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Antartica: The Last Wilderness

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Introduction

Antarctica: The Last Wilderness Antarctica is the world's fifth largest continent, with 98% of it's landmass covered in ice, averaging 1.6 km deep. The environment here is inhospitable, contains the largest desert in the world, and is on average the coldest, windiest, and driest continent, and also has the average highest elevation. and is thus the only continent without a native population. The Antarctic Treaty was signed in 1959 by (now) 46 countries, with the aims to preserve Antarctica, and allow scientific exploration in a sustainable way; this did not include any discussion of mining, for fear of jeopardizing the treaty. This was followed, and by the 1991 Protocol on Environmental protection to the antarctic treaty, finally ratified by 27 parties in 1998. Article seven of this clearly states mining or other exploitation, except for scientific gain, is banned; article 27 states that this may not be repealed unless a future treaty establishes a 'binding, regulatory framework' for such activity. In 2048, the indefinite ban on mining, included in the Madrid Protocol is due for review; however at least 3/4 of the 46 signatories must agree to this. As worthwhile as the substances under the ice may be, we must not forget Antarctica is one of the world's last wildernesses, a rare and fragile ecosystem, including Gentoo, Rockhopper, King, Chinstrap and Ad´┐Żlie Penguins, as well as rare seals and albatrosses as well as 'Extremophiles', predominantly ...read more.

Middle

a special area open to everyone and no one, if not to visit, then to know that it is there; and to be aware that there is one place in the world, where we can set aside differences and political agendas, to concentrate on science, bettering humanity, preserving rare species and learning more about the planet we live on. Which, in my opinion, is more sacred, and deserving of our full respect, than any religious relic or alter. To say Antarctica only belongs to Science is as damaging as saying it only should belong to miners, or environmentalists. It typecasts a group of people with varying goals, morals and procedures, and calls that a class. All science is, is using scientific method to reason, and test hypotheses, until we can explain observed phenomena and form theories based on that which is observed. What use is science without a practical application? To know that the population of a species is falling is nothing without a plan to prevent further loss. Nor is knowing how much oil is in the ground without at least a strategy to exploit those reserves. Science for science's sake is rarely done, and if it is, it will almost always be particle physics research, for curiosity's sake, and to understand the big questions, why are we here? How are we here? Where are we?... Or will have a practical application in the future. ...read more.

Conclusion

The ice should be protected, but if we are only protecting it from the inevitable, then perhaps; like coastal geographers have found; maybe the best strategy is to let nature take it's course. The outcome is inevitable, and the world obviously managed fine before civilization came along. Development in the antarctic seems to be sustainable (at least in the area itself), as the scientists ensure they take what they come with; however is more development really necessary? Just because we can develop such an expanse of land by no means means we should. This image shows all the countries with at least a seasonal base in Antarctica. Would not fewer, larger bases make more sense, with scientists working together to ensure research is not repeated. Up to 4,000 people live in the Antarctic during the summer; and much of this research could surely be carried out in cold labs in other countries, or even, for population sampling, by webcam or electronic tagging; greatly reducing the need for people to endanger the habitats of creatures there. Development without knowledge is a recipe for disaster; therefore I believe that it is the job of nations to come together for research purposes, and perhaps have a way to check new developments and ensure they are both sustainable and necessary given current and previous findings. The protection currently in Antarctica is good, however there are still some worries; for example the allowance of sewage from research stations to be disposed of via the ocean. Jess Collier 05/05/08 ...read more.

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