Nations with regular operations in Antartica are bound by the Antarctic Treaty of 1959. The 12 original nations to adopt the Antarctic treaty were Argentina, Australia, Chile, France, New Zealand, Norway, the United Kingdom, the United States, the Soviet Union, Japan, South Africa, and Belgium, but the number who have adopted the treaty has grown to 53. It is a symbol of international cooperation that is unparalleled and its influence can clearly be seen in the Outer Space Treaty of 1967. Some important provisions of the Treaty are: Antarctica shall be used for peaceful purposes only (Art. I) Freedom of scientific investigation in Antarctica and cooperation toward that end … shall continue (Art. II). Scientific observations and results from Antarctica shall be exchanged and made freely available (Art. III). Among the signatories of the Treaty were seven countries - Argentina, Australia, Chile, France, New Zealand, Norway and the United Kingdom - with territorial claims, sometimes overlapping. Other countries do not recognize any claims. The US and Russia maintain a “basis of claim”. All positions are explicitly protected in Article IV, which preserves the status quo: "No acts or activities taking place while the present Treaty is in force shall constitute a basis for asserting, supporting or denying a claim to territorial sovereignty in Antarctica or create any rights of sovereignty in Antarctica. No new claim, or enlargement of an existing claim to territorial sovereignty in Antarctica shall be asserted while the present Treaty is in force. To promote the objectives and ensure the observance of the provisions of the Treaty, "All areas of Antarctica, including all stations, installations, and equipment within those areas … shall be open at all times to inspection" (Art. VII). The treaty is explicit about the peaceful use of Antartica, scientific investigation and operations, and environmental protection.
The transfer of the neutron monitors is an excellent example of scientific cooperation in Antartica. The neutron monitors are the longest running scientific experiment on the continent. To keep them running they are being transferred from McMurdo Station (a US facility) to Jang Bojo (a South Korean Station). This exemplifies the spirit of international cooperation in Antarctica. Daily life in the antarctic is also directly influenced by the treaty, particularly by the 1991 Protocol on Environmental Protection to the Antarctic Treaty. Before setting foot in Antarctica I was made aware of my responsibilities in this regard. Before I left home I was encouraged to wash all items and scrub bags and footwear to reduce the risk of bringing in invasive species or other contaminating bodies. I was also advised to minimize my impact on local wildlife. As a rule of thumb if an animal changes its behavior because of you then you are too close. Before boarding flights I was reminded that spills in the antarctic are a very serious issue. Even a few drips of oil from a snow machine or a bit of gas spilled when fueling equipment need to be reported so that they might be properly contained and cleaned. The folks at McMurdo take this responsibility seriously not only because violation is a crime but more importantly there is a great sense of stewardship and pride among the people in Antartica. The culture is one of respect. I'll be doing my best to live up to that.