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Antarctica :: Antarctica Print
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ANTARCTICA
  • Introduction :: Antarctica
  • Background field listing
    Speculation over the existence of a "southern land" was not confirmed until the early 1820s when British and American commercial operators and British and Russian national expeditions began exploring the Antarctic Peninsula region and other areas south of the Antarctic Circle. Not until 1840 was it established that Antarctica was indeed a continent and not merely a group of islands or an area of ocean. Several exploration "firsts" were achieved in the early 20th century, but generally the area saw little human activity. Following World War II, however, the continent experienced an upsurge in scientific research. A number of countries have set up a range of year-round and seasonal stations, camps, and refuges to support scientific research in Antarctica. Seven have made territorial claims, but most countries do not recognize these claims. In order to form a legal framework for the activities of nations on the continent, an Antarctic Treaty was negotiated that neither denies nor gives recognition to existing territorial claims; signed in 1959, it entered into force in 1961.  Also relevant to Antarctic governance are the Environmental Protocol to the Antarctic Treaty and the Convention for the Conservation of Antarctic Marine Living Resources.
  • Geography :: Antarctica
  • Location field listing
    continent mostly south of the Antarctic Circle
    Geographic coordinates field listing
    90 00 S, 0 00 E
    Map references field listing
    Antarctic Region
    Area field listing
    total: 14.2 million sq km
    land: 14.2 million sq km (285,000 sq km ice-free, 13.915 million sq km ice-covered) (est.)

    note: fifth-largest continent, following Asia, Africa, North America, and South America, but larger than Australia and the subcontinent of Europe

    country comparison to the world: 2
    Area - comparative field listing
    slightly less than 1.5 times the size of the US
    Land boundaries field listing
    0

    note: see entry on Disputes - international

    Coastline field listing
    17,968 km
    Maritime claims field listing
    Australia, Chile, and Argentina claim Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ) rights or similar over 200 nm extensions seaward from their continental claims, but like the claims themselves, these zones are not accepted by other countries; 22 of 29 Antarctic Treaty consultative parties have made no claims to Antarctic territory (although Russia and the US have reserved the right to do so); also see the Disputes - international entry
    Climate field listing
    the coldest, windiest, and driest continent on Earth; severe low temperatures vary with latitude, elevation, and distance from the ocean; East Antarctica is colder than West Antarctica because of its higher elevation; Antarctic Peninsula has the most moderate climate; higher temperatures occur in January along the coast and average slightly below freezing; summers characterized by continuous daylight, while winters bring continous darkness; persistent high pressure over the interior brings dry, subsiding air that results in very little cloud cover
    Terrain field listing
    about 98% thick continental ice sheet and 2% barren rock, with average elevations between 2,000 and 4,000 m; mountain ranges up to nearly 5,000 m; ice-free coastal areas include parts of southern Victoria Land, Wilkes Land, the Antarctic Peninsula area, and parts of Ross Island on McMurdo Sound; glaciers form ice shelves along about half of the coastline, and floating ice shelves constitute 11% of the area of the continent
    Elevation field listing
    mean elevation: 2,300 m
    lowest point: Bentley Subglacial Trench -2,540 m
    highest point: Vinson Massif 4,892
    note: the lowest known land point in Antarctica is hidden in the Bentley Subglacial Trench; at its surface is the deepest ice yet discovered and the world's lowest elevation not under seawater
    Natural resources field listing
    iron ore, chromium, copper, gold, nickel, platinum and other minerals, and coal and hydrocarbons have been found in small noncommercial quantities; mineral exploitation except for scientific research is banned by the Environmental Protocol to the Antarctic Treaty; krill, icefish, toothfish, and crab have been taken by commercial fisheries, which are managed through the Commission for the Conservation of Antarctic Living Marine Resources (CCAMLR)
    Land use field listing
    0% (2015 est.)
    Natural hazards field listing
    katabatic (gravity-driven) winds blow coastward from the high interior; frequent blizzards form near the foot of the plateau; cyclonic storms form over the ocean and move clockwise along the coast; volcanism on Deception Island and isolated areas of West Antarctica; other seismic activity rare and weak; large icebergs may calve from ice shelf
    Environment - current issues field listing
    the discovery of a large Antarctic ozone hole in the earth's stratosphere (the ozone layer) - first announced in 1985 - spurred the signing of the Montreal Protocol in 1987, an international agreement phasing out the use of ozone-depleting chemicals; the ozone layer prevents most harmful wavelengths of ultra-violet (UV) light from passing through the earth's atmosphere; ozone depletion has been shown to harm a variety of Antarctic marine plants and animals (plankton); in 2016, a gradual trend toward "healing" of the ozone hole was reported; since the 1990s, satellites have shown accelerating ice loss driven by ocean change; although considerable uncertainty remains, scientists are increasing our understanding and ability to model potential impacts of ice loss
    Geography - note field listing
    the coldest, windiest, highest (on average), and driest continent; during summer, more solar radiation reaches the surface at the South Pole than is received at the Equator in an equivalent period

    mostly uninhabitable, 98% of the land area is covered by the Antarctic ice sheet, the largest single mass of ice on earth covering an area of 14 million sq km (5.4 million sq mi) and containing 26.5 million cu km (6.4 million cu mi) of ice (this is almost 62% of all of the world's fresh water); if all this ice were converted to liquid water, one estimate is that it would be sufficient to raise the height of the world's oceans by 58 m (190 ft)
  • People and Society :: Antarctica
  • Population field listing
    no indigenous inhabitants, but there are both permanent and summer-only staffed research stations

    note: 53 countries have signed the 1959 Antarctic Treaty; 30 of those operate through their National Antarctic Program a number of seasonal-only (summer) and year-round research stations on the continent and its nearby islands south of 60 degrees south latitude (the region covered by the Antarctic Treaty); the population engaging in and supporting science or managing and protecting the Antarctic region varies from approximately 4,400 in summer to 1,100 in winter; in addition, approximately 1,000 personnel, including ship's crew and scientists doing onboard research, are present in the waters of the treaty region

    as of 2017, peak summer (December-February) maximum capacity in scientific stations - 4,877 total; Argentina 601, Australia 243, Belarus 12, Belgium 40, Brazil 66, Bulgaria 22, Chile 433, China 166, Czechia 20, Ecuador 34, Finland 17, France 90, France and Italy jointly 80, Germany 104, India 113, Italy 120, Japan 130, South Korea 130, Netherlands 10, NZ 86, Norway 70, Peru 30, Poland 40, Russia 335, South Africa 80, Spain 98, Sweden 20, Ukraine 24, UK 196, US 1,399, Uruguay 68 (2017)

    winter (June-August) maximum capacity in scientific station - 1,036 total; Argentina 221, Australia 52, Brazil 15, Chile 114, China 32, France 24, France and Italy jointly 13, Germany 9, India 48, Japan 40, Netherlands 10, South Korea 25, NZ 11, Norway 7, Poland 16, Russia 125, South Africa 15, Ukraine 12, UK 44, US 215, Uruguay 8 (2017)

    research stations operated within the Antarctic Treaty area (south of 60 degrees south latitude) by National Antarctic Programs year-round stations - approximately 40 total; Argentina 6, Australia 3, Brazil 1, Chile 6, China 2, France 1, France and Italy jointly 1, Germany 1, India 2, Japan 1, Netherlands 1, South Korea 2, NZ 1, Norway 1, Poland 1, Russia 5, South Africa 1, Ukraine 1, UK 2, US 3, Uruguay 2 (2017)

    a range of seasonal-only (summer) stations, camps, and refuges - Argentina, Australia, Belarus, Belgium, Bulgaria, Brazil, Chile, China, Czechia, Ecuador, Finland, France, Germany, India, Italy, Japan, Netherlands, South Korea, New Zealand, Norway, Peru, Poland, Russia, South Africa, Spain, Sweden, Ukraine, UK, US, and Uruguay (2017)

    in addition, during the austral summer some nations have numerous occupied locations such as tent camps, summer-long temporary facilities, and mobile traverses in support of research
    Education expenditures field listing
  • Government :: Antarctica
  • Country name field listing
    conventional long form: none
    conventional short form: Antarctica
    etymology: name derived from two Greek words meaning "opposite to the Arctic" or "opposite to the north"
    Government type field listing

    Antarctic Treaty Summary - the Antarctic region is governed by a system known as the Antarctic Treaty system; the system includes: 1. the Antarctic Treaty, signed on 1 December 1959 and entered into force on 23 June 1961, which establishes the legal framework for the management of Antarctica, 2. Measures, Decisions, and Resolutions adopted at Antarctic Treaty Consultative Meetings, 3. The Convention for the Conservation of Antarctic Seals (1972), 4. The Convention for the Conservation of Antarctic Marine Living Resources (1980), and 5. The Protocol on Environmental Protection to the Antarctic Treaty (1991); the Antarctic Treaty Consultative Meetings operate by consensus (not by vote) of all consultative parties at annual Treaty meetings; by January 2016, there were 53 treaty member nations: 29 consultative and 24 non-consultative; consultative (decision-making) members include the seven nations that claim portions of Antarctica as national territory (some claims overlap) and 22 non-claimant nations; the US and Russia have reserved the right to make claims; the US does not recognize the claims of others; Antarctica is administered through meetings of the consultative member nations; measures adopted at these meetings are carried out by these member nations (with respect to their own nationals and operations) in accordance with their own national laws; the years in parentheses indicate when a consultative member-nation acceded to the Treaty and when it was accepted as a consultative member, while no date indicates the country was an original 1959 treaty signatory; claimant nations are - Argentina, Australia, Chile, France, NZ, Norway, and the UK; nonclaimant consultative nations are - Belgium, Brazil (1975/1983), Bulgaria (1978/1998), China (1983/1985), Czech Republic (1962/2014), Ecuador (1987/1990), Finland (1984/1989), Germany (1979/1981), India (1983/1983), Italy (1981/1987), Japan, South Korea (1986/1989), Netherlands (1967/1990), Peru (1981/1989), Poland (1961/1977), Russia, South Africa, Spain (1982/1988), Sweden (1984/1988), Ukraine (1992/2004), Uruguay (1980/1985), and the US; non-consultative members, with year of accession in parentheses, are - Austria (1987), Belarus (2006), Canada (1988), Colombia (1989), Cuba (1984), Denmark (1965), Estonia (2001), Greece (1987), Guatemala (1991), Hungary (1984), Iceland (2015), Kazakhstan (2015), North Korea (1987), Malaysia (2011), Monaco (2008), Mongolia (2015), Pakistan (2012), Papua New Guinea (1981), Portugal (2010), Romania (1971), Slovakia (1962/1993), Switzerland (1990), Turkey (1996), and Venezuela (1999); note - Czechoslovakia acceded to the Treaty in 1962 and separated into the Czech Republic and Slovakia in 1993; Article 1 - area to be used for peaceful purposes only; military activity, such as weapons testing, is prohibited, but military personnel and equipment may be used for scientific research or any other peaceful purpose; Article 2 - freedom of scientific investigation and cooperation shall continue; Article 3 - free exchange of information and personnel, cooperation with the UN and other international agencies; Article 4 - does not recognize, dispute, or establish territorial claims and no new claims shall be asserted while the treaty is in force; Article 5 - prohibits nuclear explosions or disposal of radioactive wastes;Article 6 - includes under the treaty all land and ice shelves south of 60 degrees 00 minutes south and reserves high seas rights; Article 7 - treaty-state observers have free access, including aerial observation, to any area and may inspect all stations, installations, and equipment; advance notice of all expeditions and of the introduction of military personnel must be given; Article 8 - allows for jurisdiction over observers and scientists by their own states; Article 9 - frequent consultative meetings take place among member nations; Article 10 - treaty states will discourage activities by any country in Antarctica that are contrary to the treaty; Article 11 - disputes to be settled peacefully by the parties concerned or, ultimately, by the ICJ; Articles 12, 13, 14 - deal with upholding, interpreting, and amending the treaty among involved nations; other agreements - some 200 measures adopted at treaty consultative meetings and approved by governments; the Protocol on Environmental Protection to the Antarctic Treaty was signed 4 October 1991 and entered into force 14 January 1998; this agreement provides for the protection of the Antarctic environment and includes five annexes that have entered into force: 1) environmental impact assessment, 2) conservation of Antarctic fauna and flora, 3) waste disposal and waste management, 4) prevention of marine pollution, 5) area protection and management; a sixth annex addressing liability arising from environmental emergencies has yet to enter into force; the Protocol prohibits all activities relating to mineral resources except scientific research; a permanent Antarctic Treaty Secretariat was established in 2004 in Buenos Aires, Argentina

  • Economy :: Antarctica
  • Economy - overview field listing

    Scientific undertakings rather than commercial pursuits are the predominant human activity in Antarctica. Offshore fishing and tourism, both based abroad, account for Antarctica's limited economic activity.

    Antarctic Fisheries, within the area covered by the Convention on Conservation of Antarctic Marine Living Resources currently target Patagonian toothfish, Antarctic toothfish, mackerel icefish and Antarctic krill. The Commission for the Conservation of Antarctic Marine Living Resources (CCAMLR) manages these fisheries using the ecosystem-based and precautionary approach.  The Commission’s objective is conservation of Antarctic marine living resources and it regulates the fisheries based on the level of information available, and maintaining existing ecological relationships.  While Illegal, Unreported and Unregulated (IUU) fishing has declined in the Convention area since 1990, it remains a concern

    A total of 51,707  tourists visited the Antarctic Treaty area in the 2017-2018  Antarctic summer, 17 percent greater than the 43,915 visitors in 2016-2017. These estimates were provided to the Antarctic Treaty by the International Association of Antarctica Tour Operators and do not include passengers on overflights. Nearly all of the tourists were passengers on commercial ships and several yachts that make trips during the summer.

  • Energy :: Antarctica
  • Crude oil - production field listing
    0 bbl/day (2018 est.)
    country comparison to the world: 104
  • Communications :: Antarctica
  • Telephone system field listing
    general assessment: local systems at some research stations (2019)
    domestic: commercial cellular networks operating in a small number of locations (2019)
    international: country code - none allocated; via satellite (including mobile Inmarsat and Iridium systems) to and from all research stations, ships, aircraft, and most field parties
    Internet country code field listing
    .aq
    Internet users field listing
    total: 4,400
    percent of population: 100% (July 2016 est.)
    country comparison to the world: 215
  • Transportation :: Antarctica
  • Airports field listing
    23 (2013)
    country comparison to the world: 133
    Airports - with unpaved runways field listing
    total: 23 (2013)
    over 3,047 m: 3 (2013)
    2,438 to 3,047 m: 5 (2013)
    1,524 to 2,437 m: 1 (2013)
    914 to 1,523 m: 8 (2013)
    under 914 m: 6 (2013)
    Heliports field listing
    53 (2012)

    note: all year-round and seasonal stations operated by National Antarctic Programs stations have some kind of helicopter landing facilities, prepared (helipads) or unprepared

    Roadways field listing
    Ports and terminals field listing
    most coastal stations have sparse and intermittent offshore anchorages; a few stations have basic wharf facilities
    Transportation - note field listing
    US coastal stations include McMurdo (77 51 S, 166 40 E) and Palmer (64 43 S, 64 03 W); government use only; all ships at port are subject to inspection in accordance with Article 7, Antarctic Treaty; relevant legal instruments and authorization procedures adopted by the states parties to the Antarctic Treaty regulating the Antarctic Treaty area have to be complied with (see "Legal System"); The Hydrographic Commission on Antarctica (HCA), a commission of the International Hydrographic Organization (IHO), is responsible for hydrographic surveying and nautical charting matters in Antarctic Treaty area; it coordinates and facilitates provision of accurate and appropriate charts and other aids to navigation in support of safety of navigation in region; membership of HCA is open to any IHO Member State whose government has acceded to the Antarctic Treaty and which contributes resources or data to IHO Chart coverage of the area
  • Military and Security :: Antarctica
  • Military - note field listing
    the Antarctic Treaty prohibits any measures of a military nature, such as the establishment of military bases and fortifications, the carrying out of military maneuvers, or the testing of any type of weapon; it permits the use of military personnel or equipment for scientific research or for any other peaceful purposes
  • Transnational Issues :: Antarctica
  • Disputes - international field listing

    the Antarctic Treaty freezes, and most states do not recognize, the land and maritime territorial claims made by Argentina, Australia, Chile, France, New Zealand, Norway, and the UK (some overlapping) for three-fourths of the continent; the US and Russia reserve the right to make claims