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What's it like in Antarctica?
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1/ What natural resources does Antarctica have?

Minerals in Antarctica are buried beneath the iceWe can't be sure what things there are in Antarctica because it's covered in lots and lots of ice. Some people think that there might even be gold under the ice.

180 million years ago Antarctica used to be connected to South America, Asia, and even Australia. This makes some people think that there might be lots of minerals under the ice (like there is in South America.)

Coal has been found in Antarctica but people aren't allowed to get it because Antarctica is shared by lots of countries to make it a nice place, they call it the Antarctic Treaty.

Dan turns down the main Antarctic thermostat to stop it from meltingAntarctica is still in an ice age (like the film) but the still might be oil and gas under the ice as well.

If people wanted to mine in Antarctica they would find it very hard. here are some reasons:

come on baby light my fireThe oil and gas might get mined in the future because they are in places not protected by the Antarctic Treaty and all of the countries.

Antarctica has lots of wildlife, the animals were hunted a lot in the past. People aren't allowed to kill the wildlife anymore. (like whales, seals and penguins) But many ships go fishing there. A lot of the boats try and catch squid (a sort of octopus) but this is one of the things penguins eat so some of the penguins might starve.

People thought that krill (a type of big shrimp) would be very useful for humans to eat, but it goes off very fast and it tastes horrible!

More about travel in AntarcticaAt the moment the many people come to Antarctica on holidays, but this might cause damage to Antarctica (like people dropping rubbish) some companies have even asked permission to build a hotel on Antarctica and even a casino, though these weren't allowed for now.

Even though tourists may damage Antarctica they could also help it by bringing money and by making people know what a fantastic place it is.

For further information on the exploitation of Antarctica, see Conservation / Environment links, also below "Who owns Antarctica"

2/ Why is the South Pole colder than the North Pole?

The North And south poles are the total opposite because the North Pole is a sea surrounded by land, and the South Pole (Antarctica) is an area of land surrounded by sea.

1/ The first reason that the North Pole is warmer is because of the sea. The sea beneath the ice means that it doesn't get really cold (sea water doesn't get below -2C without freezing), so even though it's still very cold, it stops it getting really bad the sea acts like a sort of (pretty cold) big warm thing.

The Antarctic on the other hand has rock under it which gets as cold as you like (or don't like) so the temperature drops and drops - it acts like a big cold thing.

2/ The second reason Antarctica is colder than the Arctic is due to the thickness of the Antarctic ice sheet.

Polar bears only live at the North poleThe South Pole is 2385m above sea level. So it's uphill all the way from where the ship drops you at the edge of the land.

Antarctica on average is 2300m high and the highest point is about 4000m.

With every extra 100m you climb, the air temperature drops by 1°C. This puts the average temperature of inland Antarctica 23°C below the already cold temperature at the coast.

The North Pole by comparison is at a maximum altitude of just a few meters above sea level - and that's when a large lump of ice is floating by.

3/ The third reason is due to the isolation of Antarctica far from other places on earth.

Penguins only live at the South poleIt is kept separate in the main from the rest of the world's weather in a way that the Arctic isn't.

The Arctic gets warmer air from nearby places like Canada and Russia. Sometimes warm air from tropical places can make it to the Arctic.

None of this happens in Antarctica. It has its own weather that rushes round and round the continent having nothing to do with the rest of the world.

3/ Who lives there?

Tent designs haven't really changed much in a hundred years in AntarcticaAntarctica doesn't have anyone who was born there or whose ancestors come from there.

It was the first and only continent that was "discovered". Other continents already had plenty of people there before any "explorers" arrived.

No-one had ever even seen Antarctica before 1820.

Early explorers and then later on, whalers and sealers, were the first people to ever see Antarctica. Through the 20th century many countries built scientific bases on Antarctica.

A mixture of scientists and support people would spend anywhere from a few months to a couple of years before leaving. As they left, a new group of scientists and support people would arrive.

This is the way it is now. New bases are opened and some old ones close down. Some drift away to sea as they are built on part of an ice shelf which breaks off and becomes an iceberg.

The answer to the question "Who lives there" is "no-one". Antarctica is occupied by visitors only. Thousands in the summer and hundreds  in the winter. Many of them on various scientific bases but also lots of tourists in the summer.

4/ What is the Antarctic convergence?

The Antarctic Convergence (also known as the Antarctic Polar Front) marks the true outer edge of Antarctica.

It is a strip of sea that goes all the way around Antarctica. It goes into the Atlantic, Indian and Pacific oceans.

It's not always in exactly the same place, waving back and forwards. It is a real and permanent feature though.

The temperature of the sea at the surface changes by 2.8 - 5.5°C from one side of the convergence (polar front) to the other - that's A LOT for a bit of the sea only 40km or so across. There are also changes in the chemicals in the sea water.

There is enough difference from one side to the other of the convergence to call the sea around Antarctica the "Southern" or "Antarctic" ocean. It is treated like a separate ocean and not just the most southerly part of the Atlantic, Indian and Pacific oceans.

Map of Antarctica

The Antarctic convergence is around 40km wide and it has been there for about 20 million years. It is not fixed in place, but usually stays within about half a degree of latitude (35 miles) of the average position.

In all this time there has been hardly any exchange of sea creatures from one side to the other. For instance, there are no Decapod Crustaceans (crabs, lobsters etc.) in Antarctica, these are common any where else in the world's oceans - including the Arctic.

The convergence is a complicated and turbulent area. Sea water cools around the Antarctic continent and becomes heavier. This makes it sink and flow north along the sea bed. It meets deep, warmer south-flowing water from the equator at the Antarctic convergence.

As the two meet, they rise to the surface taking many dissolved nutrients. These act like a fertiliser for the southern ocean - and is the reason that the seas around Antarctica are so surprisingly rich in life in spite of the cold temperatures.

5/ Who owns Antarctica?

In the early decades of the 20th century (1900's) seven nations, Argentina, Australia, Chile, France, Great Britain, New Zealand, and Norway claimed part of Antarctica.

In 1961 these countries and others signed the Antarctic Treaty.  Any claims on Antarctica were put aside in favour of scientific research.

Proper exploration and research of Antarctica began with the International Geophysical Year (IGY). July 1st 1957 to December 31st 1958.

35 scientific stations were built on Antarctica with another 15 on islands by 12 different countries during the IGY.

The IGY was such a success that international co-operation seemed worth carrying on.

The IGY was followed by a year of International Geophysical Cooperation when the 12 nations (Argentina, Australia, Belgium, Chile, France, Japan, New Zealand, Norway, South Africa, USA, USSR and the United Kingdom) decided to continue their research.

People from all of these 12 countries met in Washington, D.C. in 1959 to draft and sign the Antarctic Treaty.

This treaty meant the entire continent was to be used for peaceful reasons. It came into effect in 1961 and all claims on land were put on hold. In 1991, 24 nations approved a protocol (addition) to the treaty that would ban oil and other mineral exploration for at least 50 years.

The answer to "Who owns Antarctica" is "no-one and everyone".

Antarctic Treaty Papers read the actual documents

Fact File Index  |  Fascinating facts about Antarctica

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