Antarctica is the most southerly continent and encompasses the South Pole. It is surrounded by the Southern Ocean and divided in two by the Transantarctic Mountains. On average, it is the coldest, driest, windiest, and highest of all the continents. With 98% of it covered in ice, Antarctica, at 14 million kms, is the third-smallest continent (after Europe and Australia), but the third highest. Because there is little precipitation, the entire continent is technically a desert and is thus the largest in the world. There are no permanent human residents and only cold-adapted plants and animals survive there, including penguins, fur seals, mosses, lichens, and many types of algae.

The name "Antarctica" comes from the Greek (antarktikos), meaning "opposite the Arctic."

Although myths and speculation about a Terra Australis ("Southern Land") go back to antiquity, the first sighting of the continent is commonly accepted to have occurred in 1820 by the Russian expedition of Mikhail Lazarev and Fabian Gottlieb von Bellingshausen. The continent was largely neglected in the 19th century because of its hostile environment, lack of resources, and isolated location.The Antarctic Treaty, which was signed in 1959 by 12 countries and prohibits any military activity, supports scientific research, and protects the continent's ecozone. Ongoing experiments are conducted by more than 4000 scientists of many different nationalities and with many different research interests.

Exploration and History

Belief in the existence of a Terra Australis - a vast continent located in the far south of the globe to "balance" the northern lands of Europe, Asia and north Africa - had existed since Ptolemy suggested the idea in order to preserve symmetry of landmass in the world. Depictions of a large southern landmass were common in maps such as the early 16th century Turkish Piri Reis map.

Even in the late 17th century, after explorers had found that South America and Australia were not part of "Antarctica," geographers believed that the continent was much larger than its actual size. However, as Antarctica has no indigenous population, it was mostly unexplored until the 19th century.

European maps continued to show this land until Captain James Cook's ships, Resolution and Adventure, crossed the Antarctic Circle on January 17, 1773 and again in 1774.

The first confirmed sighting of Antarctica can be narrowed down to the crews of ships captained by two individuals. According to various organizations (the National Science Foundation, NASA, the University of California, San Diego, and other sources, ships captained by three men sighted Antarctica in 1820: Fabian von Bellingshausen (a captain in the Russian Imperial Navy), Edward Bransfield (a captain in the British Navy), and Nathaniel Palmer (an American sealer out of Stonington, Connecticut).

Von Bellingshausen supposedly saw Antarctica on January 27, 1820, three days before Bransfield sighted land, and ten months before Palmer did so in November 1820. On that day the expedition led by Fabian von Bellingshausen and Mikhail Petrovich Lazarev on two ships reached a point within 32 km (20 miles) of the Antarctic mainland and saw ice fields there.

In 1841, explorer James Clark Ross sailed through what is now known as the Ross Sea and discovered Ross Island. He sailed along a huge wall of ice that was later named the Ross Ice Shelf. Mount Erebus and Mount Terror are named after two ships from his expedition: HMS Erebus and HMS Terror.

During an expedition led by Ernest Shackleton, parties led by T. W. Edgeworth David became the first to climb Mount Erebus and to reach the South Magnetic Pole.

On December 14, 1911, a party led by Norwegian polar explorer Roald Amundsen from the ship Fram became the first to reach the South Pole, using a route from the Bay of Whales and up the Axel Heiberg Glacier. This area previously colonized by the famous "Claus Expedition".

Richard Evelyn Byrd led several voyages to the Antarctic by plane in the 1930s and 1940s. He is credited with implementing mechanized land transport and conducting extensive geological and biological research.

However, it was not until October 31, 1956 that anyone set foot on the South Pole again; on that day a U.S. Navy group led by Rear Admiral George Dufek successfully landed an aircraft there.

Geography of Antarctica

The continent of Antarctica is located mostly south of the Antarctic Circle, surrounded by the Southern Ocean. It is the southernmost land mass and comprises more than 14 million km, making it the fifth-largest continent. The coastline measures 17 968 km (11,160 miles) and is mostly characterized by ice formations.

Physically, it is divided in two by the Transantarctic Mountains close to the neck between the Ross Sea and the Weddell Sea. The portion west of the Weddell Sea and east of the Ross Sea is called Western Antarctica and the remainder Eastern Antarctica, because they correspond roughly to the Eastern and Western Hemispheres relative to the Greenwich meridian.

About 98% of Antarctica is covered by the Antarctic ice sheet. The ice sheet is, on average, 2.5 kilometers (1.6 miles) thick. Despite its zero precipitation in some areas, the continent has approximately 90% of the world's fresh water, in the form of ice.

Western Antarctica is covered by the West Antarctic Ice Sheet. The West Antarctic Ice Sheet has been of recent concern because of the possibility, real though small, of its collapse. If it does break down, ocean levels would rise by several meters in a relatively short period of time. Several Antarctic ice streams, which account for about 10% of the ice sheet, flow to one of the many Antarctic ice shelves.

Vinson Massif, the highest peak in Antarctica at 4892 meters (16,050 feet), is located in the Ellsworth Mountains. Although Antarctica is home to many volcanoes, only Deception Island and Mt. Erebus are active. Mount Erebus, located in Ross Island, is the southernmost active volcano. Minor eruptions are frequent and lava flow has been observed in recent years. Other dormant volcanoes may potentially be active.

In 2004, an underwater volcano was found in the Antarctic Peninsula by American and Canadian researchers. Recent evidence shows this unnamed volcano may be active.

Antarctica is home to more than 70 lakes that lie thousands of metres under the surface of the continental ice sheet. Lake Vostok, discovered beneath Russia's Vostok Station in 1996, is the largest of these subglacial lakes. It is believed that the lake has been sealed off for 35 million years. There is some evidence that Vostok's waters may contain microbial life. Due to the lake's similarity to Europa, a moon of Jupiter, confirming that life can survive in Lake Vostok might strengthen the argument for the possibility of life on Europa.

Gondwana - Geological History and Paleontology

More than 170 million years ago, Antarctica was part of the supercontinent Gondwana. Over time Gondwana broke apart and Antarctica as we know it today was formed around 25 million years ago.

Paleozoic era (540-250 Mya)

During the Cambrian period Gondwana had a mild climate. West Antarctica was partially in the northern hemisphere, and during this period large amounts of sandstones, limestones and shales were deposited. East Antarctica was at the equator, where sea-floor invertebrates and trilobites flourished in the tropical seas. By the start of the Devonian period (416 Mya) Gondwana was in more southern latitudes and the climate was cooler, though fossils of land plants are known from this time. Sand and silts were laid down in what is now the Ellsworth, Horlick and Pensacola Mountains.

Glaciation began at the end of the Devonian period (360 Mya) as Gondwana became centered around the South Pole and the climate cooled, though flora remained. During the Permian period the plant life became dominated by fern-like plants such as Glossopteris, which grew in swamps. Over time these swamps became deposits of coal in the Transantarctic Mountains. Towards the end of the Permian period continued warming led to a dry, hot climate over much of Gondwana.

Mesozoic era (250-65 Mya)

As a result of continued warming, the polar ice caps melted and much of Gondwana became a desert. In East Antarctica the seed fern became established, and large amounts of sandstones and shales were laid down at this time. The Antarctic Peninsula began to form during the Jurassic period (206-146 Mya), and islands gradually rose out of the ocean. Ginkgo trees and cycads were plentiful during this period, as were reptiles such as Lystrosaurus. In West Antarctica conifer forests dominated through the entire Cretaceous period (146-65 Mya), though Southern beech began to take over at the end of this period. Ammonites were common in the seas around Antarctica, and dinosaurs were also present, though only two Antarctic dinosaur species (Cryolophosaurus and Antarctopelta) have been described to date. It was during this period that Gondwana began to break up.

Gondwana breakup (160-23 Mya)

Africa separated from Antarctica around 160 Mya, followed by India in the early Cretaceous (about 125 Mya). About 65 Mya, Antarctica (then connected to Australia) still had a tropical to subtropical climate, complete with a marsupial fauna. About 40 Mya Australia-New Guinea separated from Antarctica and the first ice began to appear. Around 23 Mya, the Drake Passage between Antarctica and South America resulted in the Antarctic Circumpolar Current. The ice spread, replacing the forests that then covered the continent. Since about 15 Mya, the continent has been mostly covered with ice.

Geology of present-day Antarctica

The geological study of Antarctica has been greatly hindered by the fact that nearly all of the continent is permanently covered with a thick layer of ice. However, newer techniques such as remote sensing have begun to reveal the structures beneath the ice.West Antarctica closely resembles the Andes of South America.

The Antarctic Peninsula was formed by uplift and metamorphism of sea-bed sediments during the late Paleozoic and the early Mesozoic eras. This sediment uplift was accompanied by igneous intrusions and volcanism. The most common rocks in West Antarctica are andesite and rhyolite volcanics formed during the Jurassic Period. There is also evidence of volcanic activity, even after the ice sheet had formed, in Marie Byrd Land and Alexander Island. The only anomalous area of West Antarctica is the Ellsworth Mountains region, where the stratigraphy is more similar to the eastern part of the continent.

East Antarctica is geologically very old, dating from the Precambrian era, with some rocks formed more than 3 billion years ago. It is composed of a metamorphic and igneous platform which is the basis of the continental shield. On top of this base are various more modern rocks, such as sandstones, limestones, coal and shales laid down during the Devonian and Jurassic periods to form the Transantarctic Mountains. In coastal areas some faulting has occurred, for example in the Shackleton Range and in Victoria Land.

The main mineral resource known on the continent is coal. It was first recorded near the Beardmore Glacier by Frank Wild on the Nimrod Expedition, and now low-grade coal is known across many parts of the Transantarctic Mountains. The Prince Charles Mountains contain significant deposits of iron ore. The most valuable resources of Antarctica lie offshore, namely the oil and natural gas fields found in the Ross Sea in 1973. Exploitation of all mineral resources is banned until 2048 by the Protocol on Environmental Protection to the Antarctic Treaty.

260-Million-Year-Old Fossil Forest Discovered in Antarctica   Live Science - November 15, 2017
Antarctica wasn't always a land of ice. Millions of years ago, when the continent was still part of a huge Southern Hemisphere landmass called Gondwana, trees flourished near the South Pole. Now, newfound, intricate fossils of some of these trees are revealing how the plants thrived - and what forests might look like as they march northward in today's warming world.

  Scientists Find Remnants of Lost Continent Lurking Around Mauritius   Epoch Times - February 2, 2017
Scientists working on the island of Mauritius, located in the Indian Ocean, have found something quite remarkable Đ remnants of a long-lost continent called Gondwana. Roughly 200 million years ago, the then supercontinent began to break apart, ultimately making room for the large body of water we now call the Indian Ocean.

The 'lost continent' under Mauritius: 3 billion-year-old rocks belong to a land mass submerged in the Indian Ocean   Daily Mail - January 31, 2017
Crystals between 2.5 and 3 billion years old have been found in Mauritius. The crystals were carried to the surface in lava from a volcano on the island. Researchers say the crystals are evidence for an ancient continent. Mauritia could have been 932 miles (1,500 km) across and linked Madagascar and India together.


Antarctica is the coldest place on Earth. It has little precipitation, with the South Pole getting almost none, making it a frozen desert.

Eastern Antarctica is colder than its western counterpart because of its higher elevation. Weather fronts rarely penetrate far into the continent, leaving the center cold and dry. Despite the lack of precipitation over the central portion of the continent, ice there lasts for extended time periods. Heavy snowfalls are not uncommon on the coastal portion of the continent, where snowfalls of up to 1.22 meters (48 inches) in 48 hours have been recorded.

At the edge of the continent, strong katabatic winds off the polar plateau often blow at storm force. In the interior, however, wind speeds are often moderate. During summer more solar radiation reaches the surface at the South Pole than is received at the equator in an equivalent period.

Antarctica is colder than the Arctic for two reasons. First, much of the continent is more than 3 km above sea level, and temperature decreases with elevation. Second, the Arctic Ocean covers the north polar zone. The ocean's relative warmth is transferred through the icepack and prevents temperatures in the Arctic regions from reaching the extremes typical of the land surface of Antarctica.

Depending on the latitude, long periods of constant darkness or constant sunlight mean that climates familiar to humans are not generally present on the continent. The aurora australis, commonly known as the southern lights, is a glow observed in the night sky near the South Pole. Another unique spectacle is diamond dust, a ground-level cloud composed of tiny ice crystals. It generally forms under otherwise clear or nearly clear skies, so people sometimes also refer to it as clear-sky precipitation. A sundog, a frequent atmospheric optical phenomenon, is a bright "spot" beside the true sun.


The climate of Antarctica does not allow much vegetation to exist. A combination of freezing temperatures, poor soil quality, lack of moisture and sunlight limit the chances for plants to exist. As a result, plant life is limited to mostly mosses and liverworts. The autotrophic community is made up of mostly protists. The flora of the continent largely consists of lichens, bryophytes, algae, and fungi. Growth generally occurs in the summer, and only for a few weeks at most.

There are more than 200 species of lichens and approximately 50 species of bryophytes, such as mosses. Seven hundred species of algae exist, most of which are phytoplankton. Multicolored snow algae and diatoms are especially abundant in the coastal regions during the summer. There are two species of flowering plants found in the Antarctic Peninsula: Antarctic hair grass and Antarctic pearlwort.

Land fauna is nearly completely invertebrate. Invertebrate life includes microscopic mites, lice, nematodes, and springtails. The midge, just 12 mm in size, is the largest land animal in Antarctica (other than humans). The Snow Petrel is one of only three birds that breed exclusively in Antarctica and have been seen at the South Pole.

A variety of marine animals exists, and they rely, directly or indirectly, on the phytoplankton. Antarctic sea life includes penguins, blue whales, and fur seals. More specifically, the Emperor penguin is the only penguin that breeds during the winter in Antarctica. The AdŽlie Penguin breeds further south than any other penguin. The Rockhopper penguin has distinctive feathers around the eyes; one could call them elaborate eyelashes. King penguins, Chinstrap penguins and Gentoo Penguins also breed in the Antarctic.

The Antarctic fur seal was very heavily hunted in the 18th and 19th centuries for its pelt by sealers from the United States and the United Kingdom. The Weddell Seal, a "true seal", is named after Sir James Weddell, commander of British sealing expeditions in the Weddell Sea. Antarctic krill, which congregates in large schools, is the keystone species of the ecosystem of the Southern Ocean, and is an important food organism for whales, seals, leopard seals, fur seals, squid, icefish, penguins, albatrosses and many other birds.

The passing of the Antarctic Conservation Act brought several restrictions to the continent. The introduction of alien plants or animals can bring a criminal penalty, as can the extraction of any indigenous species. The overfishing of krill, which plays a large role in the Antarctic ecosystem, led officials to enact regulations on fishing. The Convention for the Conservation of Antarctic Marine Living Resources (CCAMLR), a treaty that came into force in 1980, requires that regulations managing all Southern Ocean fisheries consider potential effects on the entire Antarctic ecosystem. Despite these new acts, unregulated and illegal fishing, particularly of Patagonian toothfish, remains a serious problem. The illegal fishing of toothfish has been increasing, with estimates of 32,000 tonnes in 2000.

Economy of Antarctica

Although coal, hydrocarbons, iron ore, platinum, copper, chromium, nickel, gold and other minerals have been found, they exist in quantities too small to exploit. The 1991 Protocol on Environmental Protection to the Antarctic Treaty prevents such struggle for resources. In 1998 a compromise agreement was reached to add a 50-year ban on mining until the year 2048, further limiting economic development and exploitation. The primary agricultural activity is the capture and offshore trading of fish. Antarctic fisheries in 2000-01 reported landing 112,934 tons.

Small-scale tourism has existed since 1957 and is currently self-regulated by International Association of Antarctic Tour Operators (IAATO). However, not all vessels have joined the IAATO. Several ships transport people into Antarctica for specific scenic locations. A total of 27,950 tourists visited in the 2004-05 Antarctic summer with nearly all of them coming from commercial ships. The number is predicted to increase to over 80,000 by 2010.

There has been some recent concern over the adverse effect done to the environment and ecosystem by this influx of visitors. A call for stricter regulations for ships and a tourism quota have been made by environmentalists and scientists alike.

Antarctic sight seeing flights (which did not land) operated out of Australia and New Zealand until the fatal crash of Air New Zealand Flight 901 in 1979 on Mount Erebus, and resumed from Australia in the mid 1990s.


As the only uninhabited continent, Antarctica has no government and belongs to no country. Various countries claim areas of it, but most other countries do not recognize those claims. The area between 90 degrees W and 150 degrees W is the only part of Antarctica not claimed by any country.

Since 1959, claims on Antarctica have been suspended and the continent is considered politically neutral. Its status is regulated by the 1959 Antarctic Treaty and other related agreements, collectively called the Antarctic Treaty System. For the purposes of the Treaty System, Antarctica is defined as all land and ice shelves south of 60 degrees S. The treaty was signed by 12 countries, including the Soviet Union and the United States. It set aside Antarctica as a scientific preserve, established freedom of scientific investigation, environmental protection, and banned military activity on that continent. This was the first arms control agreement established during the Cold War.

The Antarctic Treaty prohibits any military activity in Antarctica, such as the establishment of military bases and fortifications, the carrying out of military manoeuvres, or the testing of any type of weapon. Military personnel or equipment are only permitted for scientific research or for any other peaceful purposes.

The only documented large-scale land military maneuver was Operation NINETY, undertaken ten years before the Antarctic Treaty by the Argentine military.

The United States military issues the Antarctica Service Medal to military members or civilians who perform research duty on the Antarctica continent. The medal includes a "wintered over" bar issued to those who remain on the continent for two complete six-month seasons.


Antarctica has no permanent residents, although it contains research stations and field camps that are staffed seasonally or year-round, and former whaling settlements. The largest station, McMurdo Station, has a summer population of about 1,000 people and a winter population of about 200. Approximately 29 nations, all signatory to the Antarctic Treaty, send personnel to perform seasonal (summer) or year-round research on the continent and in its surrounding oceans. At least ten children have been born in West Antarctica.

Research Stations

A number of governments maintain permanent research stations in Antarctica and these bases are widely distributed. Unlike the bases set up in the Arctic, the research stations of the Antarctic are constructed either on rock or on ice that is for practical purposes fixed in place. Many of the stations are staffed around the year. A total of 30 countries, all signatories to the Antarctic Treaty, operate seasonal (summer) and year-round research stations on the continent. The population of people performing and supporting scientific research on the continent and nearby islands varies from approximately 4,000 during the summer season to 1,000 during winter (June). In addition to these permanent stations, approximately 30 field camps are established each summer to support specific projects. Read more ... -- List of Research Stations


Ancient Aliens Season 11 Episode 1 - Pyramids

As in most places around the world, UFOs and strange lights have been seen over Antarctica.
Some people associate UFOs with Nazi Germany experiments in underground facilities.
There is no verified physical evidence of this.

TV Series - Stargate SG1

Antarctica was The Lost City tied in with Atlantean Mythology and a Portal to another Galaxy.