The World's Largest Desert
Antarctica is the 5th largest continent and is approximately 1.5 times the size of the United States. As the location of the South Pole, it is the southern-most continent. 98% of its 14 million km2 is covered with continental ice and the remaining 2% is barren rock. Antarctica is the coldest and windiest place on earth. At its extreme, temperatures can drop down to as low as -90° C in winter.
It was initially a part of Gondwanaland, a super-continent which also included Africa, India, Australia and New Zealand. The word Antarctica originates from a Greek word, meaning 'opposite of the Arctic'.
The Antarctic ice cap has 29 million cubic km of ice - 90% of all the ice on Earth. It also contains about 70% of the world's freshwater. If Antarctica's ice sheets melted, the oceans would rise by about 200-210 ft! The cold and dry conditions in the 'Dry Valleys' region of Antarctica are so close to those on Mars that NASA did testing there for the Viking mission. It has not rained in the dry valleys for at least 2 million years. Antarctica is also the world's largest desert as it only receives about 50 mm (2 in) of rain annually.
In winter Antarctica doubles in size due to the sea ice that forms around the coasts. The true boundary of Antarctica is not the coastline of the continent itself, or the outlying islands, but the Antarctic Convergence.
Antarctica’s most famous inhabitants are penguins, of which the Emperor penguin and Adélie Penguin, are endemic to Antarctica. In addition, 6 species of seals and 8 species of whales can be found in Antarctic waters.
However, its pristine beauty has not been able to escape science and tourism’s hunger to explore and both have left their mark. Some Antarctic species have been driven to the verge of extinction, soils have been contaminated, sewage has been discharged into the sea, and rubbish that will not decompose has been left behind even in the remotest parts.