The impact of human activities on wilderness and aesthetic values in Antarctica

  • Rupert Summerson
  • Ian D. Bishop
Keywords: Antarctica, Madrid Protocol, wilderness, aesthetic, values, photographs


There has been little progress in implementing protection of wilderness and aesthetic values in Antarctica since the coming into force of the Protocol on Environmental Protection to the Antarctic Treaty in 1998. This can in part be attributed to a lack of research defining these values and showing how they may be assessed. In 2009, a survey comprising 90 images of Antarctic landscapes was established on the Internet to canvass as wide a cross-section of people with an interest in Antarctica as possible on their perceptions of wilderness and their aesthetic preference. At the time of writing, over 337 respondents from 23 nationalities have taken part in the survey. Responses were analysed to determine the effect of human presence, both transient and as infrastructure, on perceptions of wilderness and aesthetic values. The analysis was in three parts: (1) all images combined; (2) images grouped by landscape type, derived from the Environmental Domains of Antarctica regionalization; and (3) 16 pairs of digitally manipulated images of which respondents were shown either an original image or one in which human presence had been either digitally removed or added. Responses to images grouped by landscape type show that coastal and ice-free areas are less valued both aesthetically and as wilderness than mountainous and ice-covered terrains. Signs of human presence were found to make images significantly less likely to be considered as wilderness and also reduced their aesthetic rating. This demonstrates that human impacts on these values are measureable.

Keywords: Antarctica; Madrid Protocol; wilderness; aesthetic; values; photographs

(Published: 28 December 2012)

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Citation: Polar Research 2012, 31, 10858,


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How to Cite
Summerson, R., & Bishop, I. (2012). The impact of human activities on wilderness and aesthetic values in Antarctica. Polar Research, 31.
Thematic cluster. Human impacts in the Arctic and Antarctic