Antarctic Treaty Consultative Parties are entitled to participate in consensus-based governance of the continent through the annual Antarctic Treaty Consultative Meetings. To acquire consultative status, an interested Party must demonstrate “substantial research activity,” but no agreed mechanism exists to determine whether a Party has fulfilled this criterion. Parties have generally demonstrated substantial research activity with the construction of a research station, as suggested within the Treaty itself. However, this largely demonstrates logistical capacity, rather than research activity, and often results in major and persistent impacts on Antarctic terrestrial environments. Our study found that national investment in Antarctic infrastructure, estimated by the number of bed spaces at stations, was not a reliable indicator of scientific output. Therefore, we investigated metrics to evaluate research activity directly, and identified both the overall number of Antarctic papers and the proportion of national scientific output these represented as meaningful metrics. Such metrics could (1) demonstrate a nation’s level of research activity in Antarctica or (2) help Consultative Parties assess the level of research activity undertaken by a Party seeking to acquire consultative status. Our data showed that, even without land-based Antarctic infrastructure, Canada, Denmark and Switzerland may have reasonable grounds to demonstrate “substantial research activity” on a level comparable with existing Consultative Parties. The use of these metrics may help dispel any perceived requirement for the establishment of a research station to reach consultative status, by putting a greater emphasis on generation of scientific research outputs rather than construction of Antarctic infrastructure.