or the "Southern Land", wasn't discovered until the early 1820s when British and American commercial operators and British and
Russian national expeditions began exploring the Antarctic Peninsula region and other areas south of the Antarctic Circle.
Not until 1840 was it established that Antarctica was indeed a continent and not just a group of islands. Several exploration "firsts" were achieved
in the early 20th century. Following World War II, there was an upsurge in scientific research on the continent.
A number of countries have set up a range of year-round and seasonal stations, camps, and refuges to support scientific research in Antarctica. Seven
have made territorial claims, but not all countries recognize these claims.
In order to form a legal framework for the activities of nations on the continent, an Antarctic Treaty was negotiated that neither denies nor gives
recognition to existing territorial claims; signed in 1959, it entered into force in 1961.
Land Mass, Continental Claims & Climate
Total Land Area: 14 million square kilometers.
Ice Free versus Ice Covered: 280,000 sq km ice-free, 13.72 million sq km ice-covered est.
Antarctica is the fifth-largest continent, following Asia, Africa, North America, and South America, but larger than Australia and the subcontinent of
Australia, Chile, and Argentina claim Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ) rights or similar over 200 nm extensions seaward from their continental claims,
but like the claims themselves, these zones are not accepted by other countries; 21 of 28 Antarctic consultative nations have made no claims to
Antarctic territory (although Russia and the US have reserved the right to do so) and do not recognize the claims of the other nations; also see the
Disputes - international entry.
Severe low temperatures vary with latitude, elevation, and distance from the ocean; East Antarctica is colder than West Antarctica because of its
higher elevation; Antarctic Peninsula has the most moderate climate; higher temperatures occur in January along the coast and average slightly below
With about 98% thick continental ice sheet and 2% barren rock, with average elevations between 2,000 and 4,000 meters; mountain ranges up to nearly
5,000 meters; ice-free coastal areas include parts of southern Victoria Land, Wilkes Land, the Antarctic Peninsula area, and parts of Ross Island on
McMurdo Sound; glaciers form ice shelves along about half of the coastline, and floating ice shelves constitute 11% of the area of the continent.
Lowest Point: Bentley Sub-glacial Trench -2,555 m
Highest Point: Vinson Massif 4,897 m
Note: The lowest known land point in Antarctica is hidden in the Bentley Subglacial Trench; at its surface is the deepest ice yet discovered and the
world's lowest elevation not under seawater.
Iron ore, chromium, copper, gold, nickel, platinum and other minerals, and coal and hydrocarbons have been found in small noncommercial quantities;
none presently exploited; krill, finfish, and crab have been taken by commercial fisheries.
Arable Land: 0%
Permanent Crops: 0%
Other: Ice and snow 98%, barren rock 2% (2005 figures)
Environment and Natural Hazards
Katabatic (gravity-driven) winds blow coast ward 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; volcanism on Deception
Island and isolated areas of West Antarctica; other seismic activity rare and weak; large icebergs may calve from ice shelf.
Environment - current issues:
In 1998 NASA satellite data showed that the Antarctic ozone hole was the largest on record, covering 27 million square kilometers; researchers in 1997
found that increased ultraviolet light passing through the hole damages the DNA of icefish, an Antarctic fish lacking hemoglobin; ozone depletion
earlier was shown to harm one-celled Antarctic marine plants.
Significant areas of ice shelves have separated and disintegrated in response to regional warming that many consider part of Global Warming.
Geography - note:
The coldest, windiest, highest (on average), and driest continent; during summer, more solar radiation reaches the surface at the South Pole than is
received at the Equator in an equivalent period; mostly uninhabitable.
Government / Legal System
Antarctic Treaty Summary
The Antarctic Treaty, signed on December 1, 1959 and entered into force on June 23, 1961, establishes the legal framework for the management of
The 30th Antarctic Treaty Consultative Meeting was held in Delhi, India in April/May 2007; at these periodic meetings, decisions are made by consensus
(not by vote) of all consultative member nations; at the end of 2007, there were 46 treaty member nations: 28 consultative and 18 non-consultative;
consultative (decision-making) members include the seven nations that claim portions of Antarctica as national territory (some claims overlap) and 21
non-claimant nations; the US and Russia have reserved the right to make claims, though the US does not recognize the claims of others.
Antarctica is administered through meetings of the consultative member nations; decisions from these meetings are carried out by these member nations
(with respect to their own nationals and operations) in accordance with their own national laws.
Antarctica is administered through meetings of the consultative member nations.
Decisions from these meetings are carried out by these member nations (with respect to their own nationals and operations) in accordance with their
own national laws; US law, including certain criminal offenses by or against US nationals, such as murder, may apply extra territorially; some US laws
directly apply to Antarctica; for example, the Antarctic Conservation Act, 16 U.S.C. section 2401 et seq., provides civil and criminal penalties for
the following activities, unless authorized by regulation of statute: the taking of native mammals or birds; the introduction of non indigenous plants
and animals; entry into specially protected areas; the discharge or disposal of pollutants; and the importation into the US of certain items from
Antarctica; violation of the Antarctic Conservation Act carries penalties of up to $10,000 in fines and one year in prison; the National Science
Foundation and Department of Justice share enforcement responsibilities; Public Law 95-541, the US Antarctic Conservation Act of 1978, as amended in
1996, requires expeditions from the US to Antarctica to notify, in advance, the Office of Oceans, Room 5805, Department of State, Washington, DC
20520, which reports such plans to other nations as required by the Antarctic Treaty; for more information, contact Permit Office, Office of Polar
Programs, National Science Foundation, Arlington, Virginia 22230; telephone: (703) 292-8030, or visit their website at www.nsf.gov; more generally,
access to the Antarctic Treaty area, that is to all areas between 60 and 90 degrees south latitude, is subject to a number of relevant legal
instruments and authorization procedures adopted by the states party to the Antarctic Treaty.
The Antarctic Treaty prohibits any measures of a military nature, such as the establishment of military bases and fortifications, the carrying out of
military maneuvers, or the testing of any type of weapon; it permits the use of military personnel or equipment for scientific research or for any
other peaceful purposes.
The Antarctic Treaty freezes, and most states do not recognize, the land and maritime territorial claims made by Argentina, Australia, Chile, France,
New Zealand, Norway, and the United Kingdom (some overlapping) for three-fourths of the continent; the US and Russia reserve the right to make claims;
no claims have been made in the sector between 90 degrees west and 150 degrees west; the International Whaling Commission created a sanctuary around
the entire continent to deter catches by countries claiming to conduct scientific whaling; Australia has established a similar preserve in the waters
around its territorial claim
ATS Discussion Threads
What is under Antarctica
Antarctica = Atlantis?
Pyramids in Antarctica?
The CIA World Fact Book