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Antarctica Index

Antarctica Introduction
Animals Living in Antarctica
Primary Ecology Club Play about Antarctica

Facts and Figures Index

 

Jacques Cousteau declaring Antarctica as a World Park (1990) © Shirley Burchill

Jacques Cousteau declaring Antarctica as a World Park (1990)

 

Admiralty Bay, Antarctica  © Shirley Burchill

Admiralty Bay, Antarctica

 

ANTARCTICA

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The Dangers facing Antarctica

The hole in the ozone layer, which many scientists believe is caused by the use of CFCs (chloroflorocarbons) in refrigerators and spray cans, allows more heat in the form of ultra-violet radiation to reach the Earth. This radiation is killing much of the phytoplankton which literally becomes sun burnt. Scientists at the American Palmer base on Anvers Island, which makes up part of the Antarctic peninsula, were studying the effect of the extra radiation on the phytoplankton until the Bahia Paraiso was wrecked in Arthur Bay in January, 1989. This Argentinian tourist ship was carrying over 600000 dm3 of jet and diesel oil to supply the scientific bases.

The ship ran aground close to the Palmer Base spilling 900 dm3 of its cargo into the sea-water. The scientists' work, which had taken many years of study, was ruined. The oil quickly killed thousands of sea-birds in the immediate area.

The Bahia Paraiso is still in Arthur Bay*. The ship has turned upside-down so that only the bottom of her hull can be seen above the water. The remainder of the oil is still locked inside its hull and the American scientists are trying to think of ways to remove this oil safely before the ship hits the nearby rocks.
*at the time of writing this article

 

Divers investigating the wreck of the 'Bahia Paraiso' © Shirley Burchill

Divers investigating the wreck of the 'Bahia Paraiso'

 

The Consequences

The greatest danger which faces Antarctica is the possible exploitation of its mineral wealth and oil and coal reserves. Since 1961 Antarctica has been protected by an international treaty which only allows scientific bases to be established on the continent.

The Antarctic Treaty is due to be renewed in 1991*. Some nations would like to change the treaty so that they can prospect for natural resources. This could mean that, if natural gas and oil are found to be present, oil rigs and storage areas would be constructed in Antarctica. It would also mean that super-tankers would be frequent visitors to the continent.
*British Antarctic Survey report on the Antarctic Treaty (accessed January 2016)

Many ecologists are afraid that mining activities in Antarctica could have dreadful effects. The Exxon disaster in Alaska shows how easy it is for oil spillages to occur, even when all possible precautions are taken. Exploitation of Antarctica would certainly have an adverse effect on the scenery and is likely to upset the plant and animal life. Some ecologists believe that mining and other activities could have serious world-wide consequences. They argue that no-one really knows the role which Antarctica plays in the world's climate and that, by disturbing the natural balance of the continent, we could unknowingly upset the balance of the biosphere itself. It is for this reason that the French explorer and ecologist Commander Jacques Cousteau called for Antarctica to be left as a Natural Reserve ; Land of Science. France, Australia and New Zealand support his idea and there is hope that other nations will follow their example before a decision is made about the future of Antarctica in the autumn of 1990.

 

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