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Antarctica

Management and Conversation of Antarctica

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During the exploratory period of Antarctic history, scientific research was less important than discovery. In 1939 the U.S. Antarctic Service Expedition under Richard Byrd introduced the concept of permanent stations with science as a major objective. Two stations, at Bay of Whales and Stonington Island off the Antarctic Peninsula, opened in 1941, but closed after a year when the United States entered World War II. In 1943 Britain set up several permanent stations. Although the British stations were set up primarily to assert sovereignty against Argentine and Chilean claims in the maritime Antarctic, they were staffed by scientists.

Establishment of these early bases began the era of scientific research that was closely coupled with political rivalry. During this period Argentina, Australia, Chile, and France established permanent national expeditions, both to maintain territorial claims and to conduct scientific research. In 1946 the United States conducted Operation Highjump, the largest Antarctic expedition to date, involving massive exploration by means of ships, aircraft, and temporary land stations. This operation also gave U.S. military forces experience in polar conditions, seen as a necessity should a confrontation with Soviet troops occur in the Arctic region of the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics (USSR). Against the backdrop of the Cold War, a period of political tension between the Soviet Union and its associated nations and Western countries allied with the United States, the USSR declared its right to make an Antarctic territorial claim in 1950.

The International Geophysical Year (IGY), a period of worldwide coordinated geophysical research from July 1957 to December 1958, proved a useful step toward resolving political disputes in Antarctica. Twelve nations (Argentina, Australia, Belgium, the United Kingdom, Chile, France, Japan, New Zealand, Norway, South Africa, the United States, and the USSR) agreed to cooperate on scientific research in Antarctica. Starting a year beforehand, survey parties established research stations on an unprecedented scale. During the IGY more than 5,000 scientists and support staff served at 49 Antarctic stations. Projects included studies of a wide range of geophysical topics such as upper atmosphere physics, meteorology, oceanography, glaciology, seismology, and geology. The IGY led to the establishment in 1958 of the Special (later Scientific) Committee on Antarctic Research (SCAR), a group designed to coordinate additional research; SCAR continues in that same function today.

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