13,720,000(km2) / 5,300,000 (mi2)

Highest Point:
Vinson Massif (4,892m / 16,050f)

Lowest Point:
Bentley Subglacial Trench (−2,540m / −8,333f)

Centuries ago people suspected that there should be unknown land south of Africa, America and Asia. Indeed, around 1820, a whole continent was discovered by whale and seal hunters. It was given the name Antarctica (South Pole), from ‘anti’ and ‘Arctica’ meaning that it’s the counterpart of Arctica (North Pole). While that name suggests that the North and South Pole are similar, Antarctica is a continent, while Arctica is not. That is because only the first is surrounded by oceans the second is a frozen ocean, surrounded by land. Almost a century after the discovery, in 1911, the geographical South Pole was reached for the first time by the Norwegian Roald Amundsen. Antarctica has a surface area of 14 billion square kilometers. That is three times as large as Europe. The days lengthen (and shorten) gradually, from zero sun hours during winter to 24 sun hours a day in the summer. The temperature during winter lies somewhere between -50 and -60 Celsius, therefore the continent is (besides by scientists) not populated.

The ice layer that covers Antarctica is 2300 meters thick and is a result of snowfall year after year that is compressed under its own weight. Also the longest glacier in the world, the 400 km long Lambert glacier, is found in East Antarctica. There are parts of Antarctica that are not covered with ice. They are called oases and their landscape is often compared with that of Mars. The largest oases are the Dry Valleys in Victoria Land. Inland of Antarctica, and at the extensive ice fields there is no vegetation and only few animal species. However many plants and animals live at and around the coast, like penguins and whales. A long time ago (70 billion years) Antarctica was covered with conifers. Now there are practically only mosses, but no less than 350 different kinds of them. But who owns Antarctica? This question is answered in the Antarctic Treaty. Argentina, Australia, Chile, France, Great-Britain, New-Zealand and Norway all wanted to have a piece of it. They agreed in 1959 that none of them would own Antarctica and that the continent would only be used for research, excluding nuclear tests and military practice. Also vegetation and animals may not be harmed by their presence. Nowadays scientists come to Antarctica to examine the ice, the glaciers and the animals. But also the condition of the ozone layer and the climate (change) are subject of extensive research. Researchers also found a lake 4000 meters under the icy surface - Lake Vostok - which is also interesting because it is at least 35 billion years old. Each year there are also 30.000 tourists taking a cruise around Antarctica to see the flora and fauna. There are strict rules for them to follow, most are to make sure no waste is left behind.


Antarctica, Bouvet Island, French Southern Territories, Heard Island and McDonald Islands, South Georgia and the South Sandwich Islands,