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:
Seven nations have 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), and Argentina (Argentine Antarctica). vThe United States, Peru, Russia, and South Africa have all reserved their right to claim territory in the future. Brazil currently has a "zone of interest" but not an actual claim.
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.
Is Antarctica a Continent?
Yes, Antarctica is a continent. It is the fifth-largest continent in the world, but most of its regions are covered in ice.
The South Orkney Islands
This is a group of islands situated in the Southern Ocean 604 kilometers north of the Antarctic Peninsula. The region has been claimed by the British as part of the British Antarctic Territory since 1962.
This area within Antarctica extends from Edward VIII Bay in the east to Queen Maud Land in the west. The region covers 2,000 square kilometers and consists of ice-free land along the coastal areas. Given the region's remoteness and that there have been few visits to the area. There is also little information on the region's flora and fauna.
The surveys of invertebrates in the region have shown the presence of springtails, tardigrades, and nematodes. There are also over 20 species of liverworts and mosses and 30 species of lichens.
This is a sub-region in Antarctica that lies between the Bellingshausen Sea and the Ronne Ice Shelf. This Icey region of Antarctica was discovered by Lincoln Ellsworth and his co-pilot Herbert Hollick-Keyon as they were crossing the continent. It has few areas that constitute ice-free land, particularly the mountain tops.
There have been few scientific studies conducted in the area. The available records show that the plant life in the region is low diversity, with only 40 species of lichens and five species of moss recorded.
This sub-region of Antarctica stretches from the Southern Ocean coastline to the South Pole. The land was discovered in 1840 by a French Explorer Jules Dumont D'Urville, who named it after his wife. In 1952, France administered it under the French Southern Antarctic districts. They even put a meteorological station in the region. This region is prone to katabatic winds, which drive sea ice away from the coastline.
Marie Byrd Land
This is the largest unclaimed area in Antarctica and covers over 1,600,000 square kilometers. The area received its name after the wife of Richard E Byrd, the first naval officer to explore the region in the 20th century. This area lies south of the Pacific Ocean and East of the Ross Sea. Lichens and non-living aquatic algae are the predominant vegetation in the region.
One of the lichen species found in the area is the Buellia Frigida. This organism is known for its tolerance to extreme conditions and is mainly used in experiments that simulate space conditions. The common invertebrates in this Antarctic region include nematodes, springtails, mites and rotifers.
Queen Maud Land
This is an Antarctica region that covers a landmass of 2.7 million square kilometers. It boarders the Australian Antarctic Territory to the east and the British Antarctic Territory to the west. Hjlmar Riiser-Larsen, a Norwegian citizen is believed to have been the first person to set foot in the area. The area was later administered as a Norway protectorate area in 1939.
Most of the Queen Maud Land is covered with ice sheet, except for the mountain ranges which allows for limited growth of flora.
Is Antarctica a Country?
Antarctica is a continent located at the furthest southern reaches of the globe. The landmass is nearly 5.5 million square miles and is the 5th largest continent globally. Most of the content is covered with ice that averages about 1.5 miles thick across the surface. Although Antarctica is a continent, there is no official country within the landmass. Antarctica is the only continent in the world uninhabited by Homo sapiens.
Who Owns Antarctica?
Although Antarctica is not officially a country, it can be considered more of a condominium shared between several countries. Argentina, Chile, Australia, France, Norway, the United Kingdom, and New Zealand claim the content. Claims generally come from explorers who visited between the 19th century and 20th century. Because so many countries claim this area of the world, the Antarctic Treaty System was created to ensure all countries share the continent equally. Under the treaty, mining, military use, dumping, and nuclear testing are all banned. Generally, Antarctica is peacefully shared for research and exploration.
Who Lives in Antarctica?
Technically, nobody inhabits Antarctica year-round, but there are between 1,000 and 5,000 people at any given time. Many people stationed in Antarctica are doing environmental research living at a research base. Most people living in Antarctica do so during the summer months when temperatures and weather conditions are more suited for human life.