Antarctica; the southernmost continent on the earth overlying the South Pole. Antarctica is almost entirely south of the Antarctic Circle and is surrounded by the Southern Ocean. It is the fifth largest continent in area after North and South America, Asia, and Africa, and almost 98% of it is covered in ice. Antarctica is also known as the coldest, driest and windiest continent. The only living creatures that can survive in Antarctica are penguins, seals, lichen, mosses, and some types of algae. The name Antarctica is a version of the Greek compound word Antarktike’ meaning opposite of the Arctic.
A History of Antarctica
•In 1841 an explorer by the name of James Clark Ross passed through what is known today as the Ross Sea and discovered Ross Island.
•In 1907 an expedition led to the first climb of Mount Erbus and also led to parties reaching the South Magnetic Pole.
•December 1908 to February 1909 a man named Shackleton (and his party) were the first humans to cross the Ross Ice Shelf, and the first to journey the Transantarctic Mountain Range. They were also the first to set foot on the South Polar Plateau.
•In 1911 Roald Amundsen became the first to reach the geographic South Pole.
•During the 1930-1940s Richard Evelyn Byrd made several voyages to the Antarctic by lane and conducted extensive geological and biological research.
•In 1939 the United States Navy ran an expedition and sailed from Sydney Australia into the Antarctic Ocean and reported the discovery of an Antarctic continent west of the Balleny Islands.
•In 1956 George J. Dufek led a group of U.S. Navy men and successfully landed an aircraft there.
•In 1959 the Antarctic Treaty was signed prohibiting military activities and mineral mining and supporting scientific research. The treaty also protects the continent’s ecozone.
Antarctica is the coldest place on earth and scientists have recorded temperatures as low as -129 degrees F. It is a frozen desert with very little precipitation, receiving less than ten centimeters a year. Temperatures can reach on the interior during the winter between -80 degrees Celsius to -90 degrees Celsius, and reach a maximum of five to fifteen degrees Celsius near the coast in the summer time. If you were to live in Antarctica sunburn would be a major issue as the snow reflects almost all of the sun’s ultraviolet rays. Towards the edge of the continent there are strong katabatic winds which blow at storm force. In the interior of the continent the wind speeds decrease and are fairly moderate. Antarctica is colder than the Arctic because of two things:
1.Antarctica is above sea level- Temperature decreases with elevation
2.The Arctic Ocean covers the north polar zone. The warmth of the ocean is transferred through the icepack and prevents the temperatures in the Arctic from reaching the land surface of Antarctica.
Since most of the continent’s mass area consists of ice, temperatures stay cold, and it sits on solid rock of which it has been proven to be impervious to climate change. Antarctica however has been noticeably affected by global warming, specifically on the Antarctic Peninsula and in Pine Island Bay. Together they are contributing largely to a rise in sea levels. In 2003 Larsen-B collapsed due to global warming. A large ozone hole over Antarctica has also been identified by scientists, caused by emission of chlorofluorocarbons into the atmosphere.
As scientists continue to study the continent they find new things constantly. It continues to be a place of research and a continent of knowledge.
Click here for recommended Antarctica websites.