With the South Pole at its heart, Antarctica is the world’s windiest, coldest and most southerly continent. The last region on Earth to be explored, this huge landmass is not divided into countries, but seven countries claimed territories there. In 1959, however, the Antarctic Treaty suspended those claims and stated that the continent is to be used for peaceful purposes only. Antarctica’s sole inhabitants are visiting scientists, working in research station.
Antarctica is almost entirely covered by a vast sheet of ice, in places 4.8 km (3miles) deep. It contains 90 per cent of the earth’s ice and 80 per cent of the world’s fresh water. The vast Ronne and Ross ice shelves are formed where the ice sheet extends over the ocean.
Currents beneath Antarctica’s vast ice shelves cause giant slabs of ice to break away, the largest of which may be 200 km (124 miles) long. As these enormous icebergs drift north, they slowly break up and melt. Only the top third of an iceberg shows above the water.
Antarctica has volcanic areas. An active Volcano, Mount Erebus, lies on Ross Island on the edge of the Ross Ice Shelf. It forms part of the Tran Antarctic mountain chain that includes peaks up to 4.570 m (15,000ft) high.
Cross–section through Antarctica:
The Tran Antarctic Mountains divide the continent of Antarctica into greater and lesser Antarctica. Although the land itself is low, the depth of the ice on top of it makes Antarctica the highest continent with an average height of 2,100 m (6,900 ft). The ice–cap was formed by the build up of snow over the last 100,000 years and contains 90 per cent of the world’s ice.
Cruise ships bring around 9,000 people each year to see Antarctica’s coastline and wildlife. A hotel now exists on King George Island. Tourists insulated clothing and goggles to protect their eyes from the glare.
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