Antarctica: The Incredible Icy Land at the Bottom of the Earth

Antarctica: A Frozen Wonderland of Natural Wonders

Imagine a place so large that it's actually bigger than the United States and Mexico combined, yet almost no one lives there. Welcome to Antarctica, the coldest, windiest, and driest continent on our planet. It's covered in ice, and it holds a staggering 70% of the world's fresh water in its icy grip. Just 2.4% of Antarctica is not covered by ice, and this land is primarily located along the coasts. These coastal areas have relatively warmer temperatures, making them the habitat for most of the lifeforms found in Antarctica.



Antarctica: The Incredible Icy Land at the Bottom of the Earth
Image Source: Google, Iceberg, Antarctica


But Antarctica isn't just a frozen wasteland; it's a hub of scientific discovery, home to adorable penguins, playful seals, and many more animals that have adapted to its extreme conditions. Let's embark on an expedition to uncover the fascinating attractions and secrets of this remote, icy world.

Antarctica remained hidden from human exploration until the early 19th century due to its extreme isolation and harsh climate. Several countries participated in the exploration and initial discovery of Antarctica.

But The first sighting of Antarctica is now widely acknowledged to have taken place on the 28th (maybe the 27th) of January 1820 during the voyage of two Russian ships, the Vostok  and Mirnyi  under the command of Captain Fabian Gottlieb Thaddeus von Bellingshausen during a two year exploratory expedition around the world to discover new lands for the Russian Empire. 

However, several historians believe that earlier explorers, including British and American captains like John Davis and Nathaniel Palmer, may have glimpsed the continent's coast in the late 1810s.

💻 Table of Contents:

  1. History of Naming Antarctica
  2. Antarctica: Earth's Toughest Continent
  3. Challenges and Limitations of Life in Antarctica
  4. Historic Antarctic Births: Solveig and Emilio
  5. The Antarctic Treaty: A Pact for Peaceful Cooperation
  6. Antarctic Territorial Claims: A Complex Geographic Puzzle
  7. Iran asserts its claim of "property rights" over Antarctica


Antarctica: The Incredible Icy Land at the Bottom of the Earth
145 years anniversary of discovery of Antarctica in Soviet Union


The intense interest in Antarctic exploration gained momentum in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, with notable expeditions led by explorers such as Ernest Shackleton, Robert Falcon Scott, and Roald Amundsen. These endeavors marked the beginnings of human exploration and scientific research in this frigid and remote continent, eventually leading to the establishment of research stations and ongoing scientific discovery in Antarctica.


History of Naming Antarctica:

The name "Antarctica" comes from the word "antarctic," which means "opposite to the Arctic." This word has its roots in Latin and Greek, with Aristotle mentioning an "Antarctic region" way back in 350 BCE. Even the Greek geographer Marinus of Tyre used this name in his maps from the second century CE, but those maps are lost today.

Now, Europeans used to believe in the existence of a vast southern continent called "Terra Australis" to balance out the northern lands. This belief lasted until they discovered Australia. Matthew Flinders, an explorer in the early 19th century, wasn't sure if there was a separate continent south of Australia, so he thought Australia should be called "Terra Australis." In 1824, authorities in Sydney officially changed the name of New Holland (which was Australia's old name) to Australia, so "Terra Australis" couldn't be used for Antarctica.



For a while, geographers used phrases like "the Antarctic Continent" when talking about Antarctica. They were looking for a more poetic name and suggested names like "Ultima" and "Antipodea." Ultimately, "Antarctica" was adopted in the 1890s, with credit often given to a Scottish cartographer named John George Bartholomew.


Antarctica: Earth's Toughest Continent

Antarctica, our planet's most extreme continent, is a land of groundless. It boasts the coldest natural air temperature ever recorded at -89.2°C (-128.6°F) and can reach winter lows of -80°C (-112°F). On average, it gets just 6 inches (15 centimeters) of rain each year, mostly in the form of snow. The interior is even drier, with less than 50mm (2 in) annually, while coastal areas receive over 200mm (8 in). Antarctica is colder than the Arctic, Its land is very high, with some parts reaching over 3,000 meters (9,800 feet) above sea level.

Antarctica: The Incredible Icy Land at the Bottom of the Earth
Image Source: Google, Image By: Wikimedia Commons


Antarctica, known as the Earth's Toughest Place, is considered a continent due to its ability to meet the defining criteria. It boasts a unique geological structure, characterized by a separate tectonic plate and a solid continental crust concealed beneath its icy surface. Despite being predominantly cloaked in ice, Antarctica possesses a substantial land mass, boasting a remarkable average elevation. With an expansive area of approximately 14 million square kilometers, it proudly secures its position as the fifth-largest continent. Furthermore, Antarctica enjoys international recognition as a continent, endorsed by agreements and esteemed organizations such as the United Nations and the scientific community.


Challenges and Limitations of Life in Antarctica:

Antarctica, known for its harsh conditions, poses significant challenges for habitation and cultivation.

Lack of Trees:

Antarctica is virtually treeless. Its extreme cold, limited sunlight and poor soil quality make tree growth impossible. Only a few mosses and lichens manage to survive in this treeless expanse.

Limited Cultivable Land:

Cultivating land in Antarctica is extremely challenging due to its frigid climate, frozen soil, and short growing season. While some research stations have experimented with greenhouse farming, the harsh environment restricts the potential for agriculture.

Unique Animal Adaptations:

Antarctica is home to various animal species, such as penguins, seals, and seabirds, which have adapted to the harsh conditions. They rely on the rich marine life surrounding the continent for their survival, making it an inhospitable environment for terrestrial animals.

Unfit for Permanent Residence:

Antarctica's extreme cold, isolation, and lack of infrastructure make it unsuitable for permanent human habitation. Research stations exist, but they are typically occupied by scientists on short-term assignments. Surviving the brutal winters in Antarctica requires specialized equipment and extensive logistical support.


While Antarctica's unique ecosystem and extreme conditions intrigue scientists and explorers, it remains a challenging environment for trees, agriculture, and long-term human residence. Its importance lies primarily in scientific research and conservation efforts rather than as a place for permanent settlement.


Historic Antarctic Births: Solveig and Emilio

In the icy southern regions, Solveig Gunbjørg Jacobsen, a Norwegian girl, made history as the first child born in Grytviken on 8 October 1913. However, Emilio Marcos Palma holds the distinction of being the first person born on the Antarctic mainland, born at the Esperanza Base of the Argentine Army. It means that there are records, such as a birth certificate or other official documents, verifying his birth in Antarctica, making it an officially recognized event.

Moreover, the Antarctic Treaty strictly forbids military activities in Antarctica, including establishing bases, military exercises, or weapons testing. Military presence is only permitted for scientific research and peaceful purposes.

Gonzalez Videla, during his presidency, became the first chief of state of any nation to visit Antarctica. The base in Antarctica bears the name of Gonzalez Videla from Chile.


The Antarctic Treaty: A Pact for Peaceful Cooperation

The Antarctic Treaty, signed in Washington on December 1, 1959, brought together twelve nations whose scientists had actively participated in the International Geophysical Year of 1957-1958. This treaty took effect in 1961 and has since been joined by many other countries. Its primary objectives are to:

Demilitarize Antarctica: The treaty aims to keep Antarctica free from military activities, including nuclear tests and the disposal of radioactive waste.

Ensure Peaceful Use: It emphasizes that Antarctica should only be utilized for peaceful purposes.

Promote Scientific Collaboration: The treaty fosters international scientific cooperation in Antarctica.

Set Aside Territorial Disputes: It helps set aside territorial sovereignty disputes in the region.

In essence, the Antarctic Treaty serves as a framework for peaceful and collaborative exploration and research in Antarctica while safeguarding the continent's unique environment.


Antarctic Territorial Claims: A Complex Geographic Puzzle

Seven nations—Argentina, Australia, Chile, France, New Zealand, Norway, and the United Kingdom—have asserted territorial claims in Antarctica, totaling eight claims in all. These countries often establish their research stations within their respective claimed areas. However, some facilities are located outside the boundaries of their claims, and countries without territorial claims, such as China, India, Italy, Japan, Pakistan, Russia, South Africa, Ukraine, and the United States, have also built research facilities within regions claimed by others.

Brazil expresses interest in establishing a territorial presence in Antarctica without a formal claim, while Uruguay operates a research station and shows interest in territorial rights without an official claim. Both nations contribute to global scientific collaboration on the continent.

Notably, there are territorial overlaps between Argentina, Chile, and the United Kingdom in Antarctica. This complex arrangement reflects the intricate web of scientific exploration and international cooperation on the continent.


Iran asserts its claim of "property rights" over Antarctica:

Iranian Navy Commander Rear Admiral Shahram Irani announced in September 2023 that Tehran asserts its claim of 'property rights' over Antarctica. The intention is to raise their flag in the region while engaging in both military and scientific endeavors, as reported by Fox News on February 15, 2024. This declaration has garnered attention, particularly in light of recent Iranian-backed militia activities and the release of $6 billion in Iranian funds by the US administration.

However, a spokesperson from the US State Department clarified that these funds cannot be used for activities in Antarctica and are strictly limited to humanitarian purposes. Observers express concerns regarding Iran's aggressive tendencies and highlight the violation of multilateral conventions with their attempts to expand military presence in Antarctica. While Iran is not a signatory to the Antarctic Treaty, which prohibits territorial claims made after 1961, its actions are not recognized by other nations. These developments underscore the urgency of addressing Iran's nuclear threat and its disruptive behavior across various fronts.



Conclusion:

Antarctica, with its extreme conditions and storied history of exploration, is a global center for groundbreaking science and collaboration. Despite its tough climate and remoteness, it's known for its unique ecosystem, resilient animals, and important role in understanding Earth's environment. Challenges remain for living and farming here, but Antarctica remains a valuable hub for research and conservation—a place of extraordinary significance, symbolizing our enduring curiosity, international cooperation and scientific quest.


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