In order to better understand Antarctica is important to understand the Arctic region first. Antarctica is a continent whereas the Arctic is not.
Antarctica and the Arctic Ocean
The Arctic Ocean - The geographic location of the North Pole is located at 90 00 north latitude, 0 00 east longitude. Many people don't realize that the two poles of the earth are very different. The area at the "top" of the earth is referred to as the "Arctic."
This area is covered by the smallest of the
five oceans- the Arctic Ocean. It is located
between the continents of North America,
Europe, and Asia.
Much of the Arctic is covered by ice
throughout the year and portions of it melt
during the Arctic summer.
It is important to remember that the Arctic region experiences summer when Antarctica is having winter season. The opposite of this is true when the Arctic is experiencing summer- Antarctica is The Arctic is unique in that it is home certain animals that are only found in the northern hemisphere. Perhaps the most famous of these are polar bears and walruses. The Arctic Circle located 66 degrees, 34 minutes north of the equator. This famous line of latitude is the latitude above which the sun does not set on the summer solstice, and does not rise on the winter solstice. Through the year it is sometimes possible to view the famous Aurora Borealis. Auroras are created as charged particles, moving away from the sun, collide with the Earth’s upper atmosphere.
The Physical Geography of Antarctica
Now that you have a basic understanding of the Arctic it is time look at the opposite
side of the planet- Antarctica. Unlike the Arctic, it is not an ocean but a continent. The geographic coordinates of Antarctica are 90 00 south latitude, 0 00 east longitude.
Antarctica is unique among the world's seven continents.
Antarctica holds four major continental records.
Ninety-eight percent of Antarctica is covered by ice year-round. The ice on Antarctica
averages about 1,829 meters in thickness with a maximum thickness of about 4776 meters. Interestingly, the much of the ice on Antarctica lies below sea. The lowest point on Antarctica is located at the Bentley Subglacial Trench has an elevation of -2,540 meters. Antarctica's highest point is Vinson Massif and reaches a height of 4,897 meters.
Surrounding Antarctica is a large ocean current called the Antarctic Circumpolar Current (also known as the West Wind Drift). This extremely important ocean current flows clockwise around Antarctica and is vital to marine organisms and the ecosystem in general.
Many ice shelves are located along the coasts of Antarctica. An ice shelf is a sheet of ice that floats on polar coastal waters and is connected to land. Antarctica's ice shelves form as glaciers slowly move towards the Southern Ocean. The largest ice shelves can be very thick and are slow to melt. The two largest ice shelves on Antarctica are the Ronne Ice Shelf and the Ross Ice Shelf. The Ross Ice Shelf, located next to the Ross Sea, is the larger of the two and covers about 510,680 square kilometers. The Ronne Ice Shelf is the second major ice
shelf and spans approximately 439 920 square kilometers.
In addition to ice shelves there are other frozen areas of the Southern Ocean that surround the continent of Antarctica. The size of these frozen areas increases during the Antarctic winter and shrink during the Antarctic summer. Interestingly, ice that formed more than a year ago usually contains very low amounts of salt. This is because the salt does not freeze easily and instead, slowly sticks together and melts down to the sea. Tiny salt tunnels form as the salt moves to the bottom of the ice and creates an environment where algae can grow. Krill, tiny shrimp-like marine animals, then feed on the algae. The krill thrive with this abundant food supply and become part of the food chain for everything from fish to baleen whales. Antarctica's most famous residents, penguins, also feed on krill, as well as squid and other creatures.
As shown above Antarctica is the windiest continent on earth. The more powerful winds that affect Antarctica are called katabatic (gravity driven) winds. This is caused by a air moving over the continent and that turns downward and moves out to the coast at high speed.
Major Mineral Resources of Antarctica
The Antarctic Treaty System
Antarctica is the only continent where country borders do not exist. But prior to the creation of the first Antarctic treaty seven countries made territorial claims to Antarctica- Argentina, Australia, Chile, France, New Zealand, Norway, and the United Kingdom. These claims, some of which overlap, resemble a pie that has been sliced with all claims starting at the geographic South Pole.
The future of Antarctica was the topic when twelve countries came together at the invitation of the United States of America for the Conference on Antarctic. After several months of hard work in Washington, D.C. the Antarctic Treaty was completed and signed on December 1, 1959. The twelve countries that signed the treaty were Argentina, Australia, Belgium, Chile, France, Japan, New Zealand, Norway, South Africa, the Union of the Soviet Socialist Republics (now Russia), the United States of America, and the United Kingdom. The treaty took effect on June 23, 1961. It was followed by several other treaties that have come to be called the Antarctic Treaty System. The Antarctic Treaty is made up of a preamble and fourteen articles.
The First Six Articles of the Antarctic Treaty
Article 1 – Dedicates Antarctica to peaceful purposes only and restricts military activities that are not directly in support of scientific research
Article 2 – Provides for freedom of scientific investigation and cooperation
Article 3 – Contains provisions for the promotion of free exchange of information between expeditions and stations in Antarctica
Article 4 – The Antarctic Treaty does not recognize, dispute, or establish new territorial claims
Article 5 – The Antarctic Treaty bans all nuclear explosions and the dumping of radioactive waste
Article 6 – Specifies that the sea and land area covered by the Antarctic Treaty will apply to areas that lie at and below 60º South latitude
There are currently 53 countries that are part of the Antarctic Treaty. The Antarctic Treaty Secretariat was established in 2004 and it is located in Buenos Aires, Argentina.