Location: continent mostly south of the Antarctic Circle. 

Map references: Antarctic Region. 

Area: total area: 14 million sq km (est.), land area: 14 million sq km (est.), comparative area: slightly less than 1.5 times the size of the US, note: second-smallest continent (after Australia). 

Land boundaries: none, but see entry on International disputes. 

Coastline: 17,968 km 

Maritime claims: none, but see entry on International Disputes. 

Right: Another antarctic map, derived from RadarSat data, showing a colored topography of the continent. Black is altitude 0, white is 5022m and it goes from purple to red in between. The various domes are fairly obvious. The center of the map has a lower resolution due to lack of satellite data. Various areas of interest are colored on the map showing the extraordinary interest of Dome C for science.

/year, Auroral oval below the horizon, Limit of visibility for geostationary satellites. So in short it combines a high altitude, a very flat terrain, a very low snow accumulation (and good weather), an absence of light and the possibility to reach geostationnary satellites. Note that it's the only research station combining all those.

International disputes: Antarctic Treaty defers claims (see Antarctic Treaty Summary below); sections (some overlapping) claimed by Argentina, Australia, Chile, France (Adelie Land), New Zealand (Ross Dependency), Norway (Queen Maud Land), and UK; the US and most other nations do not recognize the territorial claims of other nations and have made no claims themselves (the US reserves the right to do so); no formal claims have been made in the sector between 90 degrees west and 150 degrees west. 

Climate: severe low temperatures vary with latitude, elevation, and distance from the ocean; East Antarctica is colder than West Antarctica because of its higher elevation; Antarctic Peninsula has the most moderate climate; higher temperatures occur in January along the coast and average slightly below freezing. 

Terrain: about 98% thick continental ice sheet and 2% barren rock, with average elevations between 2 000 and 4 000 meters; mountain ranges up to 4 897 meters high; ice-free coastal areas include parts of southern Victoria Land, Wilkes Land, the Antarctic Peninsula area, and parts of Ross Island on McMurdo Sound; glaciers form ice shelves along about half of the coastline, and floating ice shelves constitute 11% of the area of the continent. 

Natural resources: none presently exploited; iron ore, chromium, copper, gold, nickel, platinum and other minerals, and coal and hydrocarbons have been found in small, non-commercial quantities.
Land use: arable land: 0%, permanent crops: 0%, meadows and pastures: 0%, forest and woodland: 0%, other: 100% (ice 98%, barren rock 2%); Irrigated land: 0 sq km. 

Current issues: in October 1991 it was reported that the ozone shield, which protects the Earth's surface from harmful ultraviolet radiation, had dwindled to the lowest level recorded over Antarctica since 1975 when measurements were first taken.

Natural hazards: katabatic (gravity-driven) winds blow coastward from the high interior; frequent blizzards form near the foot of the plateau; cyclonic storms form over the ocean and move clockwise along the coast; volcanism on Deception Island and isolated areas of West Antarctica; other seismic activity rare and weak.

International agreements: NA

Right: Departure of a Traverse leaving Dome C.

Note: the coldest, windiest, highest, and driest continent; during summer more solar radiation reaches the surface at the South Pole than is received at the Equator in an equivalent period; mostly uninhabitable.


Population: no indigenous inhabitants; note: there are seasonally staffed research stations.
Summer (January) population: over 4,115 total; Argentina 207, Australia 268, Belgium 13, Brazil 80, Chile 256, China NA, Ecuador NA, Finland 11, France 78, Germany 32, Greenpeace 12, India 60, Italy 210, Japan 59, South Korea 14, Netherlands 10, NZ 264, Norway 23, Peru 39, Poland NA, South Africa 79, Spain 43, Sweden 10, UK 116, Uruguay NA, US 1,666, former USSR 565 (1989-90).

Winter (July) population: over 1,046 total; Argentina 150, Australia 71, Brazil 12, Chile 73, China NA, France 33, Germany 19, Greenpeace 5, India 1, Japan 38, South Korea 14, NZ 11, Poland NA, South Africa 12, UK 69, Uruguay NA, US 225, former USSR 313 (1989-90).

Year-round stations: 42 total; Argentina 6, Australia 3, Brazil 1, Chile 3, China 2, Finland 1, France 1, Germany 1, India 1, Japan 2, South Korea 1, NZ 1, Poland 1, South Africa 3, UK 5, Uruguay 1, US 3, former USSR 6 (1990-91).

Summer only stations: over 38 total; Argentina 7, Australia 3, Chile 5, Germany 3, India 1, Italy 1, Japan 4, NZ 2, Norway 1, Peru 1, South Africa 1, Spain 1, Sweden 2, UK 1, US numerous, former USSR 5 (1989-90); not: the disintegration of the former USSR has placed the status and future of its Antarctic facilities in doubt; stations may be subject to closings at any time because of ongoing economic difficulties.


Names: conventional long form: none; conventional short form: Antarctica.
Digraph: AY
Antarctic Treaty Summary: The Antarctic Treaty, signed on 1 December 1959 and entered into force on 23 June 1961, establishes the legal framework for the management of Antarctica. Administration is carried out through consultative member meetings — the 18th Antarctic Treaty Consultative Meeting was in Japan in April 1993. Currently, there are 42 treaty member nations: 26 consultative and 16 acceding. Consultative (voting) members include the seven nations that claim portions of Antarctica as national territory (some claims overlap) and 19 nonclaimant nations. The US and some other nations that have made no claims have reserved the right to do so. The US does not recognize the claims of others. The year in parentheses indicates when an acceding nation was voted to full consultative (voting) status, while no date indicates the country was an original 1959 treaty signatory.
Claimant nations are: Argentina, Australia, Chile, France, New Zealand, Norway, and the UK. Nonclaimant consultative nations are: Belgium, Brazil (1983), China (1985), Ecuador (1990), Finland (1989), Germany (1981), India (1983), Italy (1987), Japan, South Korea (1989), Netherlands (1990), Peru (1989), Poland (1977), South Africa, Spain (1988), Sweden (1988), Uruguay (1985), the US, and Russia. Acceding (nonvoting) members, with year of accession in parentheses, are: Austria (1987), Bulgaria (1978), Canada (1988), Colombia (1988), Cuba (1984), Czech Republic (1993), Denmark (1965), Greece (1987), Guatemala (1991), Hungary (1984), North Korea (1987), Papua New Guinea (1981), Romania (1971), Slovakia (1993), Switzerland (1990), and Ukraine (1992).
  • Article 1: area to be used for peaceful purposes only; military activity, such as weapons testing, is prohibited, but military personnel and equipment may be used for scientific research or any other peaceful purpose
  • Article 2: freedom of scientific investigation and cooperation shall continue
  • Article 3: free exchange of information and personnel in cooperation with the UN and other international agencies
  • Article 4: does not recognize, dispute, or establish territorial claims and no new claims shall be asserted while the treaty is in force
  • Article 5: prohibits nuclear explosions or disposal of radioactive wastes
  • Article 6: includes under the treaty all land and ice shelves south of 60 degrees 00 minutes south
  • Article 7: treaty-state observers have free access, including aerial observation, to any area and may inspect all stations, installations, and equipment; advance notice of all activities and of the introduction of military personnel must be given
  • Article 8: allows for jurisdiction over observers and scientists by their own states
  • Article 9: frequent consultative meetings take place among member nations
  • Article 10: treaty states will discourage activities by any country in Antarctica that are contrary to the treaty 
  • Article 11: disputes to be settled peacefully by the parties concerned or, ultimately, by the ICJ
  • Articles 12, 13, 14: deal with upholding, interpreting, and amending the treaty among involved nations
Other agreements: more than 170 recommendations adopted at treaty consultative meetings and ratified by governments include: Agreed Measures for the Conservation of Antarctic Fauna and Flora (1964); Convention for the Conservation of Antarctic Seals (1972); Convention on the Conservation of Antarctic Marine Living Resources (1980); a mineral resources agreement was signed in 1988 but was subsequently rejected; in 1991 the Protocol on Environmental Protection to the Antarctic Treaty was signed and awaits ratification; this agreement provides for the protection of the Antarctic environment through five specific annexes on marine pollution, fauna, and flora, environmental impact assessments, waste management, and protected areas; it also prohibits all activities relating to mineral resources except scientific research; 14 parties have ratified Protocol as of April 1995. 

Legal system: US law, including certain criminal offenses by or against US nationals, such as murder, may apply to areas not under jurisdiction of other countries. Some US laws directly apply to Antarctica. For example, the Antarctic Conservation Act, 16 U.S.C. section 2401 et seq., provides civil and criminal penalties for the following activities, unless authorized by regulation of statute: The taking of native mammals or birds; the introduction of nonindigenous plants and animals; entry into specially protected or scientific areas; the discharge or disposal of pollutants; and the importation into the US of certain items from Antarctica. Violation of the Antarctic Conservation Act carries penalties of up to $10 000 in fines and 1 year in prison. The Departments of Treasury, Commerce, Transportation, and Interior share enforcement responsibilities. Public Law 95-541, the US Antarctic Conservation Act of 1978, requires expeditions from the US to Antarctica to notify, in advance, the Office of Oceans and Polar Affairs, Room 5801, Department of State, Washington, DC 20520, which reports such plans to other nations as required by the Antarctic Treaty. For more information contact Permit Office, Office of Polar Programs, National Science Foundation, Arlington, Virginia 22230 (703-306-1031). 

Right: The MS Italica, the italian Antarctic ship, at rest in the bay of Terra Nova seen from a helicopter. In '97 I flew in with an America C-130 and then moved out of Antarctica on that ship, a 11 day trip back to New-Zealand. In 2000, I flew in with an Italian C-130 and then went back through DdU and took the smaller Astrolabe, the french Antarctic ship.


Overview: No economic activity at present except for fishing off the coast and small-scale tourism, both based abroad.


Airports: 42 landing facilities at different locations operated by 15 national governments party to the Treaty; one additional air facility operated by commercial (nongovernmental) tourist organization; helicopter pads at 36 of these locations; runways at 14 locations are gravel, sea ice, glacier ice, or compacted snow surface suitable for wheeled fixed-wing aircraft; no paved runways; 15 locations have snow-surface skiways limited to use by ski-equipped planes — 11 runways/skiways 1 000 to 3 000 m, 5 runways/skiways less than 1 000 m, 8 runways/skiways greater than 3 000 m, and 5 of unspecified or variable length; airports generally subject to severe restrictions and limitations resulting from extreme seasonal and geographic conditions; airports do not meet ICAO standards; advance approval from the respective governmental or non-governmental operating organization required for landing.


Telephone system: NA
Radio: broadcast stations: AM NA, FM NA, shortwave NA.
Television: NA

Defense Forces

Note: the Antarctic Treaty prohibits any measures of a military nature, such as the establishment of military bases and fortifications, the carrying out of military maneuvers, or the testing of any type of weapon; it permits the use of military personnel or equipment for scientific research or for any other peaceful purposes.