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Facts about Antarctica

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Continent name: Antarctica

Story behind the name: The name is derived from the Greek word antarktiké, meaning “opposite to the Arctic (north).”

Area: 14 million square kilometers, or 5,400,000 square miles

Population: 0 – There are no permanent human residents, nor indigenous inhabitants, but 1,000-5,000 researchers reside at research stations across the continent throughout the year.

Location and Geography: Antarctica is located south of the Antarctic Circle (covering the South Pole) in the Southern Ocean.

The continent boasts the highest average elevation of all continents, though it is made up of 98% ice and 2% rock.

Climate: With an annual precipitation of only 8 inches (200 mm) along the coast, Antarctica is considered a desert. It is the coldest, windiest and driest continent on Earth.

Economy: Antarctica is primarily a research center, not a commercial center. Some fishing is allowed off Antarctica’s coasts, and around 40,000 tourists are allowed to visit the continent every year.

Wildlife: The harsh conditions of Antarctica prevent most wildlife from surviving on Antarctica. A few types of insects and birds dwell on the continent. Marine animals including penguins, some types of whales, squids, and seals are able to survive in Antarctica’s climate.

History and Colonization: Though the existence of a southern land (or Terra Australis) had been speculated since ancient times, Antarctica was not discovered until the 1820s, when Russians Fabian Gottlieb von Bellingshausen and Mikhail Lazarev explored the area and first sighted land. The first recorded landing on Antarctica was American John Davis in 1821.

Even then, Antarctica did not see much activity for some time, because of its conditions and distance from other civilizations. It was not until after World War II that interest in Antarctica increased and several countries began set up scientific research stations around the continent.

In 1959, twelve countries signed the Antarctic Treaty, which prohibits mining and military activities, and supports research and protection of wildlife.

Territories: Argentina, Australia, Chile, France, New Zealand, Norway, and the United Kingdom have all claimed territories on the continent of Antarctica. Some of these territories overlap. Brazil, Peru, Russia, South Africa, Spain, and the United States are all interested in claiming territory on Antarctica, but they are unable to at this time because of the Atlantic Treaty.

Date of Territorial Claims:
  • United Kingdom – 1908
  • New Zealand – 1923
  • France – 1924
  • Norway – 1929
  • Australia – 1933
  • Norway – 1939
  • Chile – 1940
  • Argentina – 1943

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Interesting facts about Antarctica

Fact 1About 70% of Earth's fresh water is in the Antarctic ice cap.
Fact 2Around 90% of the ice on Earth is found in Antarctica.
Fact 320. In January 1979, Emile Marco Palma became the first child born on the southernmost continent.
Fact 4Deep Lake in Antarctica is so salty that it stays liquid at temperatures down to minus 4 degrees Fahrenheit (minus 20 degrees Celsius).
Fact 5The Dry Valleys of Antarctica are the driest place on Earth, with low humidity and almost no snow or ice cover.
Fact 6On average, Antarctica is the windiest continent. Winds in some places of the continent can reach 200 mph (320 km/h).
Fact 7Antarctica is the fifth largest continent.
Fact 8The Antarctic Ice Sheet is the largest single mass of ice on Earth.
Fact 9Ninety-nine percent of Antarctica is covered by ice.
Fact 10Antarctica is home to about 70 percent of the planet's fresh water, and 90 percent of the planet's freshwater ice.
Fact 11If the West Antarctic Ice Sheet melted entirely, it would raise global average sea levels by 16 feet (5 meters), according to some estimates.
Fact 12The highest point on Antarctica is the Vinson Massif at 16,362 feet (4,987 meters).
Fact 13The average thickness of Antarctic ice is about 1 mile (1.6 kilometers).
Fact 14Antarctica is home to Mount Erebus, the southernmost active volcano on the planet and home to Earth's only long-lived lava lakes
Fact 15There are no indigenous populations of people on Antarctica.
Fact 16Deep Lake in Antarctica is so salty that it stays liquid at temperatures down to minus 4 degrees Fahrenheit (minus 20 degrees Celsius).
Fact 17There used to be a nuclear power station in Antarctica.

Last Updated on: February 10, 2016

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