The potential for mineral exploration and extraction in Antarctica
Degree GrantorUniversity of Canterbury
Degree LevelPostgraduate Certificate
Degree NamePostgraduate Certificate in Antarctic Studies
Antarctica is the only continent in the world which does not have a history of mineral production, it is also the only continent with no known economically exploitable deposits and where no resources have been explored by drilling (Rowley, Ford, Williams, & Pride, 1983). Its isolation and extreme conditions have protected it to a large degree from the exploits of humans. In addition the exploration and mining for minerals on the continent is illegal under the Antarctic Treaty System. However, with the world’s growing human population and the growth of wealth within nations with historically low levels of consumerism coupled with the possibility of future exhaustion of mineral resources on the other continents it is possible that Antarctic may not always be so far from the grasps of mineral prospectors in the future. This paper will have a look at what documented and speculated mineral occurrences are in Antarctica and what their economic potential could possibly be, so that we can make an educated guess about what the future could be for Antarctic minerals. It will give a brief review of some of the more economically interesting mineral occurrences which are known to occur on the continent and will try to give some idea of what the potential for undiscovered resources could be. Concentrating mainly on copper, platinum and iron ore, as these appear to have the best potential on the continent, this paper examines the world markets for these minerals to try and get a feel for what the future may hold for metal supply and demand from these markets. It will look at some of the difficulties and extreme costs which would be associated with a minerals industry in Antarctica as these difficulties could possibly make the exploration for, or extraction of minerals from the continent impossible. The idea is to look at the continents geological potential versus its associated difficulties and by examining the expected future state of the world’s resource markets to come to some conclusion about the future economic potential of Antarctica’s minerals. This paper has not taken into account the legal framework surrounding Antarctic minerals or the moral and social implications of a minerals industry on the continent.