Australia invests millions to better monitor Antarctica

Australia announced on Tuesday a program of 575 million US dollars (508 million euros) to strengthen its presence and its surveillance operations in Antarctica in the face of China’s growing interest in the pole. This ten-year funding plan will give Australia, according to its Prime Minister Scott Morrison, “eyes on Antarctica”, by increasing the country’s ability to study and monitor the frozen tundra and surrounding waters. using drones, helicopters and autonomous vehicles.

Australia has made territorial claims over 42% of Antarctica, more than any other country, but lacks the capacity to reach the most remote corners of the continent. Canberra fears this vacuum could be exploited by Beijing or Moscow, both increasingly active on the continent. Nearly half of the new Australian funding will be spent on increasing inland travel capabilities, mapping the far east of Antarctica from the air using drones and through the purchase of four new medium-lift helicopters.

A place of “geopolitical competition”

The program also includes environmental projects, including $5 million (€4.42 million) for research into the effects of climate change on the Antarctic ice caps and to help Pacific countries monitor the rise from sea level. Scott Morrison declined to comment on his concerns about China’s growing interest in Antarctica, saying “they don’t share the same goals as Australia.” With two year-round stations in Antarctica, China has steadily increased its spending in the region.

Beijing remains behind the United States, which maintains the largest presence in Antarctica with around 1,400 people in its three stations open all year before the pandemic. The influential Australian Institute for Strategic Policy recently warned in a report that Antarctica has become a place of “geopolitical competition” and recommended several measures to enforce the ban on military and mining activities there. Report author Evan Bloom, a polar expert at the Woodrow Wilson Center, urged the US and Australia to “carefully manage relationships with strategic competitors”, even if China and Russia are “sometimes unresponsive to calls”. compromise”. When it comes to Antarctic management, he insisted, cooperation remains vital.

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