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  • Antarctica, a continent of mystery and natural wonders?

  • Covered with ice four kilometers deep.

  • Temperatures can drop to minus 93 degrees Celcius.

  • 75 percent of our planet's fresh water is locked up in its ice sheet?

  • ...and yet it's classified as the largest desert on Earth.

  • This could be the only place in the world

  • where diverse countries have rallied together in the name of peace

  • and scienceto protect the environment.

  • The part about the ice and temperatures... sure.

  • But the part about peace and the environment - it's hard to believe.

  • Not just because I'm concerned about nature.

  • But also because I lived in Syria in 2009.

  • So, I don't have much faith left in peace...

  • ...or in the international community.

  • But I'd love to be proven wrong.

  • We've come to Punta Arenas,

  • where the polar research vessel Hespérides is picking up

  • a group of Spanish scientists to take them to Antarctica.

  • I'm already nervous.

  • You'll get used to it. It's no big deal.

  • It's amazing.

  • I've even got a window.

  • Bottom bunk? Last night was rough.

  • We went to bed early, but I had a hard time falling asleep.

  • I must have slept just four hours because I was so nervous about the trip.

  • I embarked on this journey to explore the myths of Antarctica.

  • After one day at sea, we reach the end of the world.

  • At the southernmost tip of Argentina,

  • Tierra del Fuego is still a thousand kilometers

  • from the continent of Antarctica. This is the Drake Passage.

  • Eddies and wind churn freely here,

  • whipping up violent seas in one of the Earth's roughest waterways.

  • The worst storm to date hit us this year.

  • It was our second trip back from Antarctica,

  • we were about 18 hours from South America

  • when a severe weather system hit us from the starboard.

  • We faced 7-meter-high waves and winds of up to 50 knots.

  • Every time the crew sails into the Drake Passage,

  • they have their mobile phones camera-ready.

  • Here comes a monster wave!

  • Could be taller!

  • These are the outlines of Cape Horn, a notorious maritime graveyard

  • that harbors the sunken wrecks of hundreds of ships.

  • Even today the Drake Passage commands respect:

  • everyone battens down the hatches.

  • It wasn't so dramatic on our trip, though.

  • Luckily, technology has improved a lot, and today, before setting sail,

  • we can check the weather forecast to find the best window

  • for crossing the Drake Passage.

  • The adventure may not be as wild as it once was.

  • But it's still beautiful.

  • Antarctica has been subject to territorial disputes for centuries.

  • The passage was first sailed by Spaniard Francisco de Hoces in 1525.

  • Fifty years later, it was discovered by the English explorer Sir Francis Drake

  • - and bears his name to this day.

  • In the early 20th century,

  • seven countries laid territorial claims to parts of Antarctica.

  • The overlapping claims of the United Kingdom,

  • Argentina and Chile caused tensions that erupted into armed conflict

  • between Britain and Argentina in 1952. As the Cold War set in,

  • the last thing the world needed was a new geopolitical flashpoint.

  • It was that realization that gave rise to the Antarctic Treaty.

  • Many people including scientists were looking for ways to cooperate

  • and there was the International Geophysical Year in 1957-1958

  • and that worked out so well that there was this idea

  • that there could be cooperation in Antarctica.

  • They felt that there was a way,

  • and it's shown in the article 4 of the Treaty,

  • to set aside the claims and to say that there would be a demilitarization.

  • But it's also, as?you may know, one of the first arms control treaties,

  • so it was focused on keeping the peace in that respect as well.

  • But none of that was the result of good will alone:

  • the extreme climate made it difficult to exploit the region economically,

  • and the US and Soviet Union staked their territorial claims

  • quite late in the game.

  • Four days after leaving Punta Arenas, the Hespérides reaches Antarctica.

  • Everyone is excited. We got up at five in the morning

  • to catch our first glimpse of the coastline.

  • What we hadn't expected was the fog.

  • We are two and a half miles away, and you can't see anything.

  • A few hours later, the fog lifts, and at last we can see Antarctica.

  • The Hespérides' first stop is King George Island.

  • The Spanish team is delivering supplies to the Uruguayan station Artigas.

  • Antarctic cooperation is running smoothly.

  • The Antarctic Treaty is very effective.

  • Under its terms, this location is devoted solely to science.

  • It has played a key role in getting all countries

  • to set aside their other interests, at least publicly,

  • and it's been that way for a very long time.

  • Unfortunately, the same is not true in other parts of the world,

  • where usually economic interests take precedence over scientific cooperation.

  • Could this model be exported beyond Antarctica?

  • That's a good question. It's something many on the planet would support.

  • Because King George Island offers the easiest access to Antarctica,

  • it has the greatest concentration of stations on the entire continent.

  • There are facilities here belonging to Uruguay, Russia, Chile, Argentina,

  • Brazil, China, Poland, Peru, Ecuador, the Czech Republic,

  • South Korea and Bulgaria.

  • The Antarctic Treaty regulates how many new stations can open

  • so that it doesn't get too crowded.

  • It's always better to coexist peacefully with your neighbors

  • and get along. The first thing we did was to establish good relations

  • with all our neighbors. Cooperation is vital in Antarctica.

  • When there are tensions between the US and Russia,

  • does it affect the cooperation in Antarctica?

  • I wouldn't say there is no effect.

  • But, by and large the cooperation has continued.

  • It doesn't mean that those tensions aren't in some respects

  • in the background somewhere, But at least in the terms of the Antarctic

  • programs and the Arctic programs and the work of the scientists together

  • by and large that continues.

  • In 2004, Russia imported wood from Siberian pines,

  • its national tree, to construct a small Orthodox church here in Antarctica.

  • Critics say it's a sly way to stake a territorial claim.

  • The Chilean station has its own church too.

  • It also has a school for the children of soldiers

  • stationed on the base year-round.

  • It is the closest thing you'll find to a settlement in Antarctica.

  • In the 1970s, Argentina's military dictatorship

  • sent pregnant women to give birth in Antarctica,

  • to underscore its territorial claims.

  • Chilean dictator Augusto Pinochet copied the tactic.

  • But it was widely viewed as provocative,

  • and after the birth of eight Argentinians and three Chileans,

  • both countries ended the policy.

  • Today, more subtle strategies are used to cement territorial claims,

  • as seen on Chilean television.

  • The Easter Island will be overcast with partially cloudy skies,

  • whereas Chilean Antarctica... whereas Chilean Antarctica will be mostly sunny.

  • What do Chileans think about their country's claims to Antarctica?

  • To be honest, there isn't much public debate on the topic.

  • When I was little, people did talk about it a bit.

  • But later on, the political discourse subsided.

  • Today people primarily associate it with environmental protection.

  • That's the trend I've observed, especially among young people.

  • Chileans my age hardly discuss the issue. For us it's simple:

  • we see Antarctica as a place where many nations come together.

  • There's no reason why we should be more entitled to it than anyone else.

  • Do you think we can save Antarctica

  • if we've failed to do the same in other places?

  • I think it's exactly because we've made so many mistakes in other places

  • that we have a shot at saving Antarctica.

  • Spain has two stations in Antarctica.

  • Its National Research Center operates the Juan Carlos I Station

  • on Livingston Island. It was built in the late 1980s

  • and remodeled in 2008 into a modern facility

  • that looks a bit like a space station.

  • This station is used in the summer.

  • It doesn't need to withstand the harsh conditions

  • you'd expect to encounter in Antarctica.

  • Today, there is hardly any wind,

  • but two days ago we had gusts of nearly 40 knots, or 80 kilometers an hour,

  • which drives the wind chill factor down to minus 15 or 20 degrees Celcius.

  • Jerónimopez and his team study the continent's geology,

  • which they say is of essential importance to the rest of the planet.

  • Antarctica affects the whole world's climate, doesn't it?

  • It is the planet's cold factory.

  • It's really cold in the Arctic, too, but not to the same extent.

  • There's also a lot more ice in Antarctica than in the Arctic.

  • Antarctic deep seawater reaches as far as the Iberian Peninsula

  • and continues to circulate around the northern hemisphere.

  • These waters sometimes flow all the way up to the Arctic,

  • where they cool back down again.

  • The motor driving this circulation is Antarctica.

  • One of the most important projects at the Juan Carlos I Station

  • is its study of the Hurd and Johnson glaciers.

  • In recent years

  • we've evaluated the state of the mass balance of the Antarctic Ice Sheet.

  • We found that the gains of ice have been greater

  • than the losses of its thinning glaciers.

  • But next year's data will probably indicate the exact opposite.