Antarctica is an island continent some 15·5m. sq. km in area which lies almost entirely within the Antarctic Circle. Its surface is composed of an ice sheet over rock, and it is uninhabited except for research and other workers in the course of duty. It is in general ownerless: for countries with territorial claims, see ARGENTINA; AUSTRALIA: Australian Antarctic Territory; Chile; FRANCE: Southern and Antarctic Territories; NEW ZEALAND: Ross Dependency; NORWAY: Queen Maud Land; UNITED KINGDOM: British Antarctic Territory.
12 countries which had maintained research stations in Antarctica during International Geophysical Year, 1957–58 (Argentina, Australia, Belgium, Chile, France, Japan, New Zealand, Norway, South Africa, the USSR, the UK and the USA) signed the Antarctic Treaty (Washington Treaty) on 1 Dec. 1959. Austria, Belarus, Brazil, Bulgaria, Canada, China, Colombia, Cuba, Czech Republic, Denmark, Ecuador, Estonia, Finland, Germany, Greece, Guatemala, Hungary, Iceland, India, Italy, Kazakhstan, North Korea, South Korea, Malaysia, Monaco, Mongolia, the Netherlands, Pakistan, Papua New Guinea, Peru, Poland, Portugal, Romania, Slovakia, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland, Turkey, Ukraine, Uruguay and Venezuela subsequently acceded to the Treaty. The Treaty reserves the Antarctic area south of 60º S. lat. for peaceful purposes, provides for international co-operation in scientific investigation and research, and preserves, for the duration of the Treaty, the status quo with regard to territorial sovereignty, rights and claims. The Treaty entered into force on 23 June 1961. The 53 nations party to the Treaty (29 consultative or voting members and 24 non-consultative parties) meet biennially.
An agreement reached in Madrid in April 1991 and signed by all 39 parties in Oct. imposes a ban on mineral exploitation in Antarctica for 50 years, at the end of which any one of the 29 voting parties may request a review conference. After this the ban may be lifted by agreement of three quarters of the nations then voting, which must include the present 29.
Headquarters: Maipú 757 Piso 4, C1006ACI, Buenos Aires, Argentina.
Executive Secretary: Manfred Reinke (Germany).