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Falkland Islands Fact Sheet

|   Geographic Location    |   History    |   Climate    |   Population    |   Economic Overview    |   Administration   |

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Geographic Location

The British Antarctic Territory consists of the segment of the Antarctic continent lying south of latitude 60°S; and, between longitudes 20° and 80°W comprising the Antarctic Peninsula with all adjacent islands, the South Orkney and South Shetland Islands and the Weddell Sea, and the landmass extending to the South Pole. With the total area of 1,709,400 sq km (660,000 sq miles).

The Antarctic Peninsula and the islands are mountainous (Mt Jackson 3,129m). The mountains, the tail of the Andes chain, are connected to South America by a submarine ridge (the Scotia Arc), which includes the active volcanoes of the South Sandwich Islands. The South Orkneys and South Georgia are also peaks of this chain. Of the 2% of the Antarctic continent which is ice-free, most is on the Antarctic Peninsula. No geological survey has been undertaken to establish whether commercially exploitable mineral resources exist in Antarctica. Scientists believe that 180m years ago, Antarctica was the centre of a southern supercontinent 'Gondwana', which broke up to form Antarctica, South America, Africa, India and Australia . So it is possible that minerals found in the other continents also exist in Antarctica. There may be hydrocarbons (oil and gas) on the Antarctica continental shelf.



The South Shetland Islands were discovered and taken possession of by Captain W Smith in 1819, the South Orkneys by Captain G Powell in 1821. The Antarctic Peninsula was discovered in 1820 by Edward Bransfield and taken possession of for Br itain in 1832 by John Biscoe. Thereafter, explorers penetrated the Weddell Sea and, finally, the great landmass of the continent. Shackleton's ship, Endurance, was trapped in pack-ice in the Weddell Sea for a year. Britain registered the first claim to Antarctic Territory by Letters Patent in 1908, a claim which had to be adjusted in 1917 as it included part of Argentina and Chilean Patagonia.

Britain's claim to the land between longitudes 20° and 80°W is still contested by Argentina's claim to the region between 25° and 74°W, and Chile's claim to the region between 53° and 90°W. In 1986, the second-biggest calving of ice in recorded history, approximately 6,000 sq km, carried the abandoned Argentine base, Belgrano I, and the Soviet summer base, Druzhnaya, out into the Weddell Sea on icebergs.

In the 1950s, five-sixths of the Antarctica continent was claimed by seven countries. None of the claims were recognised by non-claimant states, however, and the Antarctic Treaty was negotiated to put in place a mechanism to defuse the escalating disputes over sovereignty. It followed the unprecedented scientific co-operation in Antarctica demonstrated by 12 countries during the International Geophysical Year, 1957-8.

The Treaty entered into force in 1961. Covering the area south of 60°S, its objectives are: to keep Antarctica demilitarised, nuclear-free and to ensure that it is used for peaceful purposes only; to promote international scientific co-operation in Antarctica; and to set aside disputes over territorial sovereignty.

An Environmental Protocol was added to the Antarctic Treaty in 199 1, putting into abeyance indefinitely the exploration and exploitation of mineral resources in Antarctica. This prohibition may be reviewed after 50 years, or before if there is a consensus of treaty parties to do so.

There were 12 original signatories to the Treaty, including Britain. The Treaty has since been acceded to by 31 additional states and 14 of these have consultative party status. The Consultative Parties meet annually.



The centre of the landmass is cold (-50°C to -60°C) and dry (3-7cm of water p.a.). Nearer the coast, it is less cold (- 10°C to -20°C) and wetter. Winds are always strong; cold air from the polar region rolling down to meet the warmer air over the sea results in constant gales.



The personnel number about 50 in winter, rising to 150 in summer. In addition to the British Antarctic Survey, the bases of 12 other Antarctic treaty parties are present in the British territory, with an estimated population varying from 1,000 in winter to 2,500 in summer.


Economic Overview

There is no economic activity. Scientific research in various fields is carried out.



Until 1989. the British Antarctic Territory was administered by the High Commissioner, resident in the Falkland Islands. In 1989, the administration was moved to the Foreign and Commonwealth Office, London. The Office of Commissioner is held by the Head of the South Atlantic and Antarctic Department and the Administrator is the Head of the Polar Regions Section. Since 1967, the Department of Education and Science in Britain, later the Office of Science and Technology, has been financially responsible for the British Antarctic Survey.

Base commanders are appointed magistrates and the courts of the territory are presided over by a senior magistrate or a judge of the Supreme Court. A Court of Appeal was set up in 1965 for hearing appeals from the territory.

HM Queen Elizabeth II gave her approval for a new flag for the British Antarctic Territory on 21 April 1998. It is a plain white ensign defaced with the arms of the Territory. The white field of the new flag of the British Antarctic Territory symbolises the snow which covers most of the vast continent at the Earth's southern pole. The fact that the territory is a British dependent territory is stressed by the Union flag in the canton.

The territory flag may be flown at the British Antarctic Survey HQ in Cambridge and at research stations in the Territory itself. Additionally it may be used as a courtesy flag for vessels visiting research stations in the British Antarctic Territory. The flag will also be used for ceremonial occasions.


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