Marie Byrd Land – Antarctica - Atlas Obscura

Marie Byrd Land

The largest piece of no man's land left on Earth. 


While much of Antarctica has been claimed by various nations, this large swath of uninhabitable territory goes unspoken for. The snowy expanse of Marie Byrd Land is the largest no man’s land on Earth. This uninhabitable Antarctic tundra was named by an explorer for his wife, and because no one else has claimed it, the name stuck.

The area was christened by Admiral Richard E. Byrd, who led the first exploratory flight over the area in 1929. He named the area after his wife, Marie. The previously unresearched region was so inhospitable the crew was unable to camp there, and instead set up on the neighboring Ross Ice Shelf.

Little has changed in the years since Byrd’s exploration. Marie Byrd Land remains one of the harshest climates on the planet, so inaccessible and rough that no sovereign nation has laid claim to it. Some expeditions have forged further into the area, but the only way explorers have been able to map out Marie Byrd Land in the years since has been from the air.

Aerial photography has revealed a great deal about the region. Although it borders Antarctica’s highest point, Vinson Massif mountain, Marie Byrd Land is mostly made up of the Bentley Subglacial Trench, the lowest point on the continent.  

While no nations are fighting over this antarctic tundra, one man has attempted to claim Marie Byrd Land for himself. Supposedly through a loophole in the Antarctic Treaty—the document that dictates international relations regarding Antarctica—Travis McHenry laid claim to the region, named it the Protectorate of Westarctic, and sent letters to various countries informing them of his claim. McHenry hoped to create his own currency for his micro-nation, but thus far none of the nations he contacted have replied to him and his claim goes unrecognized.

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