Antarctica is at the South Pole and the southernmost continent of the world. It is the fifth-largest continent in size. It faces the South Pacific Ocean and the South Atlantic Ocean. It is almost entirely covered by a sheet of ice that is about 4,800 metres thick at its deepest point. The only ice-free land in Antarctica consists of a few mountain peaks and other barren, rocky areas. As ice-sheets around the coasts melt during the southern summer, great sections of ice-field break off as icebergs, i.e. huge masses of ice moving in the sea. These icebergs can measure up to 60 metres in height and many kilometres in length and breadth. They are extremely dangerous and risky to passing ships—like the ill-fated Titanic—in that region.
The Trans-Antarctic mountains cross this icy continent dividing it into eastern and western regions. There is a high ice-covered plateau in the east, while the western region consists of a group of mountainous islands joined by ice. There are some volcanoes, including the continent’s most active volcano, Mount Erebus, This region also contains the continent’s highest point, Vinson Massif, which measures 4,897 metres above the sea level.
Plantlife is limited for its bitter cold climate, but some mosses and lichens are found around the coast. However, the cold Antarctic waters are rich with krill (small shrimplike animals), small crustaceans (hard-shelled animals), a special type of fish, seals (elephant seals) and whales. Seabirds such as skuas and albatrosses abound there. There are eight types of penguins. And some of them are ‘lawyer penguins’ as they look like black-coated lawyers which are special attractions of Antarctica. The world’s lowest-ever recorded temperature (-82.2’C) was measured in Antarctica at a Russian scientific base named Vostok Station in 1983.
And for such a harsh climate and physical feature, people have never settled here permanently. Its only temporary inhabitants are visiting scientists who carry out research projects in their base camps. And because of its severe cold climate, Antarctica was the last continent to be explored. In December 1911, a Norwegian explorer Roald Amundsen was the first to reach the South Pole. An Englishman Robert Falcon Scot arrived there just a month later in January 1912.
However, inflatable rubber ‘zodiacs’ carry tourists through the treacherous iceberg-filled waters of Paradise Bay along the Antarctic Peninsula. Since 1958, tourists have boarded ships at South American seaports to cruise the wild shores of the Antarctic Peninsula.