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More than 170 million years ago, Antarctica was part of the supercontinent Gondwana. Charles Wilkes, and a separate French expedition under Jules Dumont d'Urville. Antarctica was not always cold, dry, and covered in ice sheets. This desert is so-defined because it has an annual precipitation of less than 8 inches along the coast and less than 2 inches in the interior. Among them was the founder of Grytviken, Captain Carl Anton Larsen, a prominent Norwegian whaler and explorer who, along with his family, adopted British citizenship in 1910. At 0.00008 people per square kilometre, it is by far the least densely populated continent. The Prince Charles Mountains contain significant deposits of iron ore. However, there is some evidence of antarctic marine glaciation during the Cretaceous period.[65]. Concerns have been raised that disruption of ice shelves may result in increased glacial outflow from the continental ice mass.[153]. Besides these, the possibility of future commercial fishing and mining activities, both of which are currently illegal, remain as the depletion of future natural resources could force governments of countries to legalize the exploitation of the natural resources of this unspoiled piece of our world. During the Nimrod Expedition led by Ernest Shackleton in 1907, parties led by Edgeworth David became the first to climb Mount Erebus and to reach the South Magnetic Pole. The extent of sea ice around Antarctica (in terms of square kilometers of coverage) has remained roughly constant in recent decades, although the amount of variation it has experienced in its thickness is unclear. Antarctica covers more than 14 million km2 (5,400,000 sq mi),[1] making it the fifth-largest continent, about 1.3 times as large as Europe. [144], On 6 September 2007 Belgian-based International Polar Foundation unveiled the Princess Elisabeth station, the world's first zero-emissions polar science station in Antarctica to research climate change. [146], A study from 2014 estimated that during the Pleistocene, the East Antarctic Ice Sheet (EAIS) thinned by at least 500 m (1,600 ft), and that thinning since the Last Glacial Maximum for the EAIS area is less than 50 m (160 ft) and probably started after c. 14 ka. Twelve countries signed the Antarctic Treaty in 1959, and thirty-eight have signed it since then. Ginkgo trees, conifers, bennettites, horsetails, ferns and cycads were plentiful during this period. [142], In September 2006 NASA satellite data revealed that the Antarctic ozone hole was larger than at any other time on record, at 2,750,000 km2 (1,060,000 sq mi). The Antarctican dollar, a souvenir item sold in the United States and Canada, is not legal tender.[1][140]. Interestingly enough, the largest exclusively terrestrial land animal of Antarctica is the Flightless midge, which is in fact a 12-millimeter-long insect. Astrophysicists at Amundsen–Scott South Pole Station study the celestial dome and cosmic microwave background radiation. Plant growth is mostly limited to lichens, bryophytes, fungi, algae, and a few flowering plants, such as the Antarctic hair grass and Antarctic pearl-wort. It is composed of a metamorphic and igneous platform which is the basis of the continental shield. Mount Erebus and Mount Terror are named after two ships from his expedition: HMS Erebus and Terror. Rainfall (or, strictly speaking, precipitation, which includes snow, mist and fog) is the main factor in defining a desert. [21] Cook came within about 120 km (75 mi) of the Antarctic coast before retreating in the face of field ice in January 1773.[22]. Though mineral deposits of platinum, coal, copper, nickel, and gold have been discovered in the Antarctic continent, the 1991 Protocol on Environmental Protection, and the 1998 agreement on a ban in mining until 2048 in Antarctica, have withheld the exploitation of the pristine Antarctic habitat by the world’s mining industries. This effect is offset by snow falling back onto the continent. It is divided into East Antarctica (largely composed of a high ice-covered plateau) and West Antarctica (an archipelago of ice-covered mountainous islands). [100][106], Seven hundred species of algae exist, most of which are phytoplankton. The Antarctic Treaty Consultative Meeting is advised on environmental and conservation issues in Antarctica by the Committee for Environmental Protection. [159], East Antarctica is a cold region with a ground base above sea level and occupies most of the continent. Painting of James Weddell's second expedition in 1823, depicting the brig Jane and the cutter Beaufoy, Nimrod Expedition South Pole Party (left to right): Wild, Shackleton, Marshall and Adams, Explorer James Clark Ross passed through what is now known as the Ross Sea and discovered Ross Island (both of which were named after him) in 1841. In 1983 the Antarctic Treaty Parties began negotiations on a convention to regulate mining in Antarctica. Other dormant volcanoes may potentially be active. They proposed instead that a comprehensive regime to protect the Antarctic environment be negotiated in its place. According to various organisations (the National Science Foundation,[23] NASA,[24] the University of California, San Diego,[25] the Russian State Museum of the Arctic and Antarctic,[26] among others),[27][28] ships captained by three men sighted Antarctica or its ice shelf in 1820: Fabian Gottlieb von Bellingshausen (a captain in the Imperial Russian Navy), Edward Bransfield (a captain in the Royal Navy), and Nathaniel Palmer (a sealer from Stonington, Connecticut). [157] However, one critic, Eric Rignot of NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory, states that this outlying study's findings "are at odds with all other independent methods: re-analysis, gravity measurements, mass budget method, and other groups using the same data" and appears to arrive at more precise values than current technology and mathematical approaches would permit. During the Cambrian period, Gondwana had a mild climate. Currently, the Polar Geospatial Center can image all of Antarctica at 500 mm (20 in) resolution every 45 days. Heavy snowfalls are common on the coastal portion of the continent, where snowfalls of up to 1.22 metres (48 in) in 48 hours have been recorded. In the dry valleys, the same effect occurs over a rock base, leading to a desiccated landscape.[53]. If found, these resilient creatures could further bolster the argument for extraterrestrial life in extremely cold, methane-rich environments. However, many of us are seemingly unaware that the world’s largest desert is the cold desert of Antarctica, located concentrically around the South Pole. The cooling of Antarctica occurred stepwise, as the continental spread changed the oceanic currents from longitudinal equator-to-pole temperature-equalising currents to latitudinal currents that preserved and accentuated latitude temperature differences. Even in the late 17th century, after explorers had found that South America and Australia were not part of the fabled "Antarctica", geographers believed that the continent was much larger than its actual size. If all of this ice were melted, sea levels would rise about 60 m (200 ft). [156], A single 2015 study by H. Jay Zwally et al. In January 1840, terra firma at Antarctica was discovered for the first time, almost simultaenously, by the United States Exploring Expedition, under Lieut. This was the first arms control agreement established during the Cold War. Synapsids, commonly known as "mammal-like reptiles", were common in Antarctica during the Early Triassic and included forms such as Lystrosaurus. The portion west of the Weddell Sea and east of the Ross Sea is called West Antarctica and the remainder East Antarctica. These specimens, particularly ALH84001 discovered by ANSMET, are at the centre of the controversy about possible evidence of microbial life on Mars. Which desert is not owned by any country? [107], The Protocol on Environmental Protection to the Antarctic Treaty (also known as the Environmental Protocol or Madrid Protocol) came into force in 1998, and is the main instrument concerned with conservation and management of biodiversity in Antarctica. The areas shown as Australia's and New Zealand's claims were British territory until they were handed over following the countries' independence. Managers and other senior officers of the whaling stations often lived together with their families. The treaty was signed by twelve countries including the Soviet Union (and later Russia), the United Kingdom, Argentina, Chile, Australia, and the United States. [127][128], There is no economic activity in Antarctica at present, except for fishing off the coast and small-scale tourism, both based outside Antarctica. Africa separated from Antarctica in the Jurassic, around 160 Ma, followed by the Indian subcontinent in the early Cretaceous (about 125 Ma). East Antarctica lies on the Indian Ocean side of the Transantarctic Mountains and comprises Coats Land, Queen Maud Land, Enderby Land, Mac. Another unique spectacle is diamond dust, a ground-level cloud composed of tiny ice crystals. There has been some concern over the potential adverse environmental and ecosystem effects caused by the influx of visitors. Another well-known volcano is found on Deception Island, which is famous for a giant eruption in 1970. [55], Antarctica is home to more than 70 lakes that lie at the base of the continental ice sheet. The Antarctic Desert is not in any country but located on the continent of Antarctica. The Arctic deserts are partially located in the United States, Canada, Finland, Iceland, Greenland, Norway, Sweden and Russia. These rodents threaten the native birds of Antarctica, many of which are quite vulnerable to them since they lack an experience in fending off predators in a habitat that is otherwise free of any natural predators for these same birds. [180] In 2019, the ozone hole was at its smallest in the previous thirty years, due to the warmer polar stratosphere weakening the polar vortex. East Antarctica was at the equator, where sea floor invertebrates and trilobites flourished in the tropical seas. Antarctica has a rich and adventure laden history. Over time, Gondwana gradually broke apart, and Antarctica as we know it today was formed around 25 million years ago. Norwegian Roald Amundsen and his team were the first to reach the geographic South Pole, doing so on December 14th, 1911. [143] The impacts of the depleted ozone layer on climate changes occurring in Antarctica are not well understood. [161][163], Some of Antarctica has been warming up; particularly strong warming has been noted on the Antarctic Peninsula. East Antarctica is geologically varied, dating from the Precambrian era, with some rocks formed more than 3 billion years ago. In Eastern Antarctica, seed ferns or pteridosperms became abundant and large amounts of sandstone and shale were laid down at this time. Twelve countries signed the Antarctic Treaty in 1959 and the agreement currently has 54 signatories. [73], Antarctica is the coldest of Earth's continents. [108], The passing of the Antarctic Conservation Act (1978) in the U.S. brought several restrictions to U.S. activity on Antarctica. [148], In 2006, a team of researchers from Ohio State University used gravity measurements by NASA's GRACE satellites to discover the 500-kilometre-wide (300 mi) Wilkes Land crater, which probably formed about 250 million years ago. [38] In addition, Shackleton and three other members of his expedition made several firsts in December 1908 – February 1909: they were the first humans to traverse the Ross Ice Shelf, the first to traverse the Transantarctic Mountains (via the Beardmore Glacier), and the first to set foot on the South Polar Plateau. This sediment uplift was accompanied by igneous intrusions and volcanism. Weather fronts rarely penetrate far into the continent, leaving the centre cold and dry. In January 2015, reports emerged of a 2-kilometre (1.2 mi) circular structure, supposedly a meteorite crater, on the surface snow of King Baudouin Ice Shelf. [86] He was born in 1978 at Esperanza Base, on the tip of the Antarctic Peninsula;[87][88] his parents were sent there along with seven other families by the Argentine government to determine if the continent was suitable for family life. If life is discovered in Lake Vostok, it would strengthen the argument for the possibility of life on Europa. [18] In February 1775, during his second voyage, Captain Cook called the existence of such a polar continent "probable" and in another copy of his journal he wrote: "[I] firmly believe it and it's more than probable that we have seen a part of it".[19]. The ice that covers Antarctica is continually moving, creating ice shelves that project out to sea. Glaciologists in Antarctica are concerned with the study of the history and dynamics of floating ice, seasonal snow, glaciers, and ice sheets. Antarctica is defined as all land and ice shelves south of 60° S for the purposes of the Treaty System. On the continent itself, the large volume of ice present stores around 70% of the world's fresh water. The Antarctic desert is the world’s largest desert. The Polar Geospatial Center uses geospatial and remote sensing technology to provide mapping services to American federally funded research teams. Next to the continental shore are many ice shelves. [100][101] Some of these species are cryptoendoliths as a result of evolution under extreme conditions, and have significantly contributed to shaping the impressive rock formations of the McMurdo Dry Valleys and surrounding mountain ridges. Compared with meteorites collected in more temperate regions on Earth, the Antarctic meteorites are well-preserved. On top of this base are coal and various modern rocks, such as sandstones, limestones and shales laid down during the Devonian and Jurassic periods to form the Transantarctic Mountains. [176], In February 2020, the region recorded the highest temperature of 18.3 °C (64.9 °F), which was a degree higher than the previous record of 17.5 °C (63.5 °F) in March 2015. The 1841 expedition led by James Clark Ross, a British Royal Navy officer, also led to significant discoveries in Antarctica, and the Ross Island and Ross Ice Shelf are currently still named after him. The largest known area uninhabited by humans, the "white desert" of the Antarctic receives about one thousand to five thousand people each year. The latter in its brief sojourn actually made a temporary landing; while the Wilkes expedition, though it did not make a landing, did remain long enough in the region to survey and map some 800 miles of the continent. Sand and silts were laid down in what is now the Ellsworth, Horlick and Pensacola Mountains. The illegal fishing of toothfish has been increasing, with estimates of 32,000 tonnes (35,000 short tons) in 2000. [167][168] The net contribution to sea level from the Antarctic Peninsula is more likely to be a direct result of the much greater atmospheric warming there. [1], Although coal, hydrocarbons, iron ore, platinum, copper, chromium, nickel, gold and other minerals have been found, they have not been in large enough quantities to exploit. East Antarctica is colder than its western counterpart because of its higher elevation. [94] Another member of Chironomidae is Parochlus steinenii. [141], Since the 1970s an important focus of study has been the ozone layer in the atmosphere above Antarctica. In 1997 Børge Ousland became the first person to make a solo crossing. This desert is so-defined because it has an annual precipitation of less than 8 inches along the coast and less than 2 inches in the interior. [151][152], Melting of floating ice shelves (ice that originated on the land) does not in itself contribute much to sea-level rise (since the ice displaces only its own mass of water). The existence of a landmass near the South Pole of the Earth was proposed to exist as early as the First Century CE by Ptolemy, and many maps of the world for a long time thereafter depicted the hypothetical southern landmass upon them. Antarctica, on average, is the coldest, driest, and windiest continent, and has the highest average elevation of all the continents. [40] The first women to set foot on Antarctica did so in the 1930s with Caroline Mikkelsen landing on an island of Antarctica in 1935,[41] and Ingrid Christensen stepping onto the mainland in 1937. What country is Antarctica in? It can be located below the country of Australia in the Antarctic region of the southern hemisphere. The Argentine, British and Chilean claims all overlap, and have caused friction. The geological study of Antarctica has been greatly hindered by nearly all of the continent being permanently covered with a thick layer of ice. The continent has about 90% of the world's ice (and thus about 70% of the world's fresh water). Antarctica, the world’s southernmost continent, is almost wholly covered by an ice sheet and is about 5.5 million square miles (14.2 million square km) in size. An expedition led by Norwegian polar explorer Roald Amundsen from the ship Fram became the first to reach the geographic South Pole on 14 December 1911, using a route from the Bay of Whales and up the Axel Heiberg Glacier. In 1998, a compromise agreement was reached to place an indefinite ban on mining, to be reviewed in 2048, further limiting economic development and exploitation. A major concern within this committee is the risk to Antarctica from unintentional introduction of non-native species from outside the region. [169], In 2002 the Antarctic Peninsula's Larsen-B ice shelf collapsed. Explorer Matthew Flinders, in particular, has been credited with popularising the transfer of the name Terra Australis to Australia. [98], A census of sea life carried out during the International Polar Year and which involved some 500 researchers was released in 2010. [149], In January 2013, an 18 kg (40 lb) meteorite was discovered frozen in ice on the Nansen ice field by a Search for Antarctic Meteorites, Belgian Approach (SAMBA) mission.[150]. As a result, the diversity of plant life is very low and limited in distribution. Geologists tend to study plate tectonics, meteorites from outer space, and resources from the breakup of the supercontinent Gondwana. [70] After that, the Pleistocene ice age covered the whole continent and destroyed all major plant life on it.[71]. There can be either hot deserts or cold deserts. The orbital distance contributes to a colder Antarctic winter (and a warmer Antarctic summer) but the first two effects have more impact. [142], In 2007 The Polar Geospatial Center was founded. Integral to the story of the origin of Antarctica's name is that it was not named Terra Australis—this name was given to Australia instead, because of the misconception that no significant landmass could exist further south. 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