Antarctica is the southernmost continent on Earth. The total area of Antarctica is 14.2 million km2 (5.5 million mi2) and it has a total population of 1,106 people. It contains all four of Earth’s South Poles: The Geographic South Pole, the Geomagnetic South Pole, and the Magnetic South Pole.
A little known fact about Antarctica is that it the largest desert on Earth.
Antarctica’s climate is extremely cold and dry, making it difficult to inhabit and colonize. Along the coast in the winter, temperatures range from -22°F to 14°F (-30°C to -10°C) and hover around 32°F (0°C) during summers. The interior regions of the continent see temperatures of -76°F (-60°F) in the winter and -4°F (-20°C) in the summer.
The United Kingdom was the first to lay territorial claims to Antarctica in the early 1800s. It was never colonized due to the harsh climate and conditions, so the land remained open and free from claim disputes. In the 1900s, the United Kingdom claimed segments of land in Antarctica, followed by France, Norway, and the German Nazi Party.
By 1959, 12 countries came together to create the 1959 Antarctica Treaty: Argentina, Australia, Belgium, Chile, the French Republic, Japan, New Zealand, Norway, the Union of South Africa, the Union of the Soviet Socialist Republics, the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland, and the United States. The treaty states that all parties involved agree that Antarctica shall forever to be used exclusively for peaceful purposes. The three main stipulations surrounding Antarctic land use:
- No military presence
- No mining
- No nuclear explosions
The goal for Antarctica is for there to be minimal human-derived human impacts and for researchers to leave no trace. Several research stations have been established around the continent by various countries for scientific and research purposes.
While there are no countries in Antarctica, there are several territories. Today, seven countries have territories on Antarctica:
- France (Adélie Land)
- United Kingdom (British Antarctic Territory)
- New Zealand (Ross Dependency)
- Norway (Peter I Island and Queen Maud Land)
- Australia (Australian Antarctic Territory)
- Chile (Chilean Antarctic Territory)
- Argentina (Argentine Antarctica)
Countries such as the United States, Peru, Russia, and South Africa have all reserved their right to make a claim in the original Antarctic Treaty. Brazil currently has a “zone of interest” but not an actual claim.
Antarctica is believed to have abundant natural resources such as oil reserves and 70% of the earth’s freshwater; however, the 1959 Antarctic Treaty prevents humans from exploiting the land for these resources. Antarctica will remain to be used as intended for research and as a nature reserve. Unfortunately, due to climate change, Antarctica has become a symbol for scientists and policymakers to push for environmental changes to protect this region.