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Antarctica Facts

Antarctica is the fifth largest continent and lies entirely within the Southern Hemisphere. It has the coldest climate on earth. It is also the windiest place on earth. The average annual temperature inland is –70 degrees. The lowest temperature ever recorded on earth was in the Antarctic, an incredible 128.5 degrees below zero. Now that is cold! Cold can do strange things. If you drop a solid steel bar it will shatter. That is one of the reasons that humans cannot live there.

There is no indigenous (native) population, but during the summer several thousand people live there in research and weather stations. In the winter only a very few brave scientists stay. James Cook was the first explorer known to cross the Antarctic Circle, in January 1773. He didn’t see any land, though. Land was probably first spotted by Admiral Fabian von Bellingshausen and M. P. Lazerev 47 years later, in January 1820. John Davis, captain of an American sealer, was the first person known to set foot on Antarctica. He landed at a place called Hughes Bay in February 1821. Hughes Bay is on a Peninsula. Many people claim that the first people to land on the true continent were Leonard Kristensen and Carsten Borchgrevink, in January 1895.

Almost the entire continent is covered with ice and snow. If all of the ice were to melt, it is estimated that the sea level throughout the world would rise by 200 ft. The ice extends out into the ocean, where is it known as an Ice Shelf. The largest ice shelf, the Ross Ice Shelf, is larger than the state of Texas, covering 208,000 square miles. As the edge of the ice meets the ocean, and the warmer water, huge chunks break off forming ice floes. The ice shelves do not get smaller, though, as the ice flows, a little like water. Ice behind the shelf keeps pushing the shelf further and further, so even as pieces break off it is still huge. .The ice is formed by snow. When the snow falls it doesn’t melt. Each year more snow falls and compacts the snow below it, turning it into ice. The ice contains 70% of all the fresh water on Earth.

When people describe Antarctica they tend to divide it into two different areas, East and West Antarctica.

East Antarctica is made up of a platform of old rocks, with younger rocks on top. The scientists think that the platform is about 1,600 ft above sea level. They cannot be sure, because it is covered with a layer of ice almost 6,000 feet deep, so measuring the exact height of the land is almost impossible. Without the snow and ice it would be a large flat plain with two main mountain ranges, one on the coast and one inland

West Antarctica is south of South America. The land in West Antarctica doesn’t reach as high, and in some places is well below sea level. All of the ice causes the land to be pushed down. If it all melted the land would rise. East Antarctica would be mostly above sea level, but West Antarctica would be made of islands in a sea. The highest parts would form the islands and the lower parts would form the sea floor. The highest peak is found in West Antarctica, called Vinson Massif. It is on the coast and is 16,000 ft.

There are a few areas with no ice. These can be found on the coast and slopes of the mountains. On warm days the rock heats up and melts the surrounding ice and snow. As the water runs off, it goes down into cracks in the rocks. Out of the reach of the sun it freezes again and expands, cracking parts of the rock away. All of the areas with no ice have piles of boulders and rocks formed in this way.

There are two known active volcanoes in Antarctica. There may be more, but only two have peaks above the ice. The highest is called Mount Erebus. It is in East Antarctica on the edge of the Ross Ice Shelf. It is strange to think of an active volcano beside all that ice.

Related articles:
The Weather and Climate in Antarctica
Animals in Antarctica
Early Explorers in Antarctica

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