ANTARCTICA – A MYSTERY CONTINENT
Antarctica is the only continent, which is not a country, does not have a government, nor any indigenous tribals living there for ages because it is the coldest continent in the world. The temperature can go as low as minus 89°C. Additionally, it is also the windiest place on Earth with snowstorms at a speed of 300 km/hr. It can blind you.
Antarctica is also the world's driest continent, so you might be surprised to know that it is considered a desert. There is only around 51mm of rain here, and even when it rains, it turns into snow before reaching the ground. Therefore, in a way, Antarctica is the only place on Earth with little to no influence from humans.
However, it does not mean that countries all across the world have not tried to take over Antarctica. Countries like France, Norway, Australia, Britain, Chile, Argentina, and New Zealand claim various parts of Antarctica. In today's article, let us know Antarctica's interesting geopolitics and history.
Antarctica is a composite portrait of a continent, which has challenged man since first he can sail beyond the limits of his horizon. The Antarctic Continent is surrounded by frozen seas. The South, the bottom of the world, is considerably colder than the top of the world.
Let us begin our story right from the beginning. It was around 350 BC; the Greek philosopher Aristotle was among the first people to say that the Earth was spherical. At the time, the Greeks were aware of the Arctic regions in the North. They had named it the "Arctos."
|Arctos (North Pole)|
The word “Arctos” was derived from the bear. Constellations that we can see in the sky, one of them is of the Great Bear; they were inspired by that constellation and named the Arctic region, “Arctos”. Because they knew that the Earth is spherical, they knew that the North and South are like mirror images and would have similar features. Therefore, they named the unknown southern region "Antarctos." It meant antithetical to the bear, the opposite of Arctos, and the name the Antarctic was derived from here.
|Antarctos (South Pole)|
Humans stepped on Antarctica for the first time during the 1890s, but hundreds of years before that, Antarctica had started appearing on maps. When several explorers went on expeditions around the world, they knew that if they went to the South of the world, they come upon some land, but they needed to know what was on the land exactly or how big it is. This is why when the French explorers made the world map in the year 1530; they had drawn Antarctica on the map.
About 200 years later, in 1773, British Naval officer James Cook became the first person to go to the South of the Antarctic Circle. He was about 130 km farther from Antarctica when he turned his ship around. Even though he had not seen Antarctica, he had seen icebergs with rock deposits on them. When he saw those rocks, he concluded that Terra Australis (Terra Australis was a hypothetical continent first posited in antiquity and which appeared on maps between the 15th and 18th centuries) does exist. However, going much closer to Antarctica was so dangerous that he said no one could reach Antarctica because the place was so perilous with strong winds blowing and the ship in danger of hitting icebergs at any moment. However, his words were proven wrong 50 years later.
It is pretty controversial as to who was the first person to step on Antarctica. The first undisputed landing was in 1895 when a Norwegian ship called the “Antarctic” reached its shores. Six to seven members of the crew of this ship got into a small boat and went on to the land. A Norwegian in the boat was “Carsten Borchgrevink,” claiming that he landed before the boat and was the first to step on Antarctica. However, a man from New Zealand, Alexander, claims to have been on this boat to keep the boat steady, and he was the first to step out of the boat.
These two people from the same boat got into an argument about who was the first to get off and the first to step on Antarctica. There is a funny drawing of it too. As you can see in the above picture Alexander is sneaking out of the boat to be the first man to step on Antarctica and the rest of the people in the boat are looking at him in surprise because they too wanted to be the first.
After this, the first 20 years of the 1900s are known as the Heroic years of Antarctica, because many expeditions were conducted during this time, There were new scientific discoveries, and we found out many new things about Antarctica. It was the first time we discovered that plants are growing on this continent. Mosses were found growing in Antarctica.
After this heroic era, came the Colonial period of Antarctica when several countries tried to lay claim to Antarctica. Between 1908 and 1942, seven countries claimed sovereignty over this continent; Argentina, Australia, Chile, France, New Zealand, Norway and the United Kingdom. Apart from them, there were countries like the USA, the Soviet Union, Japan, Sweden, Belgium, and Germany, who were conducting new expeditions on Antarctica without claiming any territory.
During Hitler's rule in 1939, a German Antarctic Expedition was carried out in which they flew in an aeroplane to take pictures of some areas of Antarctica. They even dropped metal Nazi Swastikas (Nazi symbol), claiming that the areas where the Swastikas were dropped were under the control of Nazi Germany.
Surprisingly, during this period, the USA was not very active. In 1924, the Secretary of State in America announced their official position regarding the territorial claims on Antarctica. He said that if any country discovers new land in Antarctica, it does not mean that the new area would belong to that country. The land would belong to the country only when there are actual settlements in the area and the citizens of that country live there permanently. However, this did not happen.
After the end of World War II, these countries started fighting each other over their claims on Antarctica's land. These countries set up permanent research centres in Antarctica to show that they have a permanent station in the area and that researchers were living there permanently claiming that the land is theirs.
There is so much ice in Antarctica that it makes it difficult to know if there is land under all that ice.
The International Council of Scientific Unions established a Special Committee to research the Antarctic under which scientists from different countries are coordinating together. This is why every year about 4,500 scientists go to Antarctica to work and a strong collaboration between scientists from other countries has been seen.
After 2003, there is a permanent physical presence of the Antarctic Treaty as well. The headquarter is in Buenos Aries, Argentina. If you look at this in the sense of geopolitics today, Antarctica is not a country. It is a political territory where several countries have come together to collaborate and divided power among them equally. But Antarctica doesn't have any police force, no army, and no legal system. For tourism, tourists can go to the British station in Antarctica named Port Lockroy and can get their passports stamped there. Even in the territories of Chile and Argentina, tourists can get their passports stamped. It is another way through which these countries, express their claims.
What do you think, friends? What should be Antarctica's future? Should things continue as they are? or should we explore Antarctica even more?
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