An article in yesterday's Post erroneously reported that the United States and six other industrialized nations had proposed the immediate exploitation of natural resources in Antarctic. Officials of the State Department and the National Science Foundation said the United States has proposed that some machinery be set up to deal with the future exploitation of the resources. A State Department official also noted that information about resources is not kept secret, as the article said. The official said that signatories of the treaty publish the results of their Antarctic research in full.
Maps of this Argentine science and weather station are full of dotted lines: this will be the new runway, that the recreation center, this the big hotel. Plans to turn part of the frozen Antarctic into a tourist resort are only one of the ways in which 19 nations are maneuvering here to establish future access to possible vast reservoirs of oil, minerals and even food.
This ice-covered continent, the size of the 50 United States plus half of Canada, has been internationalized and dedicated exclusively to joint scientific efforts since the 1959 Treaty of Washington. The 12 signatories and seven other countries that later joined agreed to held their territorial and other claims in abeyance until 1991. Until recently, there has been little interest in moving forward the date for a solution.
With pressures rising on known food and energy resources, however, the possibility of riches beneath the millions of years of ice and among the offshore icebergs has led the United States and six of the more industrialized treaty members to call for an immediate opening of the area to exploitation by all comers.
Argentina is not among the nations favoring such exploitation. Neither is Chile, whose president, Gen. Augusto Pinochet, recently visited Antarctica to reaffirm his country's claim. The two countries lack the technology to exploit any of the continent's deeply buried possible resources. Two other signatories opposed to international exploitation, Australia and the Soviet Union, have huge unexploited areas at home to deal with first.
There was a deadlock, on the issue at the treaty signatories' consultative meeting in Paris last year, and it is certain to be central at the next gathering in London in September.
"It's reasonable to presume there are any hydrocarbons present," said executive secretary George E. Hemmen of the Science Committee for Antarctic Research (SCAR), part of the International council of Scientific Unions that has called for extensive studies before any decision on exploitation is made.
Fossil and geologic evidence has led other scientists to estimate that the continent may harbor more than 40 billion barrels of oil, a legacy of the days when long-necked plesiosaur dinosaurs roamed the area and sharks swam in its warm waters.
Gold, uranium, copper and coal may also abound, but most of the quantitative estimates that have been made are closely held secrets.
Such information is crucial in the jockeying for future positions of influence here, but research other than the strictly scientific is prohibited under the terms of the 1959 treaty.
Even so, Japanese, Soviet and West German vessels are already harvesting vast crops of krill, a finger-length crustacean that swims along the Antarctic coasts in schools so dense that loads of 10 to 12 tons have been made in an hour. Once the main food of whales that used to draw seamen generations ago, the little animals are so rich in protein that 10 of them are more nourishing than a half-pound of steak.
German studies, based on sonar and satellite observation, have estimated that 200 million metric tons of krill could be taken annually, or one-third the existing supply, without harming future years' fishing or disturbing the Antarctic waters' food chain. The world's annual total fish catch is now only 70 million metric tons. Krill can be eaten as is, or ground into fishmeal for fertilizer, protein-enrichment powder or meat substitutes.
None of these future possibilities is lost on any of the countries now at work in Antarctica. Seven of them - Norway, Great Britain, Australia, New Zealand, France, Argentina and Chile - have territorial claims, many overlapping. The British claim, for instance, includes all of the Argentine claim, which consists of a pie-slice wedge with the point at the South Pole. It is half the size of Argentina. Chile's claim laps over onto the Argentine one, and Pinochet's trip to that area received wide and indignant coverage in the Argentine press.
"We can't say these things yet, because the treaty doesn't expire until 1991, but I know in my heart this is Argentine land," said Marambio base commander Vice Commodore Anselmo Ramon Aguillera.
His second in command, Lt. Victor Soler, explained the Argentine attitude: "We are sure that the land will eventually be divided according to whoever has put the most work into it, in terms of hours, history, construction and dedication."
With this in mind, the Argentines emphasize their record as the first nation to set up a permanent station on the continent, on the Orcades islands in 1904. The continent had been discovered by the Englishman James Cook in the 17th century, but ignored as useless until until the sealing ships came in the early 1800s.
English explorer Nathaniel Palmer, for whom one of the four U.S. stations is named, recorded that his vessel pursued the Argentine ship Espiritu Santo to locate prie sealing grounds in 1818, and Hungary set up the first weather station, in 1870, and Norwegian explorer Roald Amundsen first reached the South Pole in 1911-12.
Now there are an estimated 35 stations, some little more than supply dumps, spotted around the continent, the number rising in summer and falling in winter. The overall population similarly varies: from 500 to 750 in the winter to more than 5,000 during the summer months, when life can be more than a mere battle to survive. The United States maintains a minimum of 23 scientists on its four bases, according to 1974 figures, including the only one at the geographic pole as well as the largest - McMurdo, a city by Antarctic standards, with more than 200 persons.
The Soviet Union, however, has bases at both the magnetic South Pole and at the continent's oldest spot, plus four other widely scattered stations. Argentina claims the most stations, 14, although half are usually inactive at any one time. Most of Britain's six outposts are located in what Argentina calls its territory.
Under the treaty terms, any nation can locate stations anywhere it pleases and all the signatories have pledged coorperation in Antarctic research. The treaty bans military bases, guns or fortifications. A U.S. institute's proposal in 1973 to store nuclear waste in Antarctica was rejected.
Still all the nations rely on their armed forces to shoulder the immense logistical and technical diffculties of setting up scientific outposts here. A 1969 study cited by Robert Rutford of the polar programs division of the National Science Foundation, which supervises U.S. activity in Antarctica, estimated that the United States spent $100,000 per year for every person it had here. That was $45 million then, and the figure has risen.
The main product of all this activity has been a flood of weather information. Many meteorologists theorize that the polar air masses and ocean currents hold the key to breaking the world's code, a system whose many complex variables are only beginning to be discovered. Data from all the stations and around the world is funneled through computers at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration in Washington and bounded back in the form of maps and summaries.
Eduardo Viotti, chief of the Antarctic section of the Argertine national weather service, tells the crews of the big Hercules C-130 supply planes whether conditions here at Marambio will be good enough to risk a landing on the frozen mud runway, the only runway in Antarctica that wheeled planes can use year round. "If our Washington wire is out, that's the end of weather forecasting here," he said.
Planes often wait several days for the end of blizzards or winds that may reach 120 miles per hour before beginning the 3 1/2 hour flight from Rio Gallegos in Argentina. Even so, conditions may change quickly enough to prohibit a landing, as happened to a recent flight that had to return to Rio Gallegos.
The eight-year-old base owes both its existence and most of its danger to endless winds. Ten airmen have died in three separate helicopter crashes since September, their on-shore death sites marked with wooden crosses. But the winds mean that the flat top of the figure-eight-shaped island, 120 feet above the sea, is bare earth and clear of snow the year around.
U.S. access to its bases is maintained out of New Zealand, by boat in summer and skiplane in winter. But there is close communication between the U.S. Palmer Base and Marambio, just across the peninsula.
"The air is so pure here that every time a planeload of visitors comes in, it leaves behind five or six cases of flu," said Dr Francisco Nigro. Such medical and biological phenomena are also part of the ongoing research.
Argentina's plan to convert Marambio into an eventual tourist stop is not without precedent. The ousted government of President Isabel Peron ran cruises to several Antarctic bases that carried more than 2,000 persons annually up to last year. The military government, however, halted the runs as unprofitable after learning that most places on the cruises had been given out free as political favors.
"The exploration and conquest phases are finished," said retired Vice Commodore Mario L. Olezza, one of the Argentine pioneers here, in a recent published interview. "Now we have to begin the third stage, which is colonization."