World · Antarctica
No place on Earth compares to this vast white wilderness of elemental forces: snow, ice, water, rock. Antarctica is the continent at the South Pole. It is covered by permafrost (permanently frozen ground), is surrounded by water, and is about 1 1/2 times larger than the United States. The world’s largest desert is on Antarctica. 98% of the land is covered with a continental ice sheet; the remaining 2% of land is barren rock. It has about 87% of the world’s ice. There are a number of rivers and lakes in Antarctica, the longest river being the Onyx. The largest lake, Vostok, is one of the largest sub-glacial lakes in the world.
Antarctica is the coldest, windiest, and driest place on Earth, and has the highest average elevation of all the continents. The coldest temperature ever recorded on Earth was at the South Pole; it reached -88.0°C! On average, most of Antarctica gets less than 2 inches of snow fall each year. Although there are scientific expeditions visiting Antarctica, there are no permanent human residents due to the extreme weather, which includes freezing temperatures, strong winds, and blizzards.
This continent, preserved by the Antarctic Treaty, is home to some of the world’s most extraordinary species, adapted to life in their unique home. Some migrate far and wide, like the enormous whales, others remain close to the continent, like the Weddell seal and the emperor penguin. Millions of seabirds skim the Southern Ocean, the world’s most abundant ocean.
Although myths and speculation about a Terra Australis (“Southern Land”) date back to antiquity, Antarctica is noted as the last region on Earth in recorded history to be discovered and colonized by humans. The continent remained largely neglected for the rest of the 19th century because of its hostile environment, lack of easily accessible resources, and isolation. In 1895, the first confirmed landing was conducted by a team of Norwegians.