Area: 14,000,000 km² (280,000
km² ice-free, 13,720,000 km² ice-covered)
Population: 1000 (none permanent)
Government: Governed by the Antarctic
Partial Territorial claims:
Antarctica, the most remote and
inaccessible continent, is no longer the most unknown. All its mountain
regions have been mapped and visited by geologists, geophysicists,
glaciologists, and biologists. Mapping data can now be obtained
by satellite rather than by the theodolites of surveyors. Many hidden
ranges and peaks are known from geophysical soundings of the Antarctic
ice sheets. By using radio-echo sounding instruments, systematic
aerial surveys of the ice-buried terrains can be made; some of these
are almost as well mapped as the exposed ones.
The ice-choked and stormy seas around
Antarctica long hindered exploration by wooden-hulled ships. No
lands break the relentless force of the prevailing west winds
as they race clockwise around the continent, dragging westerly ocean
currents along beneath. The southernmost parts of the Atlantic,
Pacific, and Indian oceans converge into a cold, oceanic water mass
with singularly unique biologic and physical characteristics. Early
penetration of this Antarctic (or Southern) Ocean, as it has been
called, in the search for fur seals led in 1820 to the discovery
of the continent. Icebreakers and aircraft now make access relatively
easy, although still not without hazard in stormy conditions. Many
tourists have visited Antarctica, and it seems likely that, at least
in the short run, scenic resources have greater potential for economic
development than do mineral and biological resources.
1. Antarctica is actually
a desert, receiving about the same precipitation (less than 2 inches
a year), as the Sahara Desert.
2. If Antarctica were to melt,
the sea level would rise over 200 feet.
3. The Land of the Midnight
Sun exists in the south, too: during the summer, the interior of
Antarctica enjoys almost continuous daylight.
4. The polar bear cannot be
found anywhere in the Antarctic region. It only lives in polar regions
of the Northern Hemisphere. This includes Russia, Norway, Greenland,
Canada and Alaska.
5. Antarctica is the 5th largest
of the world's 7 continents but was not sighted until 1820.
No economic activity is conducted
at present, except for fishing off the coast and small-scale tourism.
Climate: Severe low temperatures vary
with latitude, elevation and distance from the ocean. East Antarctica
is colder than West Antarctica because of its higher elevation.
The Antarctic Peninsula has the most moderate climate. Higher temperatures
occur in January along the coast and average slightly below freezing.
Natural hazards: Katabatic
(gravity-driven) winds blow coastward from the high interior. Frequent
blizzards form near the foot of the plateau. Cyclonic storms form
over the ocean and move clockwise along the coast. Active volcanoes
exist, but other seismic activity is rare and weak.
Geographic note: Antarctica
holds several records as the highest, driest, coldest and windiest
on earth. The continent is mostly uninhabitable. It has no native
population- its residents are scientific and support staffs who
usually stay no more than a year at a time.
No land-based vertebrate animals
inhabit Antarctica. Invertebrates, especially mites and ticks, which
can tolerate the lower temperatures, exist in the Antarctic Peninsula
but are still considered rare. The surrounding ocean, however, abounds
in living creatures. Large numbers of whales feed on the rich marine
life. Six species of seals and about 12 species of birds live and
breed in the Antarctic. The most prominent inhabitant of the Antarctic
is the penguin. It lives on the packed ice and in the oceans around
Antarctica and breeds on the land or ice surfaces along the coast.
The Antarctic Treaty
(Dec. 1, 1959), agreement signed
by 12 nations, in which the Antarctic continent was made a demilitarized
zone to be preserved for scientific research. The treaty resulted
from a conference in Washington, D.C., attended by representatives
of Argentina, Australia, Belgium, Britain, Chile, France, Japan,
New Zealand, Norway, South Africa, the United States, and the Soviet
Union. Later other nations acceded to the treaty.
The treaty did not deny or support national claims to territorial
sovereignty in Antarctica, but it did forbid all contracting parties
from establishing military bases, carrying on military maneuvers,
testing any weapons (including nuclear weapons), or disposing of
radioactive wastes in the area. The treaty encouraged the freedom
scientific investigation and the exchange of scientific information
and personnel in Antarctica. The treaty bound its members indefinitely,
with a review of its provisions possible after 30 years. A protocol
to the 1959 treaty was signed in 1991. The agreement banned mineral
and oil exploration for 50 years and included regulations for the
protection of the Antarctic environment.
Antarctica is the only continent
with no nations. While seven nations (not including the United States)
have made claims to Antarctica, no single nation controls any part
of the continent. The Antarctic Treaty governs the actions of people
Click here for the complete Antarctic Treaty