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Antarctica is Earth's southernmost continent, containing the geographic South Pole. 

It is situated in the Antarctic region of the Southern Hemisphere, almost entirely south of the Antarctic Circle, and is surrounded by the Southern Ocean.

 At 14.0 million km2 , it is the fifth-largest continent in area after Asia, Africa, North America, and South America.

View of southern hemisphere of Earth highlighting antarctica in green. image: wikipedia

image: A composite image of Antarctica from NASA  using the Blue Marble satellite data set/wikipedia

The Antarctic (missing the end ‘a’) is actually just a region which includes the continent but also the oceans and generally known as the southern polar region. 

For comparison, Antarctica is nearly twice the size of Australia. About 98% of Antarctica is covered by ice that averages at least 1.9 kilometres in thickness, which extends to all but the northernmost reaches of the Antarctic Peninsula.

It’s pretty extreme too

Antarctica, on average, is the coldest, driest, and windiest continent, and has the highest average elevation (around 2,500 metres) of all the continents.

The snow surface at Dome C Station is typical of most of the continent's surface. image:Stephen Hudson/wikipedia

Surprisingly, antarctica is considered a desert, with annual precipitation of only 200 mm along the coast and far less inland. The temperature in Antarctica has reached −89 °C . 

Penguin visits researchers. image: wikipedia

Emperor penguins in Ross Sea, Antarctica. image:Michael Van Woert/wikipedia

Human and animal habitation

There are no permanent human residents, but anywhere from 1,000 to 5,000 people reside throughout the year at the research stations scattered across the continent. 

Only cold-adapted organisms survive, including many types of algae, bacteria, fungi, lichen, plants, protista, and certain animals, such as mites, nematodes, penguins, seals and tardigrades. Vegetation where it occurs is tundra.

First discovery

Although myths and speculation about a Terra Australis ("Southern Land") date back to antiquity, the Russian expedition of Fabian Gottlieb von Bellingshausen and Mikhail Lazarev on Vostok and Mirny first sighted a continental ice shelf in 1820. 

Admiral Faddey Faddeyevich Bellingshausen. Lithograph by U. Schzeibach (У. Шзейбах), circa 1835. image: wikipedia

The continent, however, remained largely neglected for the rest of the 19th century because of its hostile environment, lack of resources, and isolation.

First landing

The first documented landing on Antarctica was by the American sealer John Davis, apparently at Hughes Bay, near Cape Charles, in West Antarctica on 7 February 1821, although some historians dispute this claim. The first recorded and confirmed landing was at Cape Adair in 1895.

Captain James Ross discovered Cape Adare in January 1841 and named it after his friend the Viscount Adare (the title is derived from Adare, Ireland).

The first landing areas in Antarctica. image: wikipedia

Google maps satellite image of Cape Adare

In January 1895, Norwegian explorers Henrik Bull and Carsten Borchgrevink from the ship Antarctic landed at Cape Adare as the first documented landing on Antarctica, collecting geological specimens. Borchgrevink returned to the cape leading his own expedition in 1899 and erected two huts, the first human structures built in Antarctica.

On 22 January 1840, two days after the discovery of the coast west of the Balleny Islands, some members of the crew of the 1837–40 expedition of Jules Dumont d'Urville disembarked on the highest islet of a group of rocky islands about 4 km from Cape Géodésie on the coast of Adélie Land where they took some mineral, algae and animal samples.

In December 1839, as part of the United States Exploring Expedition of 1838–42 conducted by the United States Navy (sometimes called the "Ex. Ex.", or "the Wilkes Expedition"), an expedition sailed from Sydney, Australia, into the Antarctic Ocean, as it was then known, and reported the discovery "of an Antarctic continent west of the Balleny Islands" on 25 January 1840. That part of Antarctica was later named "Wilkes Land", a name it retains to this day.

The Antarctic Treaty

The Antarctic Treaty was signed in 1959 by 12 countries; to date, 49 countries have signed the treaty. The treaty prohibits military activities and mineral mining, prohibits nuclear explosions and nuclear waste disposal, supports scientific research, and protects the continent's ecozone. Ongoing experiments are conducted by more than 4,000 scientists from many nations.



The origin of the word "Antarctica"

The word antarctic comes from the Greek, ανταρκτικός antarktikos meaning opposite of north. The prefix 'ante' means opposite. Interestingly, Arctic comes from Greek arktikos, meaning arktos ‘bear, Ursa Major, North Star.’

source: Oxford Dictionary