When I was at University, one of my fellow Geography students went down to Antarctica for a few weeks to do research. She showed me on her return, a photo of her and another researcher down there standing outside in broad daylight a few minutes after 2004 started. As the years have passed and knowledge has improved about this most amazing part of the world, and New Zealand’s slice of it, I have wondered how the infrastructure gets upgraded at Scott Base.
Scott Base was named after Robert Falcon Scott, a British explorer who raced Norwegian explorer Roald Amundsen to the South Pole. Mr Scott arrived a few weeks late to find that Mr Amundsen had already visited and left. Tragically Mr Scott and his team never made it back to base. His ill fated expedition sailed from Lyttelton several weeks earlier.
There is significant economic return for Canterbury from the Antarctic operation. N.Z.$125 million a year in activity is generated. Nation wide the Antarctic operation generates about N.Z.$178 million in economic activity. Aside from logistical support for the operation at Christchurch International Airport, there is the well known Antarctic Centre across Orchard Road where people get to learn about the history of New Zealand’s operation, the natural environment and experience a storm. There is also the Antarctic Studies Centre at the University of Canterbury in the Geography Department, which have students – mainly from Geography, but also Geology and Environmental Science – doing qualifications regarding Antarctica.
I support the $150 million upgrade that is being proposed. As mentioned in The Press on Saturday, I am sure that the original buildings were designed with conditions as they were known then in mind and . But “adequate” is not adequate any longer and these buildings are past their use by date. Simply updating them ad hoc for as long as is practicable is not feasible because the problems with maintenance will become more frequent until the base is either not usable or there is a significant overhaul.
New Zealand is responsible for the Ross Dependency, which includes Ross Island, where Scott Base is stationed. Due to the effects that climate change in Antarctica could have on New Zealand weather, environment, economy and so forth, it is important that a base is maintained down there to enable the research programmes down there to continue. It is important that those programmes are based in appropriate buildings, which are designed to minimize the potential for adverse environmental effects in a delicate and for the most part still pristine ecosystem.
The nations that have claims to Antarctica agree that the continent should not be militarized, populated for settlement purposes and that the primary activity down there should be research. A small amount of tourism is allowed, as is fishing. Mining is strictly prohibited, though it is known that there is potentially massive mineral wealth to be tapped into. Uncertainty exists as to whether the United States would continue to comply with this and what any changes in the Antarctic Treaty System – which is currently a set of treaties and protocols governing what happens on the southern continent – would have on the nations who have territorial claims.
If New Zealand were to leave Antarctica I sincerely doubt we would have access to it in the way that we do now. I sincerely doubt that whoever follows would have the same empathy for the environment that New Zealand does.
For these reasons, New Zealand needs to stay on Antarctica and Scott Base needs to have that $150 million overhaul.