Detour: Antarctica - how climate change could spark Antarctica resource race

The New Zealand Herald

Detour: Antarctica - how climate change could spark Antarctica resource race

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In a major new Herald podcast series, Detour: Antarctica , Thomas Bywater goes in search of the white continent's hidden stories. In this accompanying text series, he reveals a few of his discoveries to whet your appetite for the podcast. You can read them all, and experience a very special visual presentation, by clicking here . To follow Detour: Antarctica , visit iHeartRadio , or wherever you get your podcasts. Climate change has long been seen as an existential threat to Antarctica, but it could also trigger a new race for resources, experts warn. Since the 1990s there has been a ban on extracting minerals and fossil fuels from Antarctica. Now researchers suggest that prospectors looking for wealth in the white continent are likely to be more interested in the ice and ecology of Antarctica rather than what they can dig for beneath it. Ceisha Poirot, head of environmental policy for Antarctica New Zealand, says the topic is regularly discussed at Antarctic Treaty meetings. "The protocol very clearly prohibits mineral resource activity, but if you think about more contemporary times biotechnology might be the current concern." Study of the unique lifeforms of the Southern Ocean has led to interest from the medicine research and material science sectors. Potentially valuable discoveries could put pressure on a part of the world which has been historically neutral. "If somebody finds the cure for cancer in a marine invertebrate in Antarctica and they develop an IP for the cancer-crushing agent, who benefits from that?" asks Ceisha. "Is it the nation whose Antarctic programme discovers it or is it the whole of humanity?" Countries with a stake in Antarctica have been discussing the possibility of opening it up to bioprospecting or even harvesting icebergs for drinking water. "That could be a real possibility in the future depending on how climate change affects the globe." The Antarctic Treaty is a unique arrangement which preserves the area as a neutral space for international cooperation. It outlines what can and can't be done in Antarctica. However, for-profit research and towing icebergs are in the not allowed column. Harvesting icebergs for water has been proposed several times. Most recently it was seen as a solution to solving the 2018 Cape Town drought. Countries like South Africa and Australia, with national Antarctic programmes and increasingly dry climates, could see ice as a solution to impending climate disasters. More than 650 gigatonnes of ice break off the Ross Ice Shelf each year, according to the University of California Irvine. That's roughly 140 times the amount of freshwater used by New Zealand for drinking, agriculture and industry. Ice engineer Tony King has run hauling operations in Canada for more than 25 years, clearing shipping and oil derricks of titanic chunks of ice. "People have looked at this for a long time but it never quite gets there," he says. The largest iceberg towed in Newfoundland was about 100 metres long and weighed six million tonnes. Antarctic ice harvesting could be viable, King says, but not by hauling attention-grabbing icebergs. "When you look at Antarctica and look at the vast quantities of ice and meltwater it could make sense to repurpose an old oil tanker and fill it with water. You just have to get it past this treaty." Detour: Antarctica is a New Zealand Herald podcast. You can follow the series on iHeartRadio, Apple Podcasts , Spotify or wherever you get your podcasts. Penguins, frosted gardens, and winter balls - welcome to NZ's cosiest city.