Who Lives in Antarctica?
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Antarctica does not and has never had an indigenous population (there are no native human Antarcticans).
Antarctica was once a part of a larger land mass called Gondwana that settled over the south pole and split from Australasia and South America long before humans evolved. There haven't been any land bridges to Antarctica for around 35 million years.
Humans are thought to have evolved in East Africa very recently in geological terms (no more than 5 million years at most) We then left the ancestral homeland and moved across all of the continents of the world.
Antarctica was already too isolated by distance, climate and the storminess of its seas for primitive peoples to discover. It wasn't until 1820 when human technology and navigation was sophisticated enough to allow anyone to sail far enough south to even see Antarctica for the first time. There are a number of poorly substantiated claims of setting foot upon the Antarctic mainland between 1820 and 1899, the latter date being the first date accepted by some historians. When the first people did set foot on Antarctica there wasn't anyone already there.
Antarctica is therefore one of the few places in the world that can truly be described as having been discovered, rather than people living there already who had known about it for hundreds or thousands of years before its "discovery".
No-one lives in Antarctica indefinitely in the way that they do in the rest of the world. It has no industries, no towns or cities, no permanent residents.
The only "settlements" with longer term residents (measured in months or more) are scientific bases. These vary in size, but typically have 50 people there in the summer and 15-20 in the winter (Antarctica is never really talked about as having spring or autumn/fall), summer lasts from October/November to March/April, the rest of the year is considered to be winter.
There are around 66 scientific bases in Antarctica, of which about 37 are occupied year round. There are about 4000 people through the summer months and about 1000 overwinter each year.
Most people do a "summer only" this is about November to April, with a lesser number staying over the Antarctic winter (when any chance of transport in or out is virtually impossible). A typical tour is one winter and two summers, around 15 months in total (this time is continuous with no visits home or elsewhere in the meantime). It used to be quite common for some to stay for two winters and three summers, though this is very rare now.
Some people have had an "enforced" winter, this is when ice conditions mean the ship that should have come to get them couldn't get through and had to go home without them until next year. The result is a wait from April until October / November or later when the ship can get through again. This means three summers and three winters in a row!
There is a US base at McMurdo sound that has up to 1000 personnel at the peak time, this is the nearest there is to a town. With such rapid turn-over of people, Antarctic bases are more like oil-rigs or military bases than towns.
More on McMurdo
The most recent figures for the 2011-12 season show that there were 26,509 visitors. Significantly down on the peak figure of 47,225 in the peak season so far in 2007/2008. The drop being due to the fact that large ships are no longer allowed to visit Antarctica due to fuel spillage dangers
In terms of numbers, tourists greatly outnumber national programme personnel, though the personnel on scientific bases clock up far more man-days.
While tourists may only only spend a relatively small time ashore on landings (for the most part staying on their cruise ships), it is by its nature relatively "high-impact" time - compared to a scientist or scientific support staff who spend most of their time on a permanent or semi-permanent base.
There are two places on King George Island off the tip of the Antarctic Peninsula that are sometimes regarded as civilian "towns". These are the Chilean Villa Las Estrellas (120 residents in the summer, 80 in the winter) and Argentinian Esperanza. They have facilities such as a school, medical facilities, gym etc. though are more accurately regarded as extensions of the nearby military and scientific operations.
Another view is that they are both attempts by the respective countries to make claims of settlement of Antarctica as an insurance for the future should the terms of the Antarctic Treaty come up for significant renegotiation.
Pregnant women were sent to such places in the 1980's for instance to give birth to "native Antarcticans" to support such claims.
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