How many countries are in Antarctica?
Technically, zero. There are no countries in Antarctica.
However, seven different countries have claimed territory in Antarctica.
Countries with Territorial Claims in 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)
Antarctica is the southernmost continent on Earth. Antarctica's total area is 14.2 million square kilometers (5.5 million square miles). It has no permanent population, but typically hosts 1,000 - 5,000 visiting scientists. Antarctica contains all four of Earth's South Poles: the Geographic South Pole, the Geomagnetic South Pole, the Magnetic South Pole, and the South Pole of Rotation.
A little-known fact about Antarctica is that it is 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°C) in the winter and -4°F (-20°C) in the summer.
Antarctica was never colonized due to the harsh climate and conditions, so the land remained open and relatively free from territorial disputes. While France laid claim to a portion of the continent in 1840, the majority of claims wouldn't come until the early-to-mid 1900s, courtesy of the United Kingdom, New Zealand, Norway, Australia, Chile, Argentina, and Germany.
By 1959, 12 countries came together to create the 1959 Antarctica Treaty: Argentina, Australia, Belgium, Chile, France, Japan, New Zealand, Norway, South Africa, the U.S.S.R. (Russia), the United Kingdom, and the United States. The treaty went into effect in 1961 and had been signed by 54 nations as of 2021.
The Antarctica Treaty established the continent as a neutral location to be used exclusively for peaceful scientific purposes. Rules set forth by the treaty (and its updates) include:
- No military activity, training, or weapons testing (though the military can participate in peaceful research)
- No nuclear explosions
- No mining or other commercial exploitation
- No additional territorial claims beyond those that have already been made or reserved
- The environment shall be protected
- Scientific research will continue and plans and results will be shared
Antarctica is believed to have abundant natural resources such as oil reserves and 70% of the Earth's freshwater; however, the 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 preserve.
Antarctica has become a symbol of the effects of climate change, leading scientists and policymakers to push for stronger environmental protections for the region.