Australian Antarctic Territory


Australia's interest in the southern continent began in 1911 when Sir Douglas Mawson led an expedition to Commonwealth Bay to conduct a variety of scientific studies that included discovering the magnetic South Pole. From 1929-31, Mawson returned to East Antarctica on the British, Australian and New Zealand Antarctic Research Expedition, during which he claimed 42% of the continent as Australian territory. Today, the Australian Antarctic Territory (AAT; Figure 7.1) comprises all land and islands south of 60°S and extends from 45°E to 160°E, with the exception of the French Territory of Adélie Land (136°–142°E). The AAT covers some 5.95 million km2 with ice shelves and ice tongues comprising another 0.14 million km2.

The AAT coastline extends over 11 200 kilometres (excluding offshore islands). Only 1110 kilometres or 10% of the coastline is exposed rock. Some parts of the rock coastline are very steep, such as the Scullin Monolith, and only few areas offer the opportunity for establishing scientific research stations on ice-free rock. Thus, while the total area of the AAT is vast, the region of operation is comparatively small and human activities are concentrated on small areas where the impacts can be significant.

Australia works actively within the international forums of the Antarctic Treaty System to pursue its Antarctic interests. The Australian Government has retained a keen interest in Antarctica and has declared four goals for the Australian Antarctic Program:b

  1. To maintain the Antarctic Treaty System and enhance Australia's influence in it.
  2. To protect the Antarctic environment.
  3. To understand the role of Antarctica in the global climate system.
  4. To undertake scientific work of practical, economic and national significance.

The AAT is administered by the Australian Antarctic Division of the Australian Government Department of Sustainability, Environment, Water, Population and Communities. Australia maintains a permanent presence in Antarctica through three continuously occupied continental stations, a station at Macquarie Island, and temporary field stations (Figure 7.2). Priority scientific research is conducted in diverse areas of Antarctic science on land and at sea. The goals and priorities of the scientific work are set out in the Australian Antarctic Science Strategic Plan 2011-12 to 2020-21.c

Wienecke B (2011). Antarctic environment: Australian Antarctic Territory. In: Australia state of the environment 2011, Australian Government Department of the Environment and Energy, Canberra,, DOI 10.4226/94/58b65b2b307c0