An enormous ice cube at the south of earth, no simpler way to describe the continent of Antarctica than this. Antarctica is the fifth largest continent in the world after Asia, Africa, North America, and South America. It is the southernmost continent in the world and surrounds the geographic South Pole. Situated in the Antarctic region, which is almost entirely south of the Antarctic Circle, Antarctica is surrounded by the southern ocean on all sides. Covering about 14 million square kilometres Antarctica is twice the size of Australia, which is the smallest continent in the world. As said before, it is a continent full of ice. About 98 percent of the continent is covered with ice with an average thickness of about 1.9 kilometres.
Antarctica is the coldest, driest and windiest continent in the world. It is also the continent with the highest average elevation. Antarctica has an annual precipitation of only 200 mm along its coast. The precipitation levels are far less when we go inland and hence Antarctica is considered to be a desert. Antarctica is a place which has extreme cold temperatures. Temperatures as low as -89 degree Celsius has been recorded in Antarctica which makes it one of the most inhabitable places on earth. Antarctica has no permanent residents, but on an average around 1000 to 5000 people lives in Antarctica throughout the year during research in the various research stations located across the ice continent.
Like humans, the inhabitation of other organisms is also quite low in Antarctica. Only organisms which are adapted to cold conditions lives in this continent. Different types of algae, bacteria, fungi, plants, and certain animals such as penguins, seals, mites and nematodes lives in the cold Antarctic condition. Vegetation in Antarctica is very low, and wherever it is there, it is in the form of tundra vegetation, owing to the cold and windy climatic conditions of the continent.
The presence of the Antarctic continent was not known to mankind till the early 1980s. People till the times before that assumed that no significant land mass would be found further south of Australia. Though there was no evidence about the existence of Antarctica till the 19th century, people from the times of Ptolemy in 1st century AD believed that a vast continent would be there down south of the globe to balance the northern lands of Europe, Asia and north Africa. At that time, this unknown assumption of land mass was called as Terra Australis, meaning southern land.
The first confirmed sighting of the Antartican continent was made by the Russian expedition of Fabian Gottlieb von Bellingshausen and Mikhail Lazarev in ships named Vostok and Mirny in 1820. The name Antarctica was first used formally in the 1890s, and is attributed to the Scottish cartographer John George Bartholomew. Even after sighting the continent in 1920, Antarctica remained largely neglected throughout the rest of the 19th century because of its isolated location, hostile environment and lack of resources to cope with the extreme temperatures of the region.
Though many expeditions took place from 1820, the first recorded and confirmed landing by humans on the Antarctic continent happened in 1895 at the Cape Adair. But it took much longer time for men to reach the geographic south pole of earth. The ship named Fram led by the Norwegian polar explorer Roald Amundsen was the first to reach the geographic south pole of the earth on 14 December 1911. Later it took many more years until 1956 for anyone else to set foot on the South Pole again. Mechanised land transport was used for the first time on Antarctic continent by Richard E Byrd during his many voyages to the Antarctic plane in the 1930s and 1940s. He also conducted extensive geological and biological surveys in the continent during that time. The first time an aircraft was landed on the South Pole was on 31 October 1956. That expedition of US Navy group was led by Rear Admiral George J Dufek.
Antarctica is the southernmost continent in the world which is surrounded by the southern ocean. The continent is located largely to the south of the Antarctic Circle and is positioned asymmetrically around the South Pole. The southern ocean which surrounds the Antarctic continent can be also considered as the southern waters of the world oceans; pacific, Atlantic and Indian oceans. The continent is mainly characterised by ice formations. Being the fifth largest continent in the world, Antarctica is 1.3 times the size of Europe and covers more than 14000000 square kilometres.
Only 5 percent of the continent is made of rocky formations. More than 44 percent of the continent is ice shelves floating in the sea.38 percent of the continent is made of ice walls that rest on the ground, and the rest 13 percent is glaciers. Antarctica is divided into two regions; western Antarctica and eastern Antarctica by the Transantarctic Mountains which is situated close to the neck between Ross Sea and Weddell Sea.
About 98 percent of the Antarctica is covered by Antarctic ice sheet. This is a sheet of ice that has an average thickness of 1.6 kilometres. More than 90 percent of the world’s ice is located in Antarctica, This account to more than 70 percent of the fresh water in the world. Melting of this ice in Antarctica can lead to rise in sea water levels by more than 60 meters. The precipitation in Antarctica is very low and is on an average only 20 mm per year. This makes the place a cold desert.
Antarctica has lots of Ice Mountains and many active volcanoes. Vinson Massif is the highest peak in Antarctica with a height of 4892 meters. It is also home to more than 70 lakes that lie in the base of the continental ice sheet. Lake Vostok is the largest such lake found till now.
Antarctica has long periods of constant darkness and constant sunlight. This is because of the latitude in which the continent is located. This creates climatic conditions that are unfamiliar to human beings. People in Antarctica suffer from sunburn issues because the white snow surface reflects almost all the UV lights that fall on it. Eastern Antarctica is colder than the western region because of the higher elevations of the region. The coastal areas of the continent experiences extreme winds and snowfalls, but as you go inlands, the climatic conditions becomes more moderate.
Antarctica also experiences many unique phenomenons. The solar wind that passes by the earth creates some glow in the night sky near South Pole. This phenomenon is called aurora australis, and is also commonly known as southern lights. Another phenomenon seen in Antarctica is diamond dust. This is a ground level cloud formation composed of tiny ice spectacles. Another frequent atmospheric optical phenomenon that happens in Antarctica is sun dog, which is a bright spot seen beside the true sun.
|1908||United Kingdom||British Antarctic Territory|
|1939||Norway||Queen Maud Land|
|1929||Norway||Peter I Island|
|1923||New Zealand||Ross Dependency|
|1933||Australia||Australian Antarctic Territory|
Population of Antarctica with politics and economy
Antarctica is the least populated continent in the world. There are no permanent settlements in the continent. But several countries maintain permanent manned research stations in the continent. On an average around 1000 people during winters and around 5000 people during summer seasons lives in such research stations spread across the continent. So basically Population of Antarctica is the lowest from among all the other available continents.
Although many countries claim sovereignty in certain areas of the continent, Antarctica has no government. Antarctica is considered to be a place which is politically neutral. The Antarctic Treaty signed by many continents in 1959 is one of the land mark treaties that regulate the activities of the different countries in Antarctica. The treaty was signed by 12 countries including Soviet Union, United Kingdom, Argentina, Chile, Australia and United States in 1959. Till now more than 60 world countries have signed this treaty. The Antarctic treaty sets aside the continent as a scientific preserve. The treaty also established freedom of scientific investigation and environmental protection. It also bans military activity in Antarctica.
At present there are no economic activities taking place in Antarctica, except for fishing off the coast and small scale tourism which is based outside Antarctica. Antarctica also has small deposits of coal, hydrocarbon, iron ore, platinum, nickel, gold and many other minerals. But the Antarctic treaty restricts exploitation of such resources.
Antarctica is home to only few species of terrestrial vertibrates. There are a variety of marine animals that lives in Antarctica, which includes penguins, blue whales, orcas, colossal squids and fur seals. All these animals directly or indirectly depend on the phytoplankton in the Antarctic sea. The freezing temperatures, lack of sunlight, moisture and poor soil quality of the continent do not allow extensive vegetation in the continent. The flora which we see in the continent is mostly bryophytes which include around 100 different species of mosses and 25 species of liverworts. There are only two species of flowering plans found in Antarctica and their growth is restricted to few weeks in summer. Other than these several species of algae and bacteria have been found living in cold Antarctic conditions