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Antarctica Geography

    Location: continent mostly south of the Antarctic Circle

    Geographic coordinates: 90 00 S, 0 00 E

    Map references: Antarctic Region

    Area:
    total: 14 million sq km
    land: 14 million sq km (280,000 sq km ice-free, 13.72 million sq km ice-covered) (est.)
    note: second-smallest continent (after Australia)

    Area—comparative: slightly less than 1.5 times the size of the US

    Land boundaries: 0 km
    note: see entry on International disputes

    Coastline: 17,968 km

    Maritime claims: none, but see entry on International disputes

    Climate: 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

    Terrain: about 98% thick continental ice sheet and 2% barren rock, with average elevations between 2,000 and 4,000 meters; mountain ranges up to about 5,000 meters; 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 extremes:
    lowest point: Indian Ocean 0 m
    highest point: Vinson Massif 5,140 m

    Natural resources: none presently exploited; iron ore, chromium, copper, gold, nickel, platinum and other minerals, and coal and hydrocarbons have been found in small, uncommercial quantities

    Land use:
    arable land: 0%
    permanent crops: 0%
    permanent pastures: 0%
    forests and woodland: 0%
    other: 100% (ice 98%, barren rock 2%)

    Irrigated land: 0 sq km (1993)

    Natural hazards: 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

    Environment—current issues: in 1998, NASA satellite data showed that the antarctic ozone hole was the largest on record, covering 27 million square kilometers; researchers in 1997 found that increased ultraviolet light coming through the hole damages the DNA of icefish, an antarctic fish lacking hemoglobin; ozone depletion earlier was shown to harm one-celled antarctic marine plants

    Environment—international agreements:
    party to: none of the selected agreements
    signed, but not ratified: none of the selected agreements

    Geography—note: the coldest, windiest, highest, 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

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Revised 1-Mar-99
Copyright © 1999 Photius Coutsoukis (all rights reserved)