Lying beneath the South Pole, Antarctica is the world’s southern most continent. It is surrounded by the Southern Ocean and almost all of Antarctica sits south of the Antarctic Circle and is covered by thick ice. Out of a total area of approximately 5,400,000 square miles, only 100,000 miles is not covered by ice.

Antarctica also has the highest elevation of any continent, and is windier, colder, and dryer than any other continent as well. You probably wouldn’t consider somewhere that is this cold and icy as a desert, but with an average annual precipitation of only 200 mm, it is considered a desert. Dispersed across the continent are research teams making up it’s population of anywhere from 1,000 to 5,000 people, as there are no permanent residents here. What you will find inhabiting the area are animals which are made for the environment, such as penguins and seals, and various cold-adapted plant life.

While the first sighting of the continent was said to have occurred in 1820 by Russian explorers Fabian Gottlieb von Bellingshausen and Mikhail Lazarev, itwan’t until the 1890’s that the formal name of Antarctica was presented byScottish mapmaker John George Bartholomew. In essence the name Antarctica was taken from the Greek word meaning “opposite to the north”.

In 1959 a treaty to protect the continent’s ecozone, prohibit military activities and mineral mining, and support scientific research here was signed by twelve countries. To date the treaty now includes forty-six countries, and scientists from these countries now conduct various unique research studies here.

There are 4 dependencies that make up part of Antarctica. Bouvet Island lies in the South Atlantic Ocean as an uninhabited volcanic Antarctic island, and the inactive volcano is known as the Wilhelm the Second plateau. It is the most remote island in the world and is a dependent territory of Norway. The French Southern territories include a cluster of volcanic islands lying between Australia, Antarctica, and Africa in the southern Indian Ocean, scattered islands in the Indian Ocean, and Adelie Land, which is the French claim on the continent.

Heard Island and McDonald islands are territories of Australia and represent a group of volcanic, barren Antarctic islands, which contains two active volcanoes. South Georgia and the South Sandwich Islands are a collection of remote islands which is considered British territory, and the British Antarctic Survey maintains bases at Bird Island and King Edward Point, as well as museum staff at Grytviken.

Under the Antarctic Treaty there are 8 official territorial islands. These include Adelie Land, Antarctica, Argentine Antarctica, Australian Antarctic Territory, British Antarctic Territory, Queen Maud Land, Peter I Island, and Ross Dependency. Brazilian Antarctica is an unofficial territorial claim, although Brazil does maintain a permanently staffed research facility near the tip of the Antarctic Peninsula.

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