Issues Magazine

Articles about Antarctica

Petroleum and Polar Pollution

By Kathryn Mumford and Geoff Stevens

The Arctic and Antarctic often conjure images of pristine expanses of ice and snow, with unique flora and fauna. The unfortunate reality is not nearly as romantic: amid the rare wildlife and extreme conditions, human activities have left a legacy of contamination.

Oil and fuel contaminants are among the most extensive and environmentally damaging pollution problems in polar regions. As well as the immediate negative impact on the sensitive sea and land environments, fuel from spills in polar regions remains for 10–100 years longer than in temperate regions. Low nutrient contents, cold temperatures and dry conditions all preclude the presence of microbial populations that could otherwise degrade the hydrocarbons found in spilled fuel. If significant ongoing environmental damage from spills is to be prevented, intervention is critical.

Is there about to be a dash for Antarctica's resources?

By Nick Rowley

Antarctica may be on the limits of habitability, yet the interest in mining and exploitation is growing.

Few places have captured the human imagination like Antarctica. It is colder than anywhere on Earth, bounded by rough seas, buffeted by intense winds, home to fauna that are found nowhere else and, as far as we can tell, is a land where no human settlement has ever endured.

Surviving on the Edge: Medicine in Antarctica

By Alexander Kumar (1) and Sophie Duong (2)

Living at Antarctica’s Concordia Station, buried deep within the world’s worst winter, this year’s winter crew station doctor has time to appreciate where Antarctic medicine has come in the past 100 years.

In all the world there is no desolation more complete than the polar night. It is a return to the Ice Age – no warmth, no life, no movement. Only those who have experienced it can fully appreciate what it means to be without the sun day after day and week after week. Few men unaccustomed to it can fight off its effects altogether and it has driven some men mad. – Sir Ernest Shackleton

* American Frederick Cook, alongside his claim to have been the first person to have reached the North Pole, was the first doctor to overwinter in Antarctica in 1898. British-born Edward Wilson was the first doctor to reach the South Pole in 1912.

Forecasting Antarctic Weather

By Scott Carpentier

A weather forecast is never a guarantee, but activities in the unforgiving Antarctic environment become much more risky without one.

Humans are poorly designed to survive the cold and harsh Antarctic environment. Many Antarctic tragedies occur through exposure to the elements, specifically low temperatures and high winds or, worse still, the combination of the two known as the wind chill factor. With high winds can come the associated loss of visibility and potential disorientation when snow is lifted above eye level during a blizzard.

Conserving the Legacy of Antarctica’s Heroic Era

Inside the main hut

Inside the main hut after recladding of the roof and removal of much of the ice. Credit: David London

By David Jensen

Mawson’s Huts are a reminder of the most significant scientific expeditions of the Antarctic’s heroic area. The main base for 2 years of Mawson’s Australasian Antarctic Expedition, the main hut has survived a century of assault from the fiercest blizzards – but only just.

It is a sad fact that the story of the 1911–14 Australasian Antarctic Expedition, led by the nation’s greatest polar explorer, Sir Douglas Mawson, is known by too few. At 4 pm on 2 December 1911, Mawson and 30 other young men (average age 26) pulled away from Queen’s Wharf, Hobart, on board the Aurora and sailed down the Derwent River at the start of what was to be the world’s first serious scientific exploration of the Antarctic.

100 Years of Australian Antarctic Science

Alistair Forbes Mackay, TW Edgeworth David and Douglas Mawson

On 16 January 1909 (L–R) Alistair Forbes Mackay, TW Edgeworth David and Douglas Mawson arrived at the South Magnetic Pole after a three-month journey. Credit: Edgeworth David

By Collated by Wendy Pyper*

From the Australasian Antarctic Expedition to today’s Antarctic research program, Australia’s role in Antarctic science has been significant, although not always stable.

As a geologist, Douglas Mawson’s fascination with Precambrian rocks in the Flinders Ranges of South Australia led him to join Shackleton’s 1907–1909 Nimrod expedition to investigate Antarctic glacial geology. His experiences on that expedition inspired him to systematically explore and study Antarctica during the Australasian Antarctic Expedition (AAE) and subsequent British Australian New Zealand Antarctic Research Expedition (BANZARE).

*Information about AAE science in this article was collated from The Home of the Blizzard website The subsequent text (from BANZARE to today) was modified from a chapter written by Professor Michael Stoddart, Former Chief Scientist, Australian Antarctic Division (1998–2009), for the book Australia and the Antarctic Treaty System: 50 Years of Influence, published by UNSW Press in September 2011.

Sewage in Antarctica: A Drop in a Frozen Ocean?

Elephant seals on the beach at Davis come into regular contact with wastewater

Elephant seals on the beach at Davis come into regular contact with wastewater effluent. ©David Barringhaus/Commonwealth of Australia

By Jonathan Stark

It’s an unavoidable truth: wherever there are people there is poo. Approaches to the disposal and handling of sewage and wastewater depend on where you are. In Antarctica there are numerous challenges for sewage disposal.

Most Antarctic research stations are situated on the coast, including all three of Australia’s stations. The simplest solution to sewage and wastewater disposal in coastal regions around the world is discharge of effluents into the sea. But how is this regarded under the Antarctic Treaty, and what are the potential impacts of this activity? Is it just a drop in a frozen ocean?

Lifelines for Antarctic Medicine

Casey doctor Eve Merfield (right) prepares a patient for an X-ray.

Casey doctor Eve Merfield (right) prepares a patient for an X-ray (2005). Credit: Eve Merfield

By Jeff Ayton

Telemedicine and evacuation support are critical supplements to the expertise of Antarctic physicians, while medical research continues to provide an invaluable evidence base.

Antarctica Without Borders

International flags fly at McMurdo Station.

The principles of the Antarctic Treaty – peace, cooperation, non-nuclearisation and free exchange of scientific results – have endured for more than 50 years. Here international flags fly at the National Science Foundation Chalet, McMurdo Station, in 2011. Credit: Dana Bergstrom

By Andrew Jackson

Arising from sovereign claims to the world’s southernmost continent, the “Antarctic Problem” was resolved to become a treaty founded on peace, cooperation, non-nuclearisation and free exchange of scientific results.

During the International Geophysical Year (IGY) of 1958–59, 12 countries had been active in Antarctica. Scientists had spread out around the coast, and inland, establishing stations and field camps and undertaking research in a wide range of disciplines. They ignored any borders that appeared on maps and, by mutual agreement, undertook their scientific work with a spirit of cooperation. The fact that the entire continent was without a governance regime and that there were simmering tensions with respect to differences of view over sovereign claims was conveniently ignored.

Unfinished Business: A Tribute Across the Antarctic

Dragging tyres along one of the south coast beaches, UK.

Dragging tyres along one of the south coast beaches, UK.

By Jo Davies

When Ernest Shackleton is your role model, what better way to honour him than to follow in his footsteps – and beyond – across the South Pole? Jo Davies will do just that in the centenary year of the Endurance Expedition.

Since Antarctica’s first true exploration began – by the likes of Robert Scott and Ernest Shackleton – many explorers have ventured south onto the world’s driest and coldest continent. The centenary of the Australian Antarctic Expedition of 1911–14, led by Douglas Mawson, John King Davis and Frank Wild, is among a cluster of 100-year Antarctic exploration celebrations.

To learn more about ITACE 2014, visit Potential partners should go to

Australian Antarctic science is being frozen out by budget cuts

By Matt King

Despite rising costs, the government this year handed an 8% budget cut to the Australian Antarctic Division.

A hundred years after Australian explorer and geologist Douglas Mawson returned from his epic scientific adventures in Antarctica, Australia’s scientific exploration of the icy southern continent has all but ground to a halt, for reasons I’ll discuss below.

Why the 'infrastructure PM' can't give Antarctica the cold shoulder

By Adrian McCallum

A 20-year strategic plan for Australia’s Antarctic future will need to consider how best to plan for the replacement of the nation's ageing Antarctic infrastructure.

Prime Minister Tony Abbott recently declared that he wanted to be known as the “infrastructure prime minister”. But what of Australia’s iciest infrastructure – that located in Antarctica?

Breaking the Ice

The Aurora Australis

The Aurora Australis has the power to push up onto ice and crack it, while her hull shape directs the broken ice around and underneath the ship. Credit: Wayne Papps

By Jonothan Davis

In the 100 years between 1911 and 2011 there have been vast technological changes in the naval architecture of polar shipping.

The first polar ships relied solely on the wind for propulsion. They had no advantage over the sea-ice, which was also propelled by the wind, thus entering the ice was an extremely risky undertaking, if attempted at all.

Antarctic marine reserves: how many ways can you say “Nyet”?

By Tony Press

Russia has blocked the approval of new marine protected areas in the Antarctic, demanding more scientific information and a definition of marine protected areas.

The surprise move in July 2013 postpones a joint proposal by Australia for a system of marine reserves in east Antarctica. So, why do we need more protected areas in the Antarctic?

Coldest journey on Earth for explorer Sir Ranulph Fiennes

By Ray Cooling

London Press Service

UK explorer Sir Ranulph Fiennes is taking on one of the world’s most hostile environments and last remaining polar challenges by attempting to cross Antarctica in winter - the coldest journey on Earth.

Having never been attempted, the expedition - consisting of Fiennes and five colleagues - will also provide unique and invaluable scientific research that will help climatologists. Additionally, it will form the basis for an education programme that will reach up to 100,000 schools across the Commonwealth.

Leaving London in December on board the South African ice-strengthened research ship, S.A. Agulhas, the team - led by 68-year-old Sir Ranulph - began its epic challenge to complete the “Coldest Journey” - the first trans-Antarctic winter expedition.

Weigh-in reveals Antarctica’s losing 190 million tonnes a day

By Matt King

University of Tasmania

A small slice of Antarctica turns up along your coastline each year.

We’re all glad it’s just a small slice, given Antarctica could deliver a total sea-level rise of 59 metres. That’s not going to happen any time soon, but exactly how small is today’s contribution?

Recent work that used satellite data to “weigh” changes in the Antarctic ice sheet suggests a dramatic revision to some previous estimates. This revision was based not just on a better understanding of the motion of ice but also of rock.


By Sally Woollet


The centenary edition of Issues coincides with the centennial year of Australia’s Antarctic expeditions. From the first Australian explorers to the people who work there today, Antarctica presents unique challenges. Find out about Antarctic medicine, polar shipping, weather forecasting, environmental surveys and remediation, and relive some history of this wild southern continent in Issues 100.

Issues is proud to be publishing its 100th edition. Adding to the occasion is the centenary of Australian Antarctic expeditions, of which the Australasian Antarctic Expedition (AAE; 1911–14) is a part. What better way for Issues to mark it than to celebrate Antarctic endeavour.

Many of our 100th edition contributors have been to the world’s coldest continent, some several times. Here they share their Antarctic perspectives and experiences, also reflecting on the triumphs and hardships of those who have gone before, particularly during the “heroic era” of pioneering Antarctic exploration.

Conserving Antarctica: which protected area will it be?

By Tony Press

University of Tasmania

Achieving consensus on four proposals for marine protected areas in Antarctica will not be easy.

24 October 2012

This week delegates from around the globe are gathered in Hobart for the annual meeting of the Commission for the Conservation of Antarctic Marine Living Resources (CCAMLR, pronounced “camel-ar” to those in the trade). They have been presented with four proposals for marine protected areas in Antarctica, but getting even one instituted could be an uphill battle.