Skip to: Content
Skip to: Site Navigation
Skip to: Search


Antarctica

(Page 3 of 4)



So now, you see, there is a wholly different pattern taking shape, with some developing countries being part of the Antarctic Treaty club and others outside it. It will be very interesting to see how all of this plays, both within the treaty group and at the UN.

Skip to next paragraph

Is there a Reagan administration policy on this, or are the negotiations so long-range that one speaks of US interests?

US interests and US policy for the region have been remarkably consistent. There wasn't much change from the Carter administration to the Reagan administration.

So at least there is a chance, based on recent developments, that we will not get into the sterility that has marked the overall North-South dialogue?

If negotiations within the treaty group on minerals, and if discussion in the UN, proceed in a constructive manner, it is possible that the Antarctic forum would result in a mutual arrangement of interests between North and South. The Antarctic case makes clear that developing countries are not all birds of one feather. Some are rather rich and scientifically advanced. Others simply are not in a position to mount Antarctic scientific programs.

Let's turn to the question of resources. I'd like to start with fresh water.

Antarctica contains 90 percent of the world's ice. It's one big ice cube, or rather several ice cubes stuck together. Off this giant ice cube, several little ice cubes drop. This is called calving. These large Antarctic icebergs drift northward with the prevailing current. People over the years have suggested lassoing one of these big bergs and towing it, say, to Baja California, to supply the fresh-water needs of southern California for some time. The papers that I have read on this make it sound rather speculative. If you were actually to tow a berg, you would cross the oceanic boundary that defines the Antarctic region. This barrier is not only turbulent, but marks the transition between cold water around Antarctica and warmer waters. Then the famous bottom of the iceberg starts to melt and becomes irregular in shape. I gather that the structure of the iceberg would then become unstable and start to roll, because the bottom part would be eaten away.

What about oil?

Antarctic oil on the continent would probably be extremely hard to explore for, because this ice sheet is many thousands of feet thick and no one has a practical way to punch through it and work underneath.

But Antarctica does have several enormous continental shelves, some of them larger than parts of Europe. These shelves have been surveyed in a very minimal fashion, but enough to show that there are several kilometers of sedimentary rock on them. Several countries - Japan, Norway, West Germany, and the Soviet Union - have taken some seismic surveys to try to determine the depth of that sedimentary rock and what its oil potential is. The potential is not known at this time and the engineering for extracting the oil in ice-clogged waters is probably several years away.

What about other minerals?

Antarctica was long known to have large reserves of coal. But the coal is low grade and not of sufficient value to mine and transport far across oceans. If coal is ever mined in Antarctica, it will probably be to fuel local power plants. Other minerals are of possible interest. There is a geologic formation called the layered intrusion which has not yet been drilled. But comparable layered intrusions elsewhere in the world, notably in the veldt of South Africa and in Sudbury, Ontario, have extremely rich layers of metals - platinum, gold, and the like. If the Antarctic complex of this kind is found to have very rich deposits, then conceivably in the future mining it could be economical.