No, it is not possible to be born in Antarctica. Antarctica has no permanent residents or settlements where babies could be born. The entire continent is dedicated to scientific research, and the only people living there are scientists and support staff who stay for limited periods as part of research missions. Even these temporary residents do not bring families or have children while living in Antarctica.
While no modern births have occurred, there is some history of earlier explorers having children in Antarctica in the 19th and early 20th centuries. However, due to the harsh conditions and lack of medical facilities, giving birth in Antarctica at that time was extremely dangerous for both mother and child. Today, it is prohibited by the Antarctic Treaty System. Expectant mothers working in Antarctica are required to leave by their third trimester.
Why there are no permanent residents in Antarctica
Antarctica has no native human population. There are several reasons why it is uninhabited by permanent residents:
Antarctica is the coldest, windiest, and driest continent on Earth. The average annual temperature ranges from -10°C on the Antarctic coast to -60°C at higher elevation inland. In winter, temperatures can drop below -80°C. Strong winds can reach 200 mph. The low temperatures and high winds combine to produce dangerous wind chills. Overall, the climate is too extreme to support permanent human settlement.
Antarctica is the most isolated continent, located at the southern end of the planet surrounded by ocean. The nearest towns are over 1,000 miles away in Chile, Australia, and New Zealand. Transportation in and out is limited to ship and aircraft. The long distances and extreme environment make regular travel and supply lines challenging. The isolation makes it difficult to sustain permanent residents.
Lack of infrastructure
As Antarctica has never supported permanent residents, there is a complete lack of infrastructure such as housing, hospitals, schools, stores, and transportation that would be needed to sustain towns and cities. Building infrastructure is difficult given the distances, climate, and restrictions outlined in the Antarctic Treaty System. With no existing infrastructure, the continent cannot support permanent inhabitants.
Prohibition by Antarctic Treaty System
The entire continent is governed by the Antarctic Treaty System, an agreement made in 1959 to set aside Antarctica for peaceful scientific research and prohibit military activities. Article VII specifically prohibits any new claims of sovereignty in Antarctica. This makes it impossible for any private settlements or towns to be established, as that would equate to a new claim of sovereignty. The treaty has been signed by over 50 nations.
The protocol on Environmental Protection to the Antarctic Treaty prohibits harmful interference with the natural environment. This protocol was signed in 1991. Building permanent settlements with housing, waste systems, and other infrastructure would damage pristine landscapes. It would also threaten sensitive Antarctic flora and fauna. Restrictions on development are in place to minimize the human footprint.
Early Antarctic expeditions with children
While clearly prohibited today, some early explorers did bring pregnant partners and children during expeditions in the Heroic Age of Antarctic Exploration during the late 1800s and early 1900s. However, the outcomes highlight the dangers of giving birth in such hazardous conditions:
In 1914, the wife of Ernest Shackleton’s carpenter Harry McNish gave birth to a kitten named Mrs. Chippy. The cat was brought aboard the Endurance for Shackleton’s Imperial Trans-Antarctic Expedition. Mrs. Chippy proved a favorite companion to the crew until the ship became trapped in ice and sank. With limited supplies aboard the lifeboats, Mrs. Chippy was shot.
Louise Sehnal was pregnant when she traveled to the Antarctic Peninsula with her husband Dr. Rudolf Seyhnal, the doctor for the German Antarctica Expedition in 1901-1903. She gave birth on board the expedition ship in 1902. The harsh conditions took a toll on Louise and the newborn baby, who survived only a few weeks.
The San Telmo
In 1819, an ill-fated Spanish ship called the San Telmo sank off the Antarctic peninsula. There were reports of at least one baby aboard. Stories were told that a young girl named Trinidad survived the wreck and was sighted ashore later by sealing ships, but her fate was never confirmed.
Other possible births
Rumors exist that other 19th century sealing and exploring ships may have had young children aboard who were born at sea en route to Antarctica. But records are incomplete. Given the great risks, it was clearly better for mothers and babies to avoid travel so far south.
Modern restrictions on giving birth in Antarctica
While there are no laws specifically banning giving birth in Antarctica, all present-day activities on the continent are governed by the Antarctic Treaty System first established in 1959. Under these agreements, pregnancies and births are prohibited for several reasons:
There are zero medical facilities equipped for childbirth or neonatal care in Antarctica. Most research stations have basic first aid and emergency medical staff. Expectant mothers would need to be transported off continent late in their third trimester. However, transport is not always readily available due to weather delays.
Safety and liability
Pregnancies pose risks to the safety of the mother and science teams in the extreme environment. Evacuations for health reasons are challenging to coordinate. Stations are not equipped to handle extra passengers like infants. The liabilities are too high for any national Antarctic program to allow pregnancies on the ice.
The Antarctic Treaty System aims to reserve the continent for scientific research. There is a desire to minimize the human footprint. Allowing families and children would promote growth of permanent settlements, which is against the spirit of the treaty. Keeping Antarctica free of residents helps maintain it for global scientific cooperation.
Prohibition of non-scientific personnel
The treaty prohibits anyone not directly involved in the scientific research from living on stations. Pregnant partners would be considered non-scientific personnel along with children. Tourism is also tightly managed. Antarctica is only open to scientists and operations staff.
The 1991 Madrid Protocol bans activities that negatively impact the environment. Giving birth would produce medical waste such as materials used during delivery. TheProtocol seeks to keep the continent pristine by minimizing pollution and human environmental damage.
Where do Antarctic Treaty System workers come from?
There are no permanent residents in Antarctica, but up to 5,000 people work there each year to support scientific research. These workers stay temporarily on the continent at research stations run by over 40 nations. Here is a table of the top 10 nations contributing workers to Antarctica annually:
|Workers per year
The stations support scientists from even more nations around the world. Support staff assist with station operations, maintenance, transportation, food service and logistics. People come strictly for planned work terms lasting from a few weeks to a year.
Typical roles and responsibilities
Scientific disciplines represented may include:
Support roles may include:
- Station management
- Vehicle operations
- Logistics coordination
- Cargo handling
- Aircraft crews
- Chefs and kitchen staff
- Janitorial and cleaning services
- Medical support
Living conditions for workers in Antarctica
Antarctic stations provide dorm-style housing, shared restrooms and dining halls, recreation spaces, and basic medical facilities for workers. Living conditions are functional, but not luxurious. The focus is on providing the basic necessities for sustaining teams conducting research. Facilities must withstand extreme cold temperatures and wind, as well as 24 hours of daylight in summer and darkness in winter.
Most people live in shared dorm rooms with roommates, much like student housing. In some cases, couples may share rooms. Most beds are bunk beds. Closet space and furnishings are minimal. Some larger stations have individual rooms for senior personnel. Buildings are constructed atop stilts or mounted on skis so they can be periodically moved to avoid being buried by snow.
Toilets, sinks, and showers are shared. Restrooms are down the hall or in adjoining buildings. Hot water is limited due to energy constraints.
Meals are provided in centralized cafeteria or galley spaces. The menu is basic, with repetitive meals heavy on canned and frozen foods that can be transported from home nations and stored for long periods. Fresh fruits and vegetables are extremely scarce. Special dietary needs may not always be accommodated. Kitchen staff work hard to provide comfort foods.
Options are limited but may include exercise rooms, lounges, library, game rooms, bars, and small store for snacks and sundries. The great outdoors serves as another recreation venue, weather permitting. Hobbies like reading, model building, arts and crafts, and movie nights are popular pastimes during the long dark winters.
There are small medical clinics with 1-2 staff providing basic care. Serious conditions require evacuation back to home country. Pregnancies must be terminated early since hospitals with maternity wards are thousands of miles away. There are no facilities for giving birth. Expectant mothers must depart by the third trimester.
Phone, internet access, email and social media keep people connected with home. But bandwidth is limited and connections unreliable. Access to outside world can be cut off during storms. Mail is delivered sporadically when supply planes and ships can reach stations.
Why human settlements are unlikely to ever develop in Antarctica
It’s extremely unlikely that Antarctica will ever support towns or cities with permanent residents. A few reasons human settlements will never take root:
Global treaty prohibits it
The Antarctic Treaty and Environmental Protocol ban new settlements and claims of sovereignty. This preserves Antarctica for scientific research. The treaty has been ratified by over 50 nations representing most of the world’s population, so there is widespread global consensus. Changes allowing residents are improbable.
No economic incentives
There are no commercial sources of jobs or income like mining, agriculture, manufacturing or tourism that typically create cities. Only scientific research occurs, and this is state-funded. Nations have no economic motivations to develop settlements. Antarctica offers no natural resources, agricultural capacity, trade routes, or tourism potential.
Climate is completely inhospitable
The cold, dark, dry climate would be exceptionally challenging for long-term healthy human habitation. Antarctica is the coldest place on Earth. Over 99% is covered permanently in ice up to 15,000 feet thick. There is no wood, soil, or liquid water. Food and supplies would have to be imported at great cost.
Lack of infrastructure
Building materials, construction equipment/workers, utilities, transportation systems, food, waste management, healthcare, law enforcement, schools, and other municipal services would need to be introduced. The scale required makes it cost-prohibitive.
Impact on unique ecosystems
Any large scale human activity and infrastructure would threaten pristine Antarctic ecosystems teaming with biodiversity like seabirds, penguins, seals and whales. Strict conservation protects this special place.
In summary, Antarctica remains the only continent on Earth without permanent human residents or cities. While a few children were born there in the 1800s-early 1900s during exploratory expeditions, the extreme climate and lack of infrastructure and resources made survival unlikely. Today, the Antarctic Treaty System designates the entire continent for science and prohibits non-research activity like giving birth or establishing settlements. The workers who live there temporarily represent over 40 different nations, but must leave by the third trimester if pregnant. Antarctica will almost certainly remain the sole place in the world without native births or towns due to global scientific interests, isolation, environmental protections, and one of the most inhospitable climates for human life.