You’re watching FreeSchool! Icy and remote, the continent of Antarctica
is the coldest, driest, windiest, and southernmost place on Earth. It is located almost entirely below the Antarctic
Circle, and is surrounded by the frigid Southern Ocean. As a continent, Antarctica is a large expanse
of land. It is the Earth’s fifth-largest continent:
larger than Europe, and nearly twice as large as Australia. About 98% of Antarctica is covered in sheets
of ice that average more than a mile or nearly two kilometers in thickness. Compared to other continents, Antartcica was
only recently discovered. Although the existence of a huge southern
continent was rumored for thousands of years, Antarctica was not seen by humans until the
19th century. It was believed to be first sighted in 1820,
but the first confirmed landing was not until 1895. This is because Antarctica was so cold and
unwelcoming that there was little interest in exploring it. Map makers called the new continent ‘Antarctica,’
from a Greek word meaning the ‘opposite of the Arctic,’ or north. Although it is so cold, Antarctica is a desert,
with very little rain or snow. What snow there is accumulates, and builds
up into massive sheets of ice. This ice takes different forms, including
glaciers, ice shelves, and icebergs. Because of the thick sheets of ice covering
the continent, Antarctica has the highest average elevation of any continent in the
world. There are only two seasons in Antarctica:
summer, and winter. Because Antarctica is located at the Earth’s
south pole, each summer brings long periods of sunlight, and winter brings long periods
of darkness. During the summer, the sun remains in the
sky longer and longer each day, until midsummer, where near the south pole the sun stays up
for 24 hours a day. During the winter, it is dark for longer and
longer each day, until midwinter, when there are some days that the sun does not rise at
all. Antarctica has no trees or bushes. Only moss and lichens and algae can survive
in such a cold climate. Very few animals survive in the frozen desert
of Antarctica, either. If you were to visit Antarctica, you would
likely see only peguins, some other seabirds, and seals. More animal species are found in the waters
around Antarctica: fish, and whales, as well as squid, mollusks, and other invertebrates. Today, Antarctica is not a country and has
no government. It does not belong to any country, although
parts of the continent are claimed by several countries. Antarctica is the only continent to have a
population of zero: although anywhere between one to five thousand people visit each year,
no one lives there permanently. Aside from tourists, who only visit during
the summer, most activity on Antarctica is scientific. The frozen continent is protected by an international
treaty that prohibits military activity or mining, setting it aside as a “natural reserve
devoted to peace and science.” I hope you enjoyed learning about Antarctica
today! Good-bye till next time.