British Antarctic Territory

Grahamsland
Grahamsland

The British Antarctic Territory (BAT) is a sector of Antarctica claimed by the United Kingdom as one of its 14 British Overseas Territories and is the largest. It comprises the region south of 60°S latitude and between longitudes 20°W and 80°W, forming a wedge shape that extends to the South Pole, overlapping the Antarctic claims of Argentina (Argentine Antarctica) and Chile (Antártica Chilena Province).

The Territory was formed on 3 March 1962, although the UK’s claim to this portion of the Antarctic dates back to Letters Patent of 1908 and 1917. The area now covered by the Territory includes three regions which, before 1962, were administered by the British as separate dependencies of the Falkland Islands: Graham Land, the South Orkney Islands, and the South Shetland Islands. Since the Antarctic Treaty came into force in 1961, Article 1 of which states “The treaty does not recognize, dispute, nor establish territorial sovereignty claims; no new claims shall be asserted while the treaty is in force”, most countries do not recognise territorial claims in Antarctica. The United Kingdom has ratified the treaty.

In 2012, the southern part of the territory was named Queen Elizabeth Land in honour of Queen Elizabeth II.

The territory is inhabited by the staff of research and support stations operated and maintained by the British Antarctic Survey and other organisations, and stations of Argentina, Chile and other countries. There are no native inhabitants.


 

Flag of the British Antarctic Territory

The flag of the British Antarctic Territory was granted in 1963, a year after the British Antarctic Territory was created. Previously the Territory was a part of the Falkland Islands Dependencies and used the same flag.

The flag is a white ensign with the Union Flag in the canton, defaced with the coat of arms of the British Antarctic Territory.
The flag flies over the British research stations in the Territory.

Vessels of the British Antarctic Survey use a blue ensign defaced with the shield from the coat of arms. A flag is available for the Commissioner of the British Antarctic Territory, a Union Flag defaced with the coat of arms.


 

Coat of arms of the British Antarctic Territory

coa-batThe coat of arms of the British Antarctic Territory was first granted in 1952, when the territory was still a dependency of the Falkland Islands (along with South Georgia and the South Sandwich Islands).

The arms consist of a shield bearing a flaming torch on a wavy background representing the sea. The dexter supporter is a golden lion, representing the United Kingdom.
The sinister supporter is an Emperor penguin, representing the native wildlife in the territory. The lion stands on a compartment of grass, while the penguin stands on a compartment of ice. The crest is a representation of the RRS Discovery, the research ship used by Robert Falcon Scott and Ernest Shackleton on their first journey to the Antarctic.

The motto is “Research and Discovery”, reflecting the aims of the British Antarctic Survey.

The coat of arms appears in the fly of the flag of the British Antarctic Territory.


 

History

Scott’s Hut

The United Kingdom has had a continuous presence in the far South Atlantic since 1833 when it reasserted sovereignty over the Falkland Islands. In 1908, the UK extended its territorial claim by declaring sovereignty over “South Georgia, the South Orkneys, the South Shetlands, and the Sandwich Islands, and Graham’s Land, situated in the South Atlantic Ocean and on the Antarctic continent to the south of the 50th parallel of south latitude, and lying between the 20th and the 80th degrees of west longitude”.
All these territories were administered as Falkland Islands Dependencies from Stanley by the Governor of the Falkland Islands.

In 1917, the wording of the claim was modified, so as to, among other things, unambiguously include all the territory in the sector stretching to the South Pole (thus encompassing all of the present-day British Antarctic Territory). The new claim covered “all islands and territories whatsoever between the 20th degree of west longitude and the 50th degree of west longitude which are situated south of the 50th parallel of south latitude; and all islands and territories whatsoever between the 50th degree of west longitude and the 80th degree of west longitude which are situated south of the 58th parallel of south latitude”.

In 1943, at the height of World War II, the UK undertook a military operation known as Operation Tabarin, to provide reconnaissance and meteorological information in the South Atlantic Ocean. This “secret” wartime project became the civilian Falkland Islands Dependencies Survey and later the British Antarctic Survey (BAS). BAS is responsible for most of the United Kingdom’s scientific research in Antarctica. In the 1950s the Antarctic Treaty was negotiated to demilitarise the region and retain Antarctica – defined as all land and ice shelves south of 60°S latitude – for peaceful research purposes. The treaty was passed in 1961.


 

Recognition

The Antarctic Treaty, signed by all relevant regional claimants, does not in itself either recognise or dispute any territorial claims, leaving this matter to individual signatories.
Most of the world’s countries do not recognise any national claims to Antarctica.

The UK, France, Norway, New Zealand and Australia, all of whom have territorial claims on the continent, mutually recognise each other’s claims. Argentina and Chile dispute the British claim, and make their own counter-claims that overlap both Britain’s and each other’s.


 

bat-map
British Antarctic Territory – Click to enlarge

GeographyTopography

The British Antarctic Territory includes the Antarctic Peninsula, the South Shetland Islands, South Orkney Islands and numerous other offshore islands, the Ronne Ice Shelf (Weddell Sea), parts of Coats Land.
A 169,000 square mile (437,000 square km) triangle of central Antarctica converging on the South Pole was named Queen Elizabeth Land in December 2012, in honour of the Diamond Jubilee of Elizabeth II.

Over 99 percent of the territory’s land surface is covered by a permanent ice sheet, up to about 3 miles (5 km) thick.
The highest peak is Mount Jackson, on the Antarctic Peninsula, at 3,184 metres (10,446 ft).


Vegetation

There are very few plants in the British Antarctic Territories and most of them are mosses and lichens, but there are also two flowering plants: the Antarctic hairgrass and Antarctic pearlwort.


Wildlife

Many bird species, including seven species of penguin breed in the British Antarctic Territories. The British Antarctic Territories are also home to six species of seals.


 

Administration

The British Antarctic Territory is administered by the Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO). A Commissioner is appointed and is always the Head of the FCO’s Overseas Territories Department.

The Territory has a full suite of laws, and legal and postal administrations. Given the provisions of the Antarctic Treaty System, the Territory does not enforce its laws on foreign nations who maintain scientific bases within the Territory. It is self-financing, with income from the sale of postage stamps and income tax.


 

Nationality Law

The territory is fully a part of the British Overseas Territories for nationality purposes. It is possible to hold British Overseas Territories citizenship (BOTC) by virtue of a connection with the territory. Additionally, since the relevant provisions of the British Overseas Territories Act 2002 came into force on 21 May 2002, a BOTC connected with the territory would also hold British citizenship.

Although this territory’s immigration laws would not allow for naturalisation, a person born in the territory before 1983 would hold BOTC (and British citizenship) on that basis.
British citizenship and BOTC would also extend to the first generation born overseas.
No people currently fall into this category. While Emilio Palma was born in the Antarctic territories claimed by the UK, he has not claimed British citizenship.
Since his parents were both Argentine citizens and he was born at an Argentine base, he was automatically granted Argentine citizenship by the Argentine government.

Changes to British nationality law from 1 January 1983 ensure that no claims to BOTC or British citizenship by virtue of a connection to the territory can be made by those born from that date.


 

Research stations

Rothera Research Station

The British Antarctic Survey has two permanently staffed research stations in the Territory:

  • Halley
  • Rothera

Signy was operated from 1947 until 1996 and now is only staffed in the summer.

There are also two summer-only forward operating stations at Fossil Bluff and Sky Blu.

Faraday was maintained until 1996, when it was sold to Ukraine and renamed Akademik Vernadsky Station.

Since 1996, the historic base at Port Lockroy on Goudier Island has been staffed by the UK Antarctic Heritage Trust during the Antarctic summer. Receiving about 10,000 visitors a year, it is one of the most visited sites on the continent. Visitors can tour the museum, buy souvenirs, post mail, and view the large gentoo penguin colony.

Argentine presence in the territory dates to the foundation of the Orcadas Base, South Orkney Islands, in 1903.

A number of other nations maintain bases in the territory, many in the South Shetland Islands.


Halley Research Station

Halley Research Station, run by the British Antarctic Survey, is located on the Brunt Ice Shelf floating on the Weddell Sea in Antarctica. It is a British research facility[1] dedicated to the study of the Earth’s atmosphere. Measurements from Halley led to the discovery of the ozone hole in 1985.

Halley was founded in 1956, for the International Geophysical Year of 1957-58, by an expedition from the Royal Society. The bay where the expedition decided to set up their base was named Halley Bay, after the astronomer Edmond Halley. The name was changed to Halley in 1977 as the original bay had disappeared due to changes in the ice shelf. The latest station, Halley VI, was officially opened in February 2013 after a test winter.

On 30 July 2014, the station lost its electrical and heating supply for 19 hours.
During the outage, there were record low temperatures. Power was partially restored, with all science activities, apart from meteorological observations essential for weather forecasting were suspended. Plans were made to abandon some of the eight modules and to shelter in the remaining few.


Rothera Research Station

Rothera research station is a British Antarctic Survey (BAS) base on the Antarctic Peninsula, located at Rothera Point, Adelaide Island. Rothera also serves as the capital of the British Overseas Territory, the British Antarctic Territory.
Rothera Station is the BAS logistics centre for the Antarctic and home to well-equipped biological laboratories and facilities for a wide range of research.

The station is situated on a rock and raised beach promontory at the southern extremity of Wormald Ice Piedmont, south-eastern Adelaide Island. The station has a 900 m (2,950 ft) crushed rock runway, with an associated hangar and bulk fuel storage facility, and a wharf for the discharge of cargo from supply ships. There is a transitory summer population of scientists and support staff who reach Rothera either by ship or through use of an intercontinental Dash-7 aircraft flying from the Falkland Islands.


 

Queen Elizabeth Land

On 18 December 2012, the Foreign & Commonwealth Office announced that the southern part of British Antarctic Territory has been named Queen Elizabeth Land in honour of Queen Elizabeth II in her Diamond Jubilee year. The area, the southern third of the territory, has an area of about 169,000 square miles (437,000 square km) (almost twice the size of the United Kingdom) and is roughly triangular in shape, with the South Pole at one apex and with the 20°W and 80°W lines of longitude forming the eastern and western boundaries. The northern boundary is formed by the Filchner-Ronne Ice Shelf on the west and by Coats Land on the east.

The name “Queen Elizabeth Land” will be used in future on all British maps, but due to the unique status of Antarctica, it will be up to other countries to recognise the name if they see fit. Argentina, which lays claim to part of the area, criticised the naming.


 

Postage Stamps & Coins

bat-stampDespite the lack of permanent inhabitants, the British Antarctic Territory issues its own postage stamps.
While some are actually used by visiting tourists and resident scientists, the bulk are sold overseas to collectors. The first issue came in 1963, an engraved set with 15 values ranging from ½d to one pound, featuring a portrait of Queen Elizabeth overlooking various scenes of human activity in Antarctica.
Several additional issues in the 1960s were followed by a decimalisation issue in 1971 produced by overprinting the 1963 stamps.

In 2008–2009, as part of the celebrations of the centenary of the 1908 British territorial claim, the British Antarctic Territory issued its first ever legal-tender coin.

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