Antarctica: Mining, Minerals and Fuel Resources

Topics Covered

Welcome to Antarctica
Overview of Resources
Fossil Fuels

Welcome to Antarctica

Antarctica is a frozen desert continent located south of the Antarctic Circle. It is a mostly uninhabitable region with a total land area of 14 million km2 out of which only 280,000 km2 is ice-free. The continent experiences extremely low temperatures that vary according to elevation, latitude, and distance from the ocean. It is considered to be the coldest and driest continent in the world.

There are no indigenous inhabitants in Antarctica; however this continent is host to about 4000 scientists and ship crew from a number of countries working in both permanent and summer-only research stations.

Although there is no formal government, Antarctica is governed by the Antarctic Treaty System (ATS), which has been in force since 1961. As of April 2010, there are 48 treaty member countries. The GDP (PPP) per capita in this region is $1.12346. This continent is dominated by scientific activities rather than commercial undertakings at the moment.

The map of Antarctica. Image Credit: CIA Factbook

Overview of Resources

Experts believe that mineral and metal resources are likely to be available in Antarctica as known metalliferous fold belts that are found in Australia, Africa, and South America seem to have continuations in this continent according to general principles of plate tectonics.

The possible resources include silver, copper, gold, nickel, platinum, iron ore, chromium, cobalt, molybdenum, zinc, manganese lead, titanium, nickel, and uranium. Coal and hydrocarbons have been located in minimal non-commercial quantities. All these resources are yet to be exploited.


Mining experts state that the Antarctic Peninsula has some copper-bearing plutons that have precise similarities to the Andean porphyry copper bodies.

Fossil Fuels

According to geologic structure and geophysical evidence, observations have been made to indicate the possible presence of petroleum reserves off the coast of Antarctica especially in the thick sedimentary basins of the Filchner Ice Shelf, Ronne Ice Shelf, Amery Ice Shelf, Ross Sea and Ice Shelf, and the Weddell Sea.

Similarly, there is widespread belief among the mining community that hydrocarbons are also present in Antarctica based on the fact that hydrocarbons have been found along the Atlantic coasts of South America and Africa, the south coast of Australia, and the east coast of India, indicating the possibility of similar such deposits along the coasts of Antarctica.

Coal has been found in the Transantarctic Mountains and Prince Charles Mountains. However, the quality of coal discovered in the Transantarctic Mountains was low.


The Convention on the Regulation of Antarctic Mineral Resources Activities (CRAMRA) Treaty was signed in 1988 by the ATS member nations to regulate and define a responsible approach to future mineral exploration activities in the continent.

However, within three years CRAMRA failed. The Madrid Antarctica Treaty Conference, which laid down a 50 year moratorium on mineral exploration and mining, was agreed upon in 1991. This decision will be reviewed again in 2041. Not all countries are happy with the outcome. UK, Japan and USA are currently arguing against a permanent ban on mining. With mineral and fuel resources depleting in other parts of the world, China and Russia have expressed their interest in exploring the region for minerals and fuel.

Without this ban on mining, most mining experts agree that Antarctica is a very inhospitable and expensive place to conduct any mining related activities.

Other issues that hamper efforts toward mineral extraction in the Antarctica are as follows:

  • Need for suitable mining technology
  • Wealth of minerals easily available in other parts of the world
  • Resistance from environmentalists such as Greenpeace and World Wide Fund for Nature
  • Antarctica's distance from industrialized areas
  • Transportation costs
  • Extremely dangerous terrain

Companies such as ArcelorMittal plan to construct a mine in the Artic Circle in 2013. The success of this company in that region would pave way for more deliberations about the Antarctic Circle. With Russia already exploring the Artic, mineral exploration in the Antarctic does not seem impossible.

Whether Antarctica becomes a 'World Park' or a hub of mineral exploitation remains to be seen.

Disclaimer: The Author of this article does not imply any investment recommendation and some content is speculative in nature. The Author is not affiliated in any way with any companies mentioned and all statistical information is publically available.

Sources factbook/geos/ay.html mining-in-antarctica

G.P. Thomas

Written by

G.P. Thomas

Gary graduated from the University of Manchester with a first-class honours degree in Geochemistry and a Masters in Earth Sciences. After working in the Australian mining industry, Gary decided to hang up his geology boots and turn his hand to writing. When he isn't developing topical and informative content, Gary can usually be found playing his beloved guitar, or watching Aston Villa FC snatch defeat from the jaws of victory.


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