The conclusion of the Antarctic Treaty in December 1959 followed the success of the International Geophysical Year (IGY, 1957-58). Ever since, scientific research has been the main activity on the Antarctic continent, and both the Antarctic Treaty and the Environmental Protocol emphasize the importance of science and scientific cooperation in the Antarctic Treaty System. Article II of the Treaty provides that “Freedom of scientific investigation in Antarctica and cooperation toward that end … shall continue …” . According to Article III "scientific observations and results from Antarctica shall be exchanged and made freely available.”
Aside from the original signatories, participation in the decision making under the Treaty is limited to those countries which demonstrate their interest in Antarctica " by conducting substantial scientific research activity there ” ( Article IX.2). The Environmental Protocol, in Article 2, designates Antarctica as “ a natural reserve, devoted to peace and science.”
Antarctic science has led to such breakthroughs as the discovery of the ozone hole (1985) and the recovery of data on the climate of the past hundreds of thousands of years. The ATCM, with the expert advice of the Scientific Committee on Antarctic Research (SCAR) and the Council of Managers of National Antarctic Programs (COMNAP), has adopted many measures on scientific cooperation and operational matters such as telecommunications, meteorology, transportation and other subjects of importance to the Antarctic research programmes.