Mining in Antarctica: Lesson for Kids

Instructor: Jenny Homer

Jenny has masters' degrees in public health and public administration.

This lesson talks about mining in Antarctica, which hasn't happened yet, but could in the future. Find out what may lie under the ice in Antarctica and what has kept countries and companies from mining there.

What Is Mining?

When you picture Antarctica, the coldest continent at the bottom of the earth, you might think about ice and wildlife like penguins. But you probably aren't thinking about what lies beneath all that ice, snow, and mountains. Well, there are some people who are trying to find out what minerals lie under Antarctica and how to mine them to sell and use around the world.

Mining is the process of going into the ground and taking out minerals and metals, like coal, gold, and iron. Sometimes these minerals are just under the ground, but other times they can be very far down. When this happens, mining becomes more dangerous, expensive, and harmful to the environment.

What Minerals Are in Antarctica?

When we talk about mining in Antarctica, it's important to understand what the land is like. The continent is the highest in the world and has mountains, glaciers, and icebergs. Above the land is an ice sheet that is, on average, one mile thick. In some places, it can be much thicker!

Far under the ice, you'll find iron ore, chromium, and coal. There also appears to be oil and natural gas, and possibly diamonds.

Flying over Antarctica
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What About Mining in Antarctica?

Mining in Antarctica is hard for a number of reasons. First, since the ice is so thick getting under it is tricky. And the weather, which can be freezing and very windy, makes it a tough place to work. At times, you can't even see.

Even if people could find ways to mine there, it would be expensive to ship the minerals they find to other parts of the world. Antarctica is surrounded by the Southern Ocean, where the waves can be huge and icebergs float around. In other parts of the world, companies can set up platforms in the water for drilling for oil. Doing this in the Southern Ocean would be very dangerous. For now, it's less expensive to mine in other places, so there's no reason to start in Antarctica.

The Endurance, stuck in the ice in 1915
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International Agreements

But what will happen in the future if mining in Antarctica can be made cheaper and safer? In the 1980s, countries came together to talk about how mining could be allowed in Antarctica, with limits. A few countries and organizations focused on protecting the environment wanted to make sure mining would not be allowed at all. Eventually, this is what happened.

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