For the first time in history, national Antarctic programs, expedition teams, and other Antarctic organizations from around the world have adopted a flag for Antarctica. The adoption of the flag, called True South, is the result of an international effort to promote cooperation and bring greater attention to the value and vulnerability of Antarctica.
“We are highly conscious of the fragile balance of Earth's ecosystems and the key role of human understanding and unity in their protection,” said Dr. Pavel Kapler, manager of the Czech Antarctic Research Programme. “True South is designated to be a reminder that the stewardship of Antarctica is the privilege and responsibility of all of us.”
The continent of Antarctica has no central government and no permanent human population. Instead, it is regulated by an international treaty that sets the continent aside for scientific purposes. Rotating teams of researchers and staff travel from around the world to work at one of the few dozen stations on the continent. Science support contractor Evan Townsend created True South while living at one of these stations during the winter of 2018. Inspired by his isolation during the polar night, Townsend sewed the first version of the flag using the scraps of tents and canvas field bags.
“The conservation of Antarctica is our collective responsibility, but it’s hard to get people to care about something so distant and remote,” said Townsend. “My hope is that this flag helps people feel connected and brings some of the wonder of Antarctica a little closer.
The flag is composed of two stripes which represent the long nights and long days on the continent. In the top-center of the flag is a white peak representing mountains and icebergs, and below is a compass arrow pointing south. Together the two shapes form a diamond, which represents the hope that Antarctica will continue to be a place of peace and discovery for generations to come.
Although there have been other proposals for a flag for Antarctica, True South is the first proposal to be formally adopted by members of the global Antarctic community and the only proposal created in Antarctica. Since the design was first publicly revealed in August of last year, the flag has flown at dozens of locations across Antarctica. But Townsend emphasized that this is not just a flag for people on the icy continent.
“The flag has flown on every other continent as well, and all sorts of people are getting involved,” said Townsend. “It doesn’t matter if you’re a primary school student or you have a Ph.D. in glaciology, if you care about Antarctica this can be your flag too.”
Dr. Joann Peck, Associate Professor of Marketing at the University of Wisconsin-Madison School of Business, researches how feelings of connection affect the conservation of shared spaces. She believes True South could be a critical tool for Antarctica.
“Reminding people that it is their continent and their flag will be an effective way to increase psychological ownership, and this will pay off in terms of stewardship of the valuable resource of Antarctica,” said Peck.
Although True South has proven popular within the Antarctic community, it is still in its earliest stages. Adoption is not yet universal among the countries operating on the continent, but supporters of the flag are optimistic its nonpolitical message of cooperation and conservation will continue to resonate across the globe.
“We hold the power to protect our future by discovering our past in this unique continent which is devoted to science and peace,” said Dr. Burcu Ozsoy, Director of the Polar Research Institute at the Scientific and Technological Research Council of Turkey, Marmara Research Center. “Leaving our differences aside, let's unite under the True South flag in order to explore Antarctica with science while protecting and promoting its unique beauty and nature.”