Antarctica (from Greek: antarctikos meaning "opposite to the Arctic", “opposite to the north”) is the earth’s southernmost continent, containing the geographic South Pole. It is situated in the Antarctic region of the Southern Hemisphere and is surrounded by the three oceans (Atlantic, Pacific and Indian) jointly named as the Southern Ocean. Principal facts about the Antarctic continent:
- Square area: 13,980,000 km2 (12,327,000 km2 not counting the ice shelf)
- Highest point: 5,140 m (Mount Vinson)
- Average ice thickness: 1,830 m
- Maximum ice thickness – 4,800 m
- Total ice volume – 27,990,000 km2
- The lowest recorded air temperature, -89.3° С, was registered at the Russian Vostok Research station in 1983
- No permanent native human population
- Mineral resources: Although coal, hydrocarbons, iron ore, platinum, copper, chromium, nickel, gold and other minerals have been found, mining operations are banned by the Protocol on Environmental Protection to the Antarctic Treaty of 1991.
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 in Antarctica.
Antarctica is the fiſth-largest continent and the largest ice-covered area. The world’s climate greatly depends on Antarctica, the coldest of the earth’s continents. The large volume of ice present stores around 70% of the world's fresh water. The ice cover comprises the inland ice sheet and the ice shelf - a thick fioating platform of ice that forms on the continent’s periphery. The Antarctic ice sheet containing a “record” on atmospheric and climate conditions for the past 100,000 years is an important source of the data on global climate change.
Due to severe climate there is no permanent human population in Antarctica. However, the research stations (about 40 year-round and 15 seasonal) house up to 4,000 staff members in summer (about 150 Russians) and 1,000 in winter (about 100 Russians), plus about 1,000 ship crew members and scientists conducting research in offshore areas.
In accordance with the provisions of the Antarctic Treaty signed on December 1, 1959 and implemented on June 23, 1961, Antarctica is defined as all of the land and ice shelves south of 60° S latitude and a politically independent territory, not pertaining to any state. The treaty sets aside Antarctica as a scientific preserve, establishes freedom of scientfic investigation and bans military activity on that continent. In the 1980s Antarctica was declared a nuclear-free zone.