Antarctica is the most untouched part of the world, making it immensely beautiful, breath-taking and bejeweled with miles and miles of twinkling ice. Antarctica lies on the Southern front of the Antarctic circle. Right at the bottom of the world, the closest place to Antarctica is South America. It is 7900 miles/12’700 km away from the UK and has a land area of 14 million sq km! Temperatures in the summer can edge their way up to just 5 degrees Celsius and during the winter, the main temperature is about -30 degrees celcius, but they can fall below 60 degrees easily.
Antarctica is shaped like an upside-down bowl (being on the curve at the bottom of the Earth), so all the wind that comes from inland gets faster and faster as it travels towards the coast. These extremely fast winds are called katabatic winds, and they can get up to around 200 mph! Also, Antarctica is classified as a desert, because it has absolutely no precipitation in the form of water. The only form of precipitation is in snow. Coastal areas can get the equivalent of 8″ of water annually in snow, and inland areas can get about 2″.
Antarctica is truly an amazing place. Can you think of one other place on Earth where you can walk for miles and miles and not see one other human being, or a building, or something man-made? Peace, tranquility and quiet reigns this land, frozen still. However, lurking in the corners, Antarctica isn’t completely lifeless. Over 150 lichens, 30 mosses, 300 algae, some fungi and liverwort live on the ice, and under it. Only two native vascular plants can survive south of 56 degrees south: the Antarctic hair grass and the cushion-forming pearl-wort.
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In addition, there is a small range of animals! Penguins, everyone loves them, well there are 17 different types of penguin here, all cute and waddling around! Also, there is an odd range of fish, including the ice-fish, which has antifreeze in its blood! There is lots of squirmy creatures as well, such as krill, squid and ice worms. Euch! Don’t get worried though, because to accompany all these, is the sea birds (such as the Antarctic Tern), leopard seals and many whales (including the blue whale, which has a heart the size of a car!
Antarctica was initially discovered by Captain James Cook and his crew on the 17th of January 1773, when their ship first crossed the Antarctic circle and came within 75 miles of the coast. The first landing was on the 7th February 1821, by an American seal hunter – John Davis. Despite the discovery facts, Antarctica is not completely owned or controlled by one single country! In fact, seven countries have ownership over territory in Antarctica: Argentina, Australia, Chile, France, New Zealand, Norway and the UK.
The Antarctic Treaty was signed in 1959, but came into full force in 1961, and it states that Antarctica is to be used for peaceful purposes. There is a major debate about development on Antarctica. Many say it should be developed for three major reasons: tourism, resources and research. Resources include ice, coal (found in deposits along the coast and Trans-antarctic mountains), petroleum (formed when plants and small animal remains are buried and compressed), metallic minerals and many animals to be shipped like penguins and killer whales.
Also, Antarctica is a great place for hydro-thermal purposes, magmatic segregation and sedimentation. However, many countries want to exploit these resources because they are fairly easy to mine or reach and can be shipped over. Also, these resources are fresh and new and people want to get their hands on them first. Tourism would also be a massive hit in Antarctica because it is a completely different environment, a completely different experience and a completely different earthly feel.
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Tourism could occur in places like the Antarctic Peninsula, they could get there by boat from the tip of South America. In fact, the first signs of development are already being uncovered: tourism has definitely started and many countries have research bases. Scientific work is necessary in Antarctica because the ice tells us a large amount of our planet’s climate history, and can very well help us to predict what changes will occur in our climate in the future.
However, in my opinion, I do not think that this is development, simply research to improve out knowledge of the Earth. That argument agreeing with development may sound convincing now, but there is also the other side of the debate. Firstly, very large ships have been stopped from going to Antarctica because of the concern of large oil spills. If oil spills happened, it would begin to destroy the wildlife like it did on the Gulf of Mexico. That was a complete disaster, right?
Well, why would you want that to happen to this beautiful place? In addition, if minerals, coal, petroleum etc. were to be mined, that would mean destruction of the allocated areas and many expensive pieces of large machinery would have to be placed on the areas, too, which would mean that much pollution would be let out. If lots of pollution was let out over the ice, the greenhouse effect would soon start to boot up and eventually, global warming will effect it more and more until all the ice has disappeared.
Then where will your cute penguins live? And that’s not all! If development happened, there is no doubt that over fishing will happen, too. Over fishing includes the actual fish, and the krill (small, shrimp-like crustaceans).
These two seemingly unimportant animals are actually very important in the survival of all the wildlife – they are near the bottom of literally every food chain, so if their populations decreased, all the animals that feed off of them would decrease as well.
That would mean a massive decrease in the total wildlife. Thinking about the penguins again? Well, there is a good side. Tourism is definitely not sustainable on a large scale – they need hotels, leave pollution and demand larger ships for a larger number of people. However, it is sustainable on a small scale – where the ships do not give out too much pollution and the tourists have strict pollution and litter rules and regulations to follow.
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In my opinion, I think that there should be limited development in Antarctica. Not so little that tourists won’t be able to taste the world’s natural beauty or so that research is banned, but not so much that buildings are built which destroy the ice, or that the greenhouse effect begins directly above the continent. Antarctica is the world’s last great wilderness; not masked with human development; with fresh air, not gassed with carbon this and carbon that. Of all places, Antarctica deserves to be left alone.