Flags of Antarctica
Many flags have flown over Antarctica in the 200 years since it was first sited. Historically and currently, national flags are the most common flags on the continent. While they were previously used for territorial claims, since the adoption of the Antarctic Treaty in 1959 most national flags are used to signal the affiliation of a particular station or vessel. This page documents the other flags associated with the continent, though it is by no means exhaustive. If you have additions or corrections, please contact us.
The Emblem of the Antarctic Treaty
In 2002, the Antarctic Treaty Committee Meeting adopted an emblem to “provide a clear identity to the work of the ATCM and its Secretariat." which is sometimes used as a flag. International law recognizes the Antarctic Treaty System’s authority over the continent, meaning that it is the only flag to enjoy “official” status. As stated in the decision to adopt it, the emblem represents the treaty, not the continent. The decision also specifies that it may be used only by the ATCM and its Secretariat, or those operating with their authority.
Other Antarctic Flag Proposals
Several other flags have been proposed as a broader symbol of the continent and the people connected to it. None of these flags have any form of official status, and none are currently in common use on the continent. Click the images to view details and source links.
Seven countries have made eight claims to parts of Antarctica. Of those claims, four have flags officially adopted by their respective national governments. The remainder use the national flag as the symbol of their claimed territory. Click the images to view details and source links.
Several expeditions have flown their own flags during their time on the continent. These flags were always accompanied by the flag of the expedition's country of origin. Click the images to view details and source links.
Sledge flags were a relatively short-lived custom of British polar explorers first used in 1850 on an Arctic expedition to find Sir John Franklin's lost expedition. In the style of naval ships (the expedition was mounted by the Royal Navy and crewed by seamen), each sledge was given a flag, as well as a name and motto. This tradition carried on through the Heroic Age of Antarctic Exploration. There are several surviving versions of flags from Scott and Shackleton's expeditions. Most were pennants, with a few notable exceptions such as Shackleton's rectangular flag.
Sources and further reading:
Sledge-Flags: Their Origin and Development- H.G. Carr
Chivalry at the Poles: British Sledge Flags-Barbara Tomlinson
United Kingdom:Sledge Flags-Flags of the World
Illustrations of the crew's sledge flags as they appeared in the South Polar Times, a magazine created by the members of Scott's expeditions.
Flags are used to mark trails, depots, and other sites around Antarctica. These flags are usually solid colors, often with reflective patches for maximum visibility. The meaning of a particular color of flag varies across time and location, but they most often communicate a level of safety. In the US Antarctic Program sites, for example, red and green flags both mark paths that are safe to traverse while black flags mark dangerous obstacles such as ice crevasses.
Because of the large unclaimed territory in Antarctica, dozens of people have attempted to claim sovereignty in the form of micronations. These claims are explicitly forbidden in the Antarctic Treaty and are not recognized by any world government or major international organization. They exist almost exclusively online, although some have their own royal titles, currencies, and passports. Almost all have their own flag.
Source and further reading: Micronationalism in Antarctica
The flag of the Antarctic Micronational Union, like Graham Bartram's design, appears to be UN-inspired.
The following were instrumental in securing much of the information on this page:
Robert B. Stephenson, The Antarctic Circle
Laura Kissel, The Ohio State University Archives, Byrd Polar and Climate Research Center Archival Program
The many contributors to the Flags of the World website