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World Mission

Antarctica

Basic info

  • Area: 14 million sq km
  • Population: No indigenous inhabitants, but there are both permanent and summer-only staffed research stations.
  • Infant mortality:
  • Life expectancy:
  • Urbanisation:
  • Literacy:

History

Speculation over the existence of a "southern land" was not confirmed until the early 1820s when British and American commercial operators and British and Russian national expeditions began exploring the Antarctic Peninsula region and other areas south of the Antarctic Circle. Not until 1840 was it established that Antarctica was indeed a continent and not merely a group of islands or an area of ocean. Several exploration "firsts" were achieved in the early 20th century, but generally the area saw little human activity. Following World War II, however, the continent experienced an upsurge in scientific research. A number of countries have set up a range of year-round and seasonal stations, camps, and refuges to support scientific research in Antarctica. Seven have made territorial claims, but not all countries recognize these claims. In order to form a legal framework for the activities of nations on the continent, an Antarctic Treaty was negotiated that neither denies nor gives recognition to existing territorial claims; signed in 1959, it entered into force in 1961.

Environment

The climate is the coldest, windiest, and driest continent on Earth. It's severe low temperatures vary with latitude, elevation, and distance from the ocean whilst 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 However, summers are characterized by continuous daylight, while winters bring continuous darkness; persistent high pressure over the interior brings dry, subsiding air that results in very little cloud cover. The terrain is about 98% thick continental ice sheet and 2% barren rock, with average elevations between 2,000 and 4,000 m; mountain ranges up to nearly 5,000 m; 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.

Economy

Scientific undertakings rather than commercial pursuits are the predominant human activity in Antarctica. Offshore fishing and tourism, both based abroad, account for Antarctica's limited economic activity. Antarctic fisheries, targeting three main species – Chilean sea bass, mackerel, and krill– reported landing 295,000 metric tons in 2013-14. Unregulated fishing is an ongoing problem. The Convention on the Conservation of Antarctic Marine Living Resources determines the recommended catch limits for marine species. A total of 36,702 tourists visited the Antarctic Treaty area in the 2014-15 Antarctic summer, slightly lower than the 37,405 visitors in 2013-14. These estimates were provided to the Antarctic Treaty by the International Association of Antarctica Tour Operators and do not include passengers on overflights. Nearly all of the tourists were passengers on commercial ships and several yachts that make trips during the summer.

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