Antarctica: Overview of Geopolitical and Environmental Issues

Geopolitical and environmental developments are increasing international focus on Antarctica and the Southern Ocean. Stakeholders contend these developments may have political, economic, and security implications for the United States and the rest of the world. Geopolitical concerns center on the rising presence of China and Russia in the Antarctic and the integrity of the Antarctic Treaty System (ATS), which provides a framework for governing the region. Environmental issues, particularly those related to climate change, also are prominent in Antarctica, due to current and projected future rates of melting ice in the region, which cause some scientists to assert that Antarctica represents a significant source for global sea-level rise under future warming conditions. Much of the research on understanding and projecting rates of melting ice and its potential contribution to globalsea-level rise relies on satellite data, as well as scientific work conducted in Antarctica. Most of the research done by U.S. scientists is overseen and funded by the National Science Foundation. Other environmental issues in Antarctica concern its ecosystems, biodiversity, and natural resources. Congressional interest in Antarctica stems to a large extent from geopolitical and environmental issues. Members introduced legislation in the 116th Congress that would have regulated expeditions and tourism activities in the region and addressed environmental emergencies (e.g., oil spills) in the Antarctic ecosystem that result from such activities. The former Trump Administration addressed security concerns in the region, issuing a presidential memorandum that called for a new fleet of polar security icebreakers to protect national interests in the Arctic and Antarctic regions. In the future, geopolitical, climate, and natural resources concerns in Antarctica might stimulate Congress to explore a number of questions related to the region, including what role Antarctica may play in the changing global order and its significance forsea-level rise.      Purchase this Volume