A Continent Apart

Antarctica was at one time part of an ancient, considerably larger land mass, referred to by geologists as Gondwanaland. The supercontinent began breaking up during the Triassic Period (205-240 million years ago) and its several segments gradually drifted apart to form the present continents of South America, Africa, India, Australia (with New Zealand), and Antarctica.

Geomorphology is the study of landforms and in the Antarctic, these studies have mainly been concerned with the effects of the ice sheet on the underlying rock, as well as the study of glacial deposits, and the formation of patterned ground.

Volcanic activity in Antarctica is limited to only a few places, the most notable being Mount Erebus on Ross Island. The island is entirely of volcanic origin, as are White and Black Islands, Brown Peninsula and Mina Bluff, and the massifs of Mounts Discovery and Morning. These are products of eruptions–from the Pliocene through the present–of basaltic lavas from central cones and fissures at various locations. Mount Erebus is the largest and by far the most active of the few volcanoes on the continent, almost continuously spewing out steam and gases from its summit crater.

Mining and Drilling

  • Are there vast deposits of precious metals and ores beneath the Antarctic ice sheet? Are there huge basins of gas and oil under the Weddell and Ross seas?
  • In fact, no strong data show that hydrocarbon basins exist in the Antarctic. The mineral outcrops which have been identified are of no economic value, since the expense of mining and transporting them to markets would be prohibitive.
  • The Antarctic Treaty‘s Protocol on Environmental Protection prohibits any mining or drilling for at least 50 years.

Did You Know?

  • Even though less than 1 % of Antarctica’s rock is accessible for direct examination, geologists are very interested in the continent.
  • Nuclear fallout shows up clearly in the ice cores, and is linked to datable events.
  • There is, however, no evidence of sulfur dioxide, which, as ‘acid rain,’ has caused so much damage in the Northern Hemisphere.
  • The continent provides scientists with a global baseline against which we can measure the damage inflicted on the rest of the planet.

Amendments to the Antarctic Treaty

  • Agreed Measures for the Conservation of Antarctic Fauna and Flora (1964) – protects native animals and birds and sets aside Specially Protected Areas.
  • Convention for the Conservation of Antarctic Seals (1978) – provides a means to regulate commercial sealing activities.
  • Convention on the Conservation of Antarctic Marine Living Resources (1980) – ensures that the Southern Ocean’s living resources are treated as a single ecosystem.
  • to study the unique characteristics of Antarctica and its surrounding seas.
  • Protocol on Enviromental Protection (1991) – establishes environmental principles for the conduct of all activities in Antarctica.

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