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The continent of Antarctica in the south polar region of Earth
Click on image for a larger and more detailed map.
NASA

Antarctica

Antarctica is unique. It is the coldest, windiest, and driest continent on Earth. The land is barren and mostly covered with a thick sheet of ice. Antarctica is almost entirely south of the Antarctic Circle (66.5S latitude). It is about one and a half times the size of the United States.

Almost all of Antarctica is covered with a thick ice sheet. Ice shelves extend over the Ross and Weddell Seas. The little bits of land that are not covered by ice are very rocky. In several places under the ice sheet, there are freshwater lakes.

Temperatures can be very low. East Antarctica is colder than West Antarctica because it has a higher elevation. The Antarctic Peninsula has the warmest climate on the continent, however high temperatures still average slightly below freezing.

The tallest mountain of the continent of Antarctica is called Vinson Massif. It is 4897 meters (16,050 feet) above sea level. This mountain formed as faults shifted, sending blocks of the Earth’s crust up to higher elevations. Several of the other mountains in Antarctica are active volcanoes, including those on Deception Island and in remote parts of West Antarctica.

The Antarctic Treaty is an agreement between 45 countries that defines how Antarctica is to be shared as a place for scientific research. According to the treaty, no military from any country is allowed in Antarctica except to help with the scientific research. The treaty was first signed on December 1, 1959.

Last modified January 3, 2007 by Lisa Gardiner.

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The Spring 2010 issue of The Earth Scientist, focuses on the ocean, including articles on polar research, coral reefs, ocean acidification, and climate. Includes a gorgeous full color poster!

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