Petroleum and mineral resources of Antarctica

Circular 909

Work done in cooperation with the National Science Foundation
Edited by:
John Charles Behrendt



No known petroleum or mineral resources occur in Antarctica. The data on these subjects have been collected, mainly since the IGY (International Geophysical Year), 1957-58, as a part of other research carried out by geologists and geophysicists from a number of countries. Specific resource-related studies have not been made. Wright and Williams (1974) summarized what was known of Antarctic mineral resources a decade ago.

The U.S. Geological Survey has been actively pursuing various investigations in Antarctica since 194 7. In the course of this work and that of our colleagues elsewhere in the United States and in other countries, much information relevant to petroleum and mineral resources has been obtained. Since 1976, modern state-of-the-art multichannel seismic reflection and aeromagnetic surveys by several countries over the continental margin of Antarctica have indicated thick sedimentary basins. However, no offshore drilling beneath the continental shelf has taken place since the DSDP (Deep Sea Drilling Project) holes in the Ross Sea in 1973. Geologic field investigations begun at the turn of the twentieth century have been intensified in the past two decades; most rock outcrops have been visited and samples collected. Technology to exploit resources, particularly in the Arctic, has been developing at a rapid rate, and much of it could be applied to Antarctica.

As a result of the petroleum price increases of the past decade, the attention of a number of countries has turned to Antarctica, but under the policy of "voluntary restraint" adopted by the Antarctic Treaty nations, no active petroleum or mineral exploration is taking place. The Antarctic treaty countries are in the process of negotiating an Antarctic mineral resources regime that is anticipated to be completed within the next several years. Therefore it seemed timely to us to readdress the question of petroleum and mineral resources. These reports review and summarize the available information. The first report summarizes the information relevant to petroleum resources. Although uneconomic at present, petroleum is generally considered more likely to be exploited (if supergiant fields were ever found) in the next few decades than hard minerals. The second report reviews the reported occurrences of minerals in Antarctica and discusses their significance. The final report discusses the Dufek layered mafic intrusion, second only to the Bushveld Complex in size in the world; the Dufek intrusion might be considered as a potential target for mineral exploration. 

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USGS Numbered Series
Petroleum and mineral resources of Antarctica
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U.S. Geological Survey
75 p.