OK, Seriously: Why isn't someone tearing Antarctica apart?

I mean, it’s a monstrous big continent. As it’s largely unexplored it’s fair to say we can really only speculate about its mineral wealth, but whatever it’s got is untapped–surely there’s likely to be some good stuff under the ice?

We’re willing to consider a moon base that would see temperatures far below anything in Antarctica. We’ve even got stuff that can cruise around on Mars which is colder still.

Treaties? Are you kidding me? Someone finds oil on that big old chunk of rock and we’ll see those treaties hanging on a roll in the nearest bathroom.

Environment? There’s nothing freaking living there! We’ll chop down rainforests for firewood but we don’t want to get a frozen rock dirty? Nuts. If there’s money there, we’ll get it.

So what’s the big hold up?

An international treaty (signed by everybody but N. Korea) forbids mining or test drilling (non-scientific) on the continent. Seriously, there is probably great mineral wealth there-but the cost of extraction has got to be a killer. take oil: how do you drill in a place where is below zero 9 months out of the year?
We know there is coal, gold, and probably a lot of other stuff-but it is simply not worth it.


I doubt a treaty would make one scrap of difference if the resouces could be got at easily.

The only countries that are really close are Argentina and Chile. And since both of those nations claim Antarctica neither will allow any other nation or company of another nation, to use it’s territory.

New Zealand is probably the next closest but it’s still far away as is Australia. The Falkland Islands are barely able to sustain themselves much less be used as a base for Antarctic development.

Besides NZ, Aussie and the UK (Falklands) all claim part of Antarctica too.

That is the main immediate problem. Finding a launching base for developement. The cost of getting the minerals would be far more than the minerals themselves are worth.

The British have a hard enough time keeping the Falklands (with only 2,000 people) supplied. When Chile closed direct flights to the Falklands and Uraguay and Brazil backing Chile also refused to allow direct flights from their territory to the Falklands, the British were forced to negotiate with Argentina (which eventually allowed it).

So you can see how difficult it would be to establish a mining operation, much less the cost of keeping warm (most cost effective would be nuclear power) and truck transportation.

For a similar (though not as hard) operation, look up Svalbard a small group of islands in the Arctic that has mining

Ya know, the presence of oil isn’t some kind of reefer madness for capitalists. There are many spots in the world where oil is present and people aren’t going at it like raving loonies to get at it. See, for example, the California coast, the Florida coast, and ANWR.

Like they could stop the uS if we really wanted to.

The main problem isn’t that it’s a huge hunk of rock; it’s that it’s a huge hunk of rock under an enormous hunk of ice. And the ice moves. And sending a probe somewhere is a very different problem to maintaining a permanent industrial facility in one of the most hostile places on Earth.

Some reasons I can think of:

  1. Is there anything worth extracting? Even if you assume that there are valuable minerals or oil present (as the “cool antarctica” link above indicates) that doesn’t mean that the minerals are present in sufficient concentrations, or are sufficiently accessible, to make mining or drilling profitable.

  2. Competing territorial claims. Even setting aside the treaties (and I don’t think that would be as easy as some assume) miners would have a self-interested reason to be concerned about competing territorial claims and legal uncertainty. Any prudent investor is going to be worried about spending a billion dollars to build a mining facility in a place where there’s no government and no law enforcement (and to the extent there are laws, you’re breaking them by being there). What are you going to do when some armed guys show up and declare that your facility is the property of the Glorious Peoples’ Republic of Antarcticania? This problem might be solved if your nation’s military is backing you up, but a military incursion into Antarctica is going to set off an upleasant political shitstorm / arms race.

  3. Lack of infrastructure. To my knowledge, there are no ports in Antarctica where cargo ships could be loaded, and within the land mass, no roads or railroads allowing you to move around efficiently. Whatever you can pull out of the ground, you’re going to have a hard time getting it back to civilization where you can sell it.

Did somebody mention the weather?

This post brings up a good corrolary-- mining in outer space is unlikely to ever be cost-productive.

Even if we weren’t tied to chemical rockets, i.e. the cost of space flight was an order of magnitude (or more) less expensive than it is today, the costs of extracting most minerals from the Earth is far cheaper than anything we could get from the Moon, asteroids, the volcanic plains of Io, etc.

Now, there are some potential exceptions, of course. Materials that aren’t present on Earth-- stuff like Helium3, which could be potentially used as fusion fuel-- would be cost-productive. And there’s always the possibilty of bringing a mineral-rich asteroid closer to Earth and mining it from our orbit rather than far away. But then you’re risking an asteroid strike, and for what? Iron, nickel, and maybe a little copper? Not worth it.

Antarctica is easier to get to than anywhere else in the Solar System, and even then it’s not cost-productive to mine there. That could change, if the climate warms up enough, or resources get scarce enough here on Earth. But for the forseeable future, nothing there is worth it.

That gives me an idea, we could bombard Antarctica with mineral-rich asteroids until the ice pack is completely obliterated, then go mine the craters.

Only if you want to bring the ore back to Earth or another significant gravity well. If you want to ship it elsewhere, like the moon or an asteroid then it’s fine.

I read somewhere that they were in the process of grading a road across the ice from somewhere on the coast to the south pole station. So stuff could be sent to the pole first by ship and then by land train, rather than having to fly everything in. Also, that it was expected that the route would have to be resurveyed each and every year for fissures opening in the ice which would be filled in. Link to a progress report someone?

That’s relative. If you live on Antarctica, would you get your water there, or have it flown in from Paris? If you were living and working in a moonbase, would it be cheaper to mine right outside your moonbase, or fly your ore up from earth?

Gee, I don’t know. Maybe we should ask all those oil companies up in Prudhoe Bay. They might have some ideas.