic Treaty System that have consulting status. Twelve countries signed the Antarctic Treaty in 1959, and thirty-eight have signed it since then. The treaty prohibits military activities and mineral mining, prohibits nuclear explosions and nuclear waste disposal, supports scientific research, and protects the continent’s ecozone. Ongoing experiments are conducted by more than 4,000 scientists from many nations.