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Antarctica

Antarctica

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Published by Khaye Dyosa

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Published by: Khaye Dyosa on Nov 21, 2008
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03/31/2013

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Antarctica
I
INTRODUCTION
Antarctica, fifth largest of the Earth’s seven continents. The southernmost, coldest, windiest, highest,most remote, and most recently discovered continent, it surrounds the South Pole, the point at thesouthern end of the Earth’s axis. Almost completely covered by ice, Antarctica has no permanenthuman population. The continent is ringed by the Southern Ocean. The entire area south of theAntarctic Convergence, which serves as the northern boundary of the Southern Ocean, is referred to asthe Antarctic region.
 Antarctica
means “opposite to the Arctic,” the Earth’s northernmost region. The continent is shaped somewhat like a comma, with a round body surrounding the pole and a tailcurving toward South America. The round portion, lying mainly in the Eastern Hemisphere, makes upEast Antarctica. The tail and its thickened base, located entirely in the Western Hemisphere, form WestAntarctica. Antarctica lies 1,000 km (600 mi) from South America, its nearest neighbor; 4,000 km(2,500 mi) from Africa; and 2,500 km (1,600 mi) from Australia. Antarctica’s latitude (location inrelation to the equator) and high elevations make it the coldest continent. Air temperatures of the highinland regions fall below –80°C (-110°F) in winter and rise only to –30°C (–20°F) in summer. Thewarmest coastal regions reach the freezing point in summer but drop well below in winter. The last continent to be discovered, Antarctica remained hidden behind barriers of fog, storm, and seaice until it was first sighted in the early 19th century. Because of the extreme cold and the lack of native peoples, forests, land animals, and obvious natural resources, the continent remained largelyneglected for decades after discovery. Scientific expeditions and seal hunters had explored onlyfragments of its coasts by the end of the 19th century, while the interior remained unknown. Explorersfirst reached the South Pole in 1911, and the first permanent settlements—scientific stations—wereestablished in the early 1940s. From that time the pace of exploration accelerated rapidly. Scientistscontinue to conduct research in Antarctica, and in recent years increasing numbers of tourists havevisited Antarctica to appreciate the region’s majestic scenery and wildlife.Seven nations—Argentina, Australia, the United Kingdom, Chile, France, New Zealand, and Norway—claim territory in Antarctica. Other nations, including the United States and Russia, do not acknowledgethese claims and make no claims of their own, but reserve rights to claim territory in the future. Since1961 the continent has been administered under the Antarctic Treaty, an international agreement topreserve the continent for peaceful scientific study.
II
LAND AND CLIMATE
 
Antarctic Ice Sheet
 The continent of Antarctica is covered almost completely by a massive ice sheet, which contains about 90 percentof the world’s ice. Permanent floating slabs of ice called ice shelves fringe nearly half of Antarctica’s coastline.Image Makers/The Image Bank
With an area of 14 million sq km (5.4 million sq mi), Antarctica is larger than either Europe or Australia.Its average elevation of more than 2,000 m (6,500 ft) is over twice that of Asia, the next highestcontinent. However, much of this mass is ice. Below this ice, East Antarctica is a landmass about thesize of Australia, and West Antarctica is a collection of islands. Only 2.4 percent of the total continentalarea is exposed rock. Exposed areas include the peaks of several mountain ranges and other smallerscattered outcrops, both of which poke through the ice cover, as well as
dry valleys
, glacier-carvedareas that are kept clear of snow by gusty winds. Only about 2 percent of the coast is exposed cliffs orbeaches; the rest is made up of ice cliffs that extend beyond the end of the continental rock. The Ross and Weddell seas indent the thickened base of West Antarctica where it meets EastAntarctica, while the Amundsen and Bellingshausen seas lie at West Antarctica’s outer edge.Numerous bays also indent the outer edge of East Antarctica, creating a jagged coastline.
A
Land of Ice
 
Brunt Ice Shelf, Antarctica
Antarctica's Brunt Ice Shelf floats atop the Weddell Sea. The ice shelves of Antarctica are a major source of icebergs.Graham Neden/Corbis
 The total volume of the ice sheet covering Antarctica is estimated at 29 million cu km (7 million cu mi),or about 90 percent of the world’s ice. If the ice sheet melted, the oceans of the world would rise by 60m (200 ft). Some 11 percent of the ice sheet consists of ice shelves—massive floating slabs of permanent ice fringing the continent—that are anchored to the rock and extend into the surroundingocean. The largest, Ross Ice Shelf, is about the size of France. The Antarctic ice sheet has an averagethickness of 2,160 m (7,090 ft); its greatest recorded depth is more than 4,700 m (15,400 ft).Antarctica’s ice sheet formed over millions of years. As new snow falls, it compresses the layers of older snow beneath it into ice. The physical characteristics of the ice sheet are constantly changing asnew ice forms and slides outward toward the coasts. Large masses of moving ice known as glaciersmove down the continent’s five major drainage systems in two ways. If there is a layer of waterbetween the glacier and the bedrock beneath it, the whole glacier can slide under the force of gravity.Alternatively, the weight of the accumulated snow and ice can cause the ice crystals of the glacier toform into layers, which glide over one another. Glaciers flow either into ice shelves or directly out tothe edges of the continent, where portions break off and form floating masses called icebergs (
see
Ice:
Icebergs
). Carried by circumpolar currents and prevailing winds, these icebergs drift westward aroundthe continent and then northward to the Antarctic Convergence before gradually breaking up andmelting upon contact with warmer waters.In addition to icebergs, ocean waters close to the continent contain floating sea ice, some attached tothe land (
fast ice
) and some drifting with wind and currents (
 pack ice
). Sea ice melts and freezes

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