Antarctic Treaty meeting in India: A milestone for climate and research

India is hosting the 46th ATCM in Kochi, Kerala, from May 20 to 30. Delegates from 56 member countries of the Antarctic Treaty are attending this event, which is organized by the National Centre for Polar and Ocean Research (NCPOR) under the Ministry of Earth Sciences.

At the opening session of the 46th Antarctic Treaty Consultative Meeting (ATCM) on Tuesday (21st May), India highlighted the importance of preserving Antarctica’s scientific integrity. Delegates also emphasized the need to create accurate models to predict the effects of climate change on ice cap melting and to impose limits on tourism in the region.

Shailesh Nayak, director of the National Institute of Advanced Studies, stated that climate change is a major factor causing the melting of Antarctic ice caps and rising sea levels.

“The goals and awareness of people regarding Antarctica and climate change should be taken into account in its governance. The Antarctic Treaty System ensures that Antarctica remains a natural reserve dedicated to peace and science,” Nayak said at the ATCM.

India is hosting the 46th ATCM in Kochi, Kerala, from May 20 to 30. Delegates from 56 member countries of the Antarctic Treaty are attending this event, which is organized by the National Centre for Polar and Ocean Research (NCPOR) under the Ministry of Earth Sciences.

The last time India chaired the Antarctic Treaty meeting was in 2007 in New Delhi.

What makes the Antarctic Treaty important?

The original Antarctic Treaty was signed in Washington in 1959 by 12 countries whose scientists were active in Antarctica during the International Geophysical Year of 1957-58. The main members included Australia, Argentina, Belgium, Chile, France, Japan, New Zealand, Norway, South Africa, the UK, and the former USSR. The treaty took effect in 1961, and since then, many countries, including India, have joined.

Today, there are 56 member countries.

The treaty established three main rules to protect Antarctica’s environment and support ongoing scientific research:

1. Antarctica should only be used for peaceful purposes.

2. Scientific investigations and cooperation should be allowed to continue freely.

3. Scientific observations and results should be shared and made freely available.

India’s presence in Antarctica

At the opening session on Tuesday, May 21, Earth Sciences Minister Kiren Rijiju detailed India’s plan to establish a third observatory in Antarctica, named Maitri-2.

“India’s involvement with Antarctica started in 1956 when we proposed the peaceful use of the continent at the 11th UN General Assembly,” Rijiju stated. “We are dedicated to understanding India’s connection with Antarctica and will promote responsible and regulated tourism. Looking ahead, we are excited to announce India’s plan to build a new research station, Maitri-2.”

Last year in the Rajya Sabha, Rijiju mentioned that the new observatory would be located just a few kilometres from the existing Maitri station.

India currently operates two research stations in Antarctica: Maitri and Bharati. Maitri has been hosting researchers since 1989, while Bharati began operations in 2013. Both stations conduct research in atmospheric, biological, geological, and ecological sciences, among others, to better understand polar processes and phenomena.

Antarctica: What Everyone Should Know

Antarctica is a unique and important continent that everyone should know about. It’s located in the southernmost part of the Earth and is covered by a massive ice sheet. This ice sheet is incredibly thick, averaging about 1 mile (1.6 km) deep, and it covers around 98% of the continent.

Antarctica is crucial because it holds about 90% of the world’s ice and around 70% of the planet’s fresh water. If all this ice melted, sea levels around the world would rise by about 200 feet (60 meters), which would have a significant impact on coastal cities and communities.

The closest countries to Antarctica are South American nations like Chile and Argentina. For instance, the southernmost city in Argentina, Ushuaia, is just 774 miles (1238 kilometres) away from the northern tip of the Antarctic Peninsula. Other nearby countries include Australia and New Zealand, which also have strong research interests in the region.

The continent is larger than many people realize. Including its islands and ice shelves, Antarctica is roughly 1.5 times the size of the United States, twice the size of Australia, and 58 times the size of the United Kingdom. It spans about 5.5 million square miles (14 million square kilometres).

Antarctica is also a hub for scientific research. Scientists from around the world conduct studies there to understand climate change, wildlife, and the unique environment. The Antarctic Treaty, signed by many countries, ensures that the continent is used for peaceful purposes and scientific investigation only, preserving its natural state. The continent experiences extreme variations in daylight, with up to 24 hours of continuous sunlight during the summer months and up to 24 hours of darkness in the winter, which significantly affects living conditions and research activities.

In summary, Antarctica is a vast, icy continent with a critical role in the global climate and freshwater supply. It’s a place of scientific discovery and international cooperation, protected by treaties to keep it pristine and dedicated to peace and research.