Anti-colonialism & Antarctic research: The insidious nature of the Antarctic Treaty

When we think about being anti-colonial in Polar research, we often defer immediately to the Arctic, owing to its presence of Indigenous peoples. While the colonial origins of Antarctic exploration (of which science was a key part) are reasonably well-known, the ongoing nature of colonialism in Antarctic politics and research is not. Here, I build on the works of some inspiring Antarctic researchers to highlight these lesser-known issues, which we should all be concerned with.

Science has never been separate from colonialism. When explorers in the 1750s from Great Britain and France travelled to Antarctica in the name of science, they were simultaneously working towards goals in which they could lay claim to land. Today, with the signing and celebration of the Antarctic Treaty, colonialism is better hidden but still persistent. As Alejandra Mancilla excellently writes, Antarctica is the one continent where colonial powers are still preserved, a continent that is still largely run by colonial and wishing-to-be colonial powers that claimed wedges of it, or reserved their rights to make a claim in the future under the auspices of the Antarctic Treaty. Today, it is an accepted trope in Antarctic humanities and social sciences that Antarctica is a fundamental part of the colonial project at the global level.

Although Antarctica is often thought of as a global commons, the reality is that most countries are not signatories of the Antarctic Treaty. Although the Antarctic Treaty’s membership has grown, amongst signatories 53 signatories only 29 states have the power to vote and therefore shape Antarctica’s legal framework. This led Prime Minister of Malaysia, Mohammed bin Mahathir, to denounce the Antarctic Treaty as, “an agreement between a select group of countries [which failed to] reflect the true feelings of the members of the United Nations or their just claims”.  Indeed, the Antarctic Treaty is largely composed of “who was there first,” thus rewarding prior attempts at occupation. Similarly, new members are forced to replicate colonising behaviours of earlier parties through the establishing scientific bases to prove that scientific research activity is being conducted.

As researchers, particularly those outside of the social sciences, we like to view research and science as objective practices when they are in fact deeply political. While membership of the Antarctic Treaty is theoretically open to all, having decision-making power is predicated on the ability to conduct substantial research activity. This position was not negotiated amongst states, but rather imposed by original, self-appointed signatories. As such, a huge group of states are left voteless when it comes to Antarctic affairs. It is therefore no surprise that many have viewed the rhetoric of universal science as a cover-up to ensure that only some (“developed”) states are the only ones to actively partake in Antarctic politics. By no means do I suggest that science is ‘bad’ in Antarctica, but, following arguments made by Mancilla, having it as the basis for privileged decision-making rights is problematic.

This is a substantial body of Antarctic research, and perhaps one of the key concerns amongst social scientists and humanities researchers in Antarctica, yet this perspective is seldom represented. One thing we can do is engage with alternative narratives and viewpoints  about Antarctica and its seas, something that Charne Lavery and Meg Samuelson discuss here. However, it is an important first step to acknowledge these power structures as an issue, to acknowledge that we are embedded in them (whether we like it or not!), before we can know how to contest them.

Resources

Batten, R. 2014. How the Antarctic reframes the context of class and Empire. Imperial and Global Forum < https://imperialglobalexeter.com/2014/08/20/how-the-antarctic-reframes-the-context-of-class-and-empire/>

Hemmings, A. D. ‘Security beyond Claims’, in Alan D. Hemmings, Donald R. Rothwell and Karen N. Scott (eds), Antarctic Security in the Twenty-First Century: Legal and Policy Perspectives (Abingdon: Routledge, 2012), 70–94, at 77

Lavery, C., 2019. Antarctica and Africa: Narrating alternate futures. Polar Record.

Mancilla, A. (2020). Decolonising Antarctica. In: Philosophies of Polar Law. < https://www.taylorfrancis.com/books/e/9780429461149/chapters/10.4324/9780429461149-3>

Antarctica Day Quiz registration now live – 1 December 7pm!

Dear All,

We are happy to announce that the UKPN has an exciting Antarctica Day Quiz running this year!

Antarctica Day has been celebrated since 2010 to commemorate the signing of the Antarctic Treaty on 1st December 1959. So, grab a pint, a penguin, and some pals and join us on 1st Dec at 19:00 GMT on zoom.

You can register with a team of max 5 people (all participating virtually, one registration per team): https://www.eventbrite.co.uk/e/antarctica-day-quiz-tickets-130384378185?fbclid=IwAR2WGGt898lezDEykuU-VzsIftRtfRX81rDOF1jdlgUHzSs9X–_HvuCw0k

Photo courtesy Stas Zakharov

Arctic sessions of MaresEdu conference 30 October

Join us next week at thr Marine Research and Education conference (online) that has a strong Arctic focus this year, see the sessions details below:

  1. Special session on the UN Decade of Ocean Science with a focus on the Arctic region

The session will feature guest presentations from Dr. Grigorii G. Akhmanov (UNESCO-MSU), Dr. Vladimir Ryabinin (IOC-UNESCO Executive Secretary), Dr. Sandy Starkweather (Sustaining Arctic Observing Networks), Christian Riisager-Simonsen (Danish Centre for Marine Research), and Evgeniia Kostianaia (Center for Coordination of Ocean Research, P.P. Shirshov Institute of Oceanology), followed by the group discussions focusing on one of the seven key societal outcomes of the Decade and their implementation in a context of the Arctic region.

 
Event registration form: https://forms.gle/ZHnJFD6E5QSQxdnMA
2. UK-Russia joint session on marine expeditions in the Arctic
 
Understanding Marine Biology and Biogeochemistry of the Changing Arctic Ocean: CAO and Russian Arctic marine research programmes. This session will discuss on-going projects in the Arctic such as the UK/Germany Changing Arctic Ocean Programme (CAO) and comparable Russian marine research programmes to provide a platform for improving UK-Russia bilateral science cooperation. There is also an opportunity to present an e-poster to highlight your own Arctic research as a part of this session.
 

Locked into ice: my scientific journey across the Arctic (live-link session 23 October)

Another exciting ooportunity below – the MOSAiC live-link session is scheduled for 23 October (17:00-18:00 UK time)

What does it feel like to be locked in ice, drifting across the Central Arctic Ocean in the middle of the polar night? Why is it both fascinating and challenging to do scientific research from a frozen ice-breaker? How do you build an ice camp on a moving Arctic floe? What mysteries does the Central Arctic Ocean hold, and in what way are Arctic researchers helping to solve them?

Join us for a live-link with Dr. Markus Frey from British Antarctic Survey who has just returned from the MOSAiC expediton, the largest year-round multinational expedition in the Central Arctic Ocean. Get an insider view into the life and work of an Arctic researcher.

Direct link for the English-speaking audienceshttps://us02web.zoom.us/j/85010418004?pwd=T3NZNStCL0doNlRKcU5vdjU3dzNCQT09

Webinar alert! UK-Russia Arctic Science Links webinar with Tomsk State University (22 October)

On 22 October, 10-11:15am UK time, SIN Russia and the NERC Arctic Office are organising a UK-Russia Arctic Science Links webinar jointly with Tomsk State University “A journey along the Siberian mega-transect: Discovering Tomsk State University and environmental research“. This is a unique opportunity to hear directly from Russian researchers on their ongoing and future scientific projects linked to Arctic research and climate change as well as learn more about their research infrastructure and explore potential for joint work.

From environmental monitoring in the Arctic and sub-Arctic regions to Siberian rock glaciers to research into the Northern Hemisphere’s largest swamp system (the Great Vasyugan Mire) – Tomsk State University covers it all and much more! We will take you on an exciting journey to discover the University’s BioClimLand multidisciplinary research centre, environmental research across Siberia’s mega-transect and opportunities for fieldwork and networking across Siberia through the Siberian Change Network (SecNet).

For more details on the webinar, including registration, please visit https://www.arctic.ac.uk/news/a-journey-along-the-siberian-mega-transect/

Join us for Antarctica Day 2020!

Are you studying the frozen planet or the poles? Do you want to learn about the Antarctic Treaty and why we celebrate it on Antarctica Day? The UK Polar Network are offering you the opportunity to learn more about this and to design and send an Antarctic flag out down to Antarctica with a fantastic team of polar researchers!

Why celebrate Antarctica Day?

On December 1st 1959, 12 nations signed the Antarctic Treaty, a document declaring that Antarctica would be off limits to military activity and setting it aside as a place for peace and scientific discoveries. Since 2010, December 1st has been celebrated each year to mark this milestone of peace and to inspire future decisions. We hope to extend the celebrations worldwide through our Antarctic Flags initiative, giving new generations the opportunity to learn about the Antarctic Treaty and to share, interpret and cherish the values associated with Antarctica!

Are you a school teacher/ individual interested in sending a flag to Antarctica?

The aim of this initiative is to inspire new generations about the Antarctic and Antarctica Day. We have many school resources, including a class plan and a PowerPoint on how you can introduce the Antarctic and Antarctica Day to your classroom before having your students send their flags south. (If you would like the sample plan in another language, we have also included translations into ChineseFrenchSpanishPortuguese and Dutch).

The idea is that following a lesson(s) on Antarctica, your students design a flag for the

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Researcher Christine Dow and her team display a flag at South Korea’s Jang Bogo Research Station.

Antarctic – as it does not have its own – based on what they have learnt. Given the current Covid-19 situation, we would like to emphasise that we can only accept 1 flag per school or classroom, so you could get your students to design their own flags and then select one or your whole class could design one together. Please ask your students to consider their design/colour choices – to be recognisable from a distance and against lots of bright snow, bright colours and designs work best!

We then ask you to send us a pdf of your flags (ideally scanned in rather than photos) and we will match them up with a researcher or engineer who will take them down to Antarctica. You will receive a photo of your flag in Antarctica together with a certificate letting you know which part of the continent your flag travelled to.

A penguin-themed flag from the British International School in Cairo, Egypt

So far we have had schools and researchers from over 20 countries involved in the Antarctic flag initiative and we would love to have your school join us this year! If you would like to register your interest, please fill in this form by October 31st 2020. Following this, we will match school groups with researchers and provide you details of how you can upload your flags (the deadline for this will be the 22nd November 2020 to ensure as many flags as possible are pictured close to Antarctica Day on December 1st).

We are keen to maintain a relationship with the school after so please do get in touch if you would like to organise a visit/ skype with a scientist. Alternatively, get in touch with education@polarnetwork.org if you would like to send a letter to a Polar Pen Pal who will be able to answer any questions your class may have about research and life in the field!

Are you a researcher travelling to Antarctica this year (2020 – 2021)?

Please help us!

If you are heading to Antarctica or any of the surrounding Antarctic islands this winter (November – January) please get in touch, we would love your help! All we ask is that you take some flags (however many you are willing to take) sent to you as a pdf or jpg and photograph them in Antarctica as proof that they have made it there. How you choose to do this is totally up to you, you can be as creative as you like! We will then ask you to please send them back to your contact on the UKPN committee who will sort out sending these back to the schools.

Any other questions?

Please get in touch with us at antarctica-day@polarnetwork.org. Make sure to follow us on our social media accounts (twitter and facebook) where we will be counting down to Antarctica Day 2020!

Meet the Committee 2020-2021

We are very excited to introduce our team of 26 volunteers who form the UK Polar Network Committee 2020-2021!

Our first committee meeting is schedulled next week and we are looking forward to getting to know each other and setting up expectations and plans for the year.

For more details and individual pages of committee members, have a look at the committee page of the website.

If you want to join the committee, don’t feel like you have to wait for a year, just get in touch with us and we will discuss the possibiliites!

Anna Gebruk: Co-President & APECS council
 
Maxine King: Co-President  
Holly Jenkins: Vice-President  
Anuszka Mosurska: Secretary & Social Media Officer  
Vicky Fowler: Treasurer & ARCTIS Organiser  
Robynne Nowicki: Head of Education and Outreach  
Kate Stockings: Head of Education and Outreach  
Saule Akhmetkaliyeva: Head of UK-Russia collaboration & APECS council  
Ben Boyes: ARCTIS Organiser  
Chloe Nunn: Festivals Coordinator  
Eva Prendergast: Festivals Coordinator  
Lucie Cassarino: UKAHT Representative   
Fiona Old: Antarctic Flags Coordinator   
Jennifer Arthur: Antarctic Flags Coordinator  
Maribel García-Ibáñez: Social Media Officer  
Angus Naylor: Social Media Officer  
Madeline Anderson: Equality, Diversity and Inclusion (EDI) Officer   
Victoria Dutch: Equality, Diversity and Inclusion (EDI) Officer  
Floortje Van Den Heuvel: Pint of Science Organiser  
Shridhar Jawak: APECS Observer for the Antarctic Bursary  
Chelsey Baker: Member-At-Large  
Anna Belcher: Member-At-Large  
Katie King: Member-At-Large

Committee positions available!

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It’s the time of year where we recruit new committee members for the 2020/21 term. The positions we have available are outlined below with short descriptions. We welcome a diverse range of people, and all you need is some enthusiasm! Traditionally the majority of the committee are PhD students, but Post-docs, Masters Students, and non-academics are always very welcome too.

Being a part of the UKPN committee is a great way to expand your Polar network, hear about unique opportunities first and develop your soft skills, and of course, it’s a lot of fun! We get a great bunch of people every year, and they represent the UKPN at national and international events alongside local officials, governments, and leading scientists. Each role will have a handover from the previous committee member and the new president and the committee will support each committee member in their role. Roles are flexible with the amount of time they need as they are seasonal, but as a ball-park, plan for two hours per week in addition to the bimonthly meeting. The time can fit into your own schedule, and the more time you have to spare, the more you can volunteer for additional tasks.

Please email president@polarnetwork.org by the 21st of August with a brief description of why you would like to take the role on. Any questions are welcomed too.

Equality, Diversity and Inclusion (EDI) officer

  • To monitor and increase EDI both within our organisation and within STEM as a field. Will work closely with education and outreach to run a mentorship scheme, fund prospective students to attend university open days, and host undergraduates within our member’s institution. Will work on linking with universities across the UK to create a diversity network.
  • The officer will be supported for the first six months by the Diversity in Polar Science Initiative, introduced to the relevant senior officials, and be supported by the UKPN EDI team.

Education & Outreach: festivals

  • Organise UKPN attendance at two UK festivals (e.g. Edinburgh festival, Bristol festival of nature), including applying for spot at festival, finding volunteers, planning activities and running stall at festival.
  • This is a joint role with one of our reps staying on from last year, giving a head start in terms of planning.

Education & Outreach: Antarctic Flags

  • A highly successful outreach activity where schools design flags for the Antarctic continent which are then sent south to researchers. This role will be to co-ordinate and deliver this project (registration of schools via google form, finding Antarcticans to take flags (electronically), and collating and sending back photos to schools).

Education and Outreach: Pint of Science

  • To organise a Pint of Science event – an informal series of interesting talks by researchers in a pub setting –  spanning three cities.
  • These events have been highly successful over the last few years, and tickets have not been difficult to sell.

Social media 

  • Manage our social media communications as well as the UKPN blog. We communicate through a large variety of channels including Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.

Social media: website

  • UK Polar network WordPress posting, and updating website with events, news, etc.

APECS International Online Conference

Registration is now open for audience members to participate in the APECS International Online Conference 2020 on 20 May!

How to register?

Please register separately for each session of the conference you wish to attend. The detailed conference programme including all abstracts and links for session registration can be found in the APECS Online Conference website: https://www.apecs.is/events/upcoming-event-highlights/apecs-international-online-conference-2020.html

We hope to see you there! 

UKPN May Polar Origami Challenge

Hello friends,

We hope you are all doing well in these challenging times. Since we can’t visit the poles to see the wildlife in its natural habitat at the moment, we thought we’d bring polar animals to you! 

Introducing our polar-themed Origami Challenge! Over the next month we want to see your best origami art, so tag us in your photos and videos of your polar origami animals and put a #PolarOrigamiChallenge.

Each week our committee members will also be uploading their attempts and links to instructions to help you with your projects. We will be posting some of the best on our social media for all to see! Follow us on Facebook, Twitter (@UKPolarNetwork) and Instagram (@ukpolarnetwork) for further updates. 

Remember – we will only repost things that live in polar environments. Happy crafting everyone!

Here you can see a beautiful origami penguin and krill by one of our VPs, Dr. Anna Belcher! 

If you’d like to make these for yourself, follow the links below for tutorials:

#PolarOrigamiChallenge #UKPNOrigami #OrigamiChallenge #PolarOutreach