Australia's Antarctic Division is located on the road to Kingston, not far away from us. It's an interesting facility, several 2-3 story glass, metal and white concrete box-like buildings all spread out and connected via pathways. I called and inquired about a Visitor's Center. There is one. It's not large, but the exhibits are good and informative. It was well worth the stop to see how Australia views its part in the preservation and exploration of the world's coldest, driest and windiest continent. Australia was the last part of the super-continent, Gondwana, to break off and drift away from eastern Antarctica. It's now some 4,400 miles away from Antarctica, and there's nothing in between. Because of its early exploration and scientific studies of the continent in the early 20th century, Australia lays claim to 42% of the ice continent as sovereign Australian territory. They maintain three year-round stations there, plus one station on sub-Antarctic Macquarie Island.
They're very interested in global warming effects on the polar ice caps and the subsequent effects it will have directly on the world and specifically Australia.... they're neighbors, after all. Antarctica's ice cap has a major influence on the world's sea levels and ozone levels. As the “engine that drives the world's oceanic circulatory systems and climate”, what happens there greatly affects the world's other oceans. It's well known to be a major driver of Australia's weather and here in Tasmania, we can really attest to that fact as icy Antarctic blasts from the south sometimes hit us like bullets.
The Kingston facility houses laboratories for physics, atmospheric sciences, glaciology, biology, oceanography, geology, botany, even a krill research lab to determine the sustainability and management of fishing in the Southern Ocean. It also provides a headquarters for equipment stores, communications, training and operational support. A cruising friend of ours worked there for 15 years as a lawyer specifically assigned to aspects of environmental contracts and enforcement of the Antarctic Treaty.
The Antarctic Treaty, by the way, which was signed in Washington, DC and went into effect in 1960, now has 50 nation signatories. It was the first and most successful international treaty of its kind limiting Antarctica to the pursuit of scientific study and research and preservation of its environment. Australia, as one of the original twelve signers, takes its responsibilities very seriously.
The two rooms designated as the Visitor's Center were interesting and provided lots of food for thought. I especially enjoyed the hands-on room which let kids (and me) try on Antarctic outerwear, take a look at the huskies that were previously used on expeditions and even touch feathered Emperor penguin skin and a flipper.
Wandering through the exhibits reminded us of our visit to the Antarctic Peninsular on the other side of the world in 2006. It was the trip of a lifetime. Ushuaia, Argentina is much closer to Antarctica than Australia (less than 1500 miles) and thus the trips are much more feasible. Antarctica's other worldly nature has made it one of the most spectacular places we've ever visited in our years of traveling and I doubt it will lose its place in our minds in the future.