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Fast Facts – Antarctica
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