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Geography, Weather, & Wildlife of Antarctica

Geography

Antartic Geography - Mountains
Mountains

Antarctica is located on and surrounding the south pole. It is an inhospitable island (with smaller islands off its coast) that is not governed by any particular country, but instead by a treaty. The island is surrounded by what is often times referred to as the Southern or Antarctic Ocean, but many don't recognize this as a distinct ocean and claim the island is surrounded by the Atlantic, Pacific, and Indian Oceans. It has no land borders; its closest neighbors are New Zealand (Australasia) and Argentina & Chile (South America), although there are several island territories that are closer to Antarctica. These island territories are governed by the United Kingdom, France, Australia, New Zealand, Norway, and South Africa.

Antartic Geography - Penguins on an iceberg
Penguins on an iceberg

Geographically, Antarctica is a landmass with odd shapes as the glaciated surface has altered the continent's original features. There are some mountains near the Antarctic Peninsula (South America side) and along the coast near the Ross Sea (New Zealand side). The rest of the continent consists of plateaus and sweeping valleys and lowlands, but these will not be seen as nearly the entire continent is under an ice sheet, which can be up to 10,000 feet (3,000 meters) deep.

Weather

Antartic Geography - Iceberg
Iceberg

Antarctica is a desert with basically just two seasons; only one of which is bearable. There's the dark and very cold season of winter (May-October), most of which time the majority of the continent receives no sunlight. For about two months before and after this time the sun rises and sets, but the temperature is still very cold and can be miserable with a strong wind. Summer, which runs roughly from November to April, provide light 24 hours a day as the sun will rarely to never set during this time (depending on your exact location and time of year). In December temperatures can get above freezing along the coasts, although generally the average remains slightly below freezing. Comfort levels will vary more significantly based on wind (which can be brutal) and humidity. In general, Antarctica is very dry so will feel warmer on sunny days.

Unfortunately, the above conditions only represent the coasts and continent's edges; the interior is much colder and harsher year round. The interior can have higher altitudes and wind-swept plateaus, meaning in some areas -58°F (-50°C) is an average day on the continent.

Wildlife

Antartic Geography - Emperor Penguin
Emperor Penguin

Wildlife in Antarctica is almost entirely limited to birds and sea life. All the native mammals in Antarctica live in the waters surrounding the continent such as whales and seals. Even the fish and other marine life that lives off the coasts of Antarctica is limited due to the extreme cold temperature of the waters there.

One of the symbols of Antarctica is the penguin, a flightless bird that resides solely in the Antarctic regions. Other birds include migrating birds such as albatrosses, cormorants, and terns, which come and go with the seasons.

This page was last updated: March, 2013