Human presence in the Antarctic

The presence of humans poses a threat to the ecosystem.Click to enlarge
The presence of humans poses a threat to the ecosystem.

Schrott in der Antarktis

Source: Christina Braun/FSU Jena

Antarctica was only first discovered in the early 19th century – no human had ever set foot on the southernmost continent before that. Even today, there are no permanent settlements aside from scientific stations. The people who travel to the Antarctic today are researchers, tourists or journalists.

In January 1774 the British seafarer and discoverer James Cook (1728-1779) ventured further south than any human being before him, ultimately landing in South Georgia, an island in the Southern Ocean. It took another 50 years until the seal hunter John Davies reached the Antarctic mainland in 1821.

In contrast to all the other continents, there are no indigenous people in Antarctica. Besides penguins and seals there are only researchers and station staff who reside there for varying lengths of time. People usually work in the Antarctic for a few months only. There are about 1,000 people in winter and some 4,000 in summer. In addition, there are tens of thousands of tourists in the Antarctic summer, most of whom visit the continent aboard ships.

The arrival of humans means a threat to the ecosystem

Because of its remote location and extreme climate conditions, all human activities in the Antarctic are associated with complicated logistics and expansive precautionary and security measures. Environmental problems in the Antarctic are caused by human activities. Both tourism and research impact the local ecosystem. As the number of research stations grows so does the air, ship and motor vehicle traffic necessary to transport personnel and for logistics. Air pollution from exhaust gases and amounts of waste and sewage also increase together with the hazards of potential oil spills and other accidents.
Concerning tourism guidance and limitations are desired so as to leave other areas undisturbed for as long as possible to conduct basic research.

The Antarctic continent is the last large contiguous region on Earth which is still essentially unaffected by man. This is why the Antarctic provides unique opportunities for scientific study of intact natural conditions which are vital in comparative, reference, background and other studies.