What kinds of resources are unique to Antarctica? What scientific considerations go into writing the treaties that govern Antarctica? Why is it important that countries work together to preserve the continent of Antarctica?

Antarctica II
Why is Antarctica so important to our planet?
David learns about the importance of Antarctica and the scientific research being done there.
Segment length: 27:47


Antarctica is a six million square-mile area locked in an ice age. Its waters team with more life than a tropical rain forest, and its coast plays host to some of the most magnificent animals in the world. Icebergs the size of Connecticut break loose from floating ice shelves that are larger than France, and chill the ocean waters for thousands of miles.

The continent has become an international science laboratory where scientists study its weather and climate, oceanology, and geology. From this frozen world, people may one day obtain food, water, and living space. We are only now beginning to realize the profound effects that Antarctica has on our environment and way of life. This continent holds 75% of the earth's fresh water, a possible resource given the depletion and pollution of fresh water elsewhere on earth. Antarctica may hold the key to understanding food chains, and the role of plankton in those chains. It is possible that these small organisms form the base of the ecosystems that support all living things.

One of the first joint efforts at studying Antarctica dates back to 1957 when scientists from 12 countries took part in a one-year, wide-scale program as part of the International Geographical Year (IGY). The scientists concentrated their studies on such fields as meteorology, oceanography, earth magnetism, gravity, auroras, cosmic radiation, glaciology, seismology, and sunspot activity. Continued research included geology, biology, and mapping.

Since the close of the IGY, it is apparent from the influx of scientists, support personnel, visitors, and tourists that the Antarctic continent no longer enjoys the protection of isolation. Concern about the possible effects of the human presence on Antarctic ecosystems, the need for protecting birds and marine mammals, and the peaceful use of the continent has resulted in several treaties, signed by countries concerned about the future of this fragile continent.


1. Antarctica has physical characteristics much like the moon and Mars, and may be the site of pre-space-exploration preparations. How could the exploration of Antarctica be a model for space exploration?
2. "From space, I saw Earth--indescribably beautiful with the scars of national boundaries gone." (Muhammad Ahmad Faris, Syria) "The first day or so we all pointed to our countries. The third or fourth day we were pointing to our continents. By the fifth day we were aware of only one Earth." (Sultan Bin Salman al-Saud, The Kingdom of Saudi Arabia) These comments are those of astronauts (quotes taken from The Home Planet, edited by Kevin W. Kelley). How might they relate to Antarctica?


ecosystem a large group of plants and animals (biotic community), plus its non-living (abiotic) environments (temperature, moisture, rock, water, etc.)
food chain an arrangement of organisms showing how each organism feeds on the one before it
geology the science that studies the physical history of the earth, especially as it is found in rocks
oceanology the science that studies marine resources and technology


Atkins, E.G., and L. Engel. (1989) Antarctica. New York: Children's Television Workshop. Videotape.

Gorman, J. (1990) The total penguin. New York: Prentice Hall.

Osborne, B. (1989) Antarctica wildlife. New York: Mallard Press.

Stone, L.M. (1985) Antarctica: A new true book. Chicago: Children's Press.

Wood, J. (1990) Icebergs. New York: Puffin Books.

Additional source of information:

Los Angeles Unified School District
Office of Instruction
450 N. Grand Ave.
Los Angeles, CA 90012
(curriculum: Project Polar Regions)

Main Activity Who's in Charge Here?
Write your own treaty of governance for Antarctica.

Ideas about who is in charge, who owns or governs, and how laws are enforced in Antarctica will be discussed by teams of students. What do you think should happen in Antarctica?


  1. Read the treaties you have selected with your students.
  2. Divide into groups. Have each group make a list of and discuss the issues involved in developing or settling the Antarctic. Should we ever use the Antarctic and its resources, or should we keep it as a world park? Will people be allowed to settle there? If it is settled, who will own the continent, its animals, and its minerals? What will the laws be? How will problems be handled thousands of miles from most other countries? How might a treaty help answer these questions?
  3. Divide the list of concerns among members of each team and have each member collect information about that concern and how it might be addressed in a treaty.
  4. Now, have each team write their "Treaty for the Development, Use, or Settlement of Antarctica."
  5. Have each team present their treaty proposals to the class, as if the class were the United Nations. The class may debate the points of each treaty by questioning the presenting team.


1. What were some of the common characteristics of the old treaties you looked up?

2. What do you think is the most important element of any treaty? Can a treaty work if there is no enforcing body?

Some different steps or parts of a food chain includes producers, primary consumers, secondary consumers, and decomposers. For example, green plants are considered producers. Krill, which eat the green plants, are considered primary consumers. Baleen whales and large fish, which eat the krill, are secondary consumers. What are the decomposers? Can you identify other food chains?

What is the life cycle of the penguin? How are penguins adapted to the harsh Antarctic climate? Are their feathers, beaks, and wings of any value for their survival? (Refer to the ANIMALS section of this packet for more information about penguins.)

Within 50 years, the ground-water stations in Saudi Arabia may be dry. Some people are promoting a novel idea for getting fresh water to this region: Tow an iceberg from the Antarctic to the Middle East. Does this sound crazy? Think about the feasibility of this idea. How would you get an iceberg to the Middle East? Take ice cubes and float them in a tub of room-temperature water. How fast do they melt? Now, work in pairs to figure out a way to protect your ice cube from melting. See which pair can prevent an ice cube from melting for the longest period of time. (Remember, the closer to the equator you and your iceberg would get, the faster it would melt.)

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