A Glance at the Human Population of Antarctica

When it comes to human population, Antarctica isn’t the empty field of ice many make it out to be. Sure, there are no indigenous residents, but since the turn of the 20th century whaling days, people have camped out at least part of the year somewhere on the continent. The oldest permanent base as defined by the Antarctic Treaty System is Argentina’s Orcadas Base in the South Orkney Islands, established on 22 February 1904 and inhabited ever since. Orcadas predates the explosion of permanent bases and research stations in Antarctica by a good 40-plus years, but since World War II, there has been a constant increase in the number of bases present on the continent (the most recent base, opened in 2009, is Germany’s Neumayer-Station III; India is scheduled to open its second base, Bharathi, in 2012). Today, 31 countries operate bases in Antarctica; about two-thirds of the bases in operation are staffed year-round.

830px-Antarctic_Region

A 2009 World Factbook map of year-round research stations and territorial claims in Antarctica. Click to expand (2787 x 3437).

Year-round population in Antarctica by host country

USA

346

Argentina

184

Russia

148

Chile

108

China

65

Australia

62

Japan

40

United Kingdom

38

France

33

India

25

South Korea

16

Poland

15

Brazil

12

France/Italy

12

New Zealand

12

Ukraine

12

South Africa

10

Germany

9

Uruguay

9

Norway

6

Source: Brinkhoff, T. (2008). Antarctica. City Population, 1 July 2008. Available at http://citypopulation.de/Antarctica.html. Accessed 14 June 2011.

Disregarding the summer-only population, which can swell to over 4 000, the most recent figure for year-round population on the continent is a 2008 figure of 1 162 according to City Population. 250 of these permanent residents live at the United States’ McMurdo Station, which explodes to a sizeable village of 1 200 people in summer. McMurdo has an above-ground water and sewer system connecting the buildings and hosts Antarctica’s only automating teller machine (during the 1960s, the base was even powered by a nuclear power plant, decommissioned in 1972). McMurdo’s year-round population total is much larger than the second place base, Amundsen-Scott (another American station) at 86. Overall, the United States has the largest year-round population in Antarctica with 346 people in its three permanent bases. In second place is Argentina, with 184 year-round residents spread over six bases, closely followed by Russia with 148. Chile also has a three-digit-plus year-round population; as Argentina and Chile are the two countries closest to Antarctica and both claim portions of the continent, placing permanent residents there serves both a scientific and a political purpose.

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McMurdo, the largest base by population in Antarctica. Source: USGS, http://international.usgs.gov/ipy/images/ppacket/mcmurdo118.jpeg.

The most isolated Antarctic station, Russia’s Vostok (home to the coldest reliably-measured temperature ever recorded on Earth, −89.2 °C or −128.6 °F), has a year-round population of 13 that increases to 23 in summer. The base with the smallest year-round population is Norway’s Troll, with a year-round population of 6. As with any population, the numbers change from year. For example, during the 2010 Argentine census, military personnel were sent to the six permanent Argentine bases across Antarctica and counted 230 base residents, an increase from the 2008 estimate of 184. Sizes range from 19 at Belgrano II, to 66 at Esperanza including 9 families and 16 children, to 75 at the largest base, Marambio, all of whom were scientific and military personnel.

640px-Troll_research_station_Antarctica

Troll, the least-populous permanent base in Antarctica. Source: Islarsh, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Troll_research_station_Antarctica.JPG. Licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported licence.

Antarctica isn’t entirely populated by scientific and military personnel. Two countries, Argentina and Chile, host civilian populations at Esperanza and Villa Las Estrellas, respectively. The bases house families of people working on the continent. Not only do these communities have amenities one would expect back home (schools, stores, hospitals, banks, even hostels), but at least ten children have been born at these bases. One would imagine eventually other bases would be home to a live birth at some point in the future, although it seems some bases are fairly proactive when it comes to birth control. I would imagine most countries would be wary of increasing their human footprints when it comes to Antarctica both for environmental and financial reasons (not that there haven’t been proposals for outright colonisation).

Hope Bay Argentinische Forschungstation Esperanza Antarktis

Argentina’s Esperanza Base. Source: Aah-Yeah, http://www.flickr.com/photos/25733107@N04/5192263959. Licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic licence.

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Chile’s Villa Las Estrellas. Source: J. Benavente, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Villa_Las_Estrellas.jpg.

Further Reading

Brinkhoff, T. (2008). Antarctica. City Population, 1 July 2008. Available at http://citypopulation.de/Antarctica.html. Accessed 14 June 2011.

Council of Managers of National Antarctic Programs (2009). Main Antarctic Facilities operated by National Antarctic Programs in the Antarctic Treaty Area (South of 60° latitude South). 25 March 2009. Available at https://www.comnap.aq/facilities. Accessed 14 June 2011.

Gordon, J. (2008). How often do people in Antarctica have sex? Science Buzz, 9 June 2008. Available at http://www.sciencebuzz.org/blog/how-often-do-people-antarctica-have-sex. Accessed 14 June 2011.

McLachlan, S. (2005). Vostok Station. Shades Stamp Shop, 9 December 2005. Available at http://www.newzeal.com/theme/bases/Russia/Vostok.htm. Accessed 14 June 2011.

MercoPress (2010). Argentine population in Antarctica 230, including nine families and 16 children. 26 October 2010. Available at http://en.mercopress.com/2010/10/26/argentine-population-in-antarctica-230-including-nine-families-and-16-children. Accessed 14 June 2011.

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One thought on “A Glance at the Human Population of Antarctica


  • Very interesting. I just did a post about Leonid Rogozov, the doctor who removed his own appendix while stationed at the Russian base in 1961. I wondered since then how many people have come and gone in Antarctica.

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