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It goes without saying, that Antarctica - located at the south pole of the Earth, is the coldest region of our planet. Over 98 percent of this continent is covered with thick ice, with an average thickness of approximately 1 mile. While some species have adapted themselves to the harsh conditions prevailing in Antarctica, no humans are found on this continent - except for some adventure enthusiasts and scientists who stay there for a part of the year. Not many animals can survive the dry and cold climate of this continent either; those few which have adapted themselves for survival include species like the penguins, seals, etc., all of which symbolize this part of the world.
Though Antarctica is not suitable for human habitation, nor does it boast of biodiversity on the lines of the tropical regions or the Arctic tundra, it is not a useless piece of land as many believe it to be. Owing to the freezing temperature prevailing in this region (the lowest temperature that Antarctica has experienced is -128.6°F), the continent is considered to be the 'best laboratory of the world' by the scientific fraternity.
FAQs About Antarctica
Even though the facts about Antarctica are quite interesting, they are less likely to grab the attention of kids - unless they are presented in a child-friendly, easy-to-understand format. With that in mind, we have compiled some Antarctica facts in a FAQ format which makes them fun to read and easier to understand. So let us get started with some interesting Antarctica for kids which will introduce them to the coldest continent of the Earth.
What is the Size of Antarctica?
Antarctica is the 5th largest continent in the world, with an area of 5,400,000 sq mi or 14,000,000 sq km (small islands in the vicinity included.) That makes it nearly twice as large as Australia, and about half the size of America. That being said, one also has to make a note of the fact that this continent spans across 5,400,000 sq mi only when it is ice covered. In its ice-free state, Antarctica only spans across an area of 110,000 sq miles.
A satellite view of the Antarctic Ice Sheet
Which Nation Does Antarctica Belong To?
Antarctica is a continent without any country/citizens, and thus doesn't have any government like the other continents of the world. Several countries do claim sovereignty on different parts of this continent though. The 'Antarctic Treaty System' regulates the relationship between these nations which claim sovereignty of this politically neutral continent. As of today, as many as 49 countries have signed the Antarctic Treaty, which gives them the right to use this region for scientific research.
Where did Antarctica Come From?
The continent of Antarctica, was formed as a result of continental drift over the course of millions of years. It was a part of the super-continent Gondwana, alongside South America, Africa, the Indian peninsula and Australia. As Gondwana disintegrated, its fragments drifted southwards, and thus came into existence the continent of Antarctica around 25 million years ago.
This has been backed by the studies of geological attributes of this region which produced the same results as that of South America, Africa and Australia.
Exactly How Cold is the Continent of Antarctica?
The mean annual temperature recorded in the interiors of the continent is -70°F; the coastal regions of this continent are relatively warm. The lowest temperature recorded is -128.6°F, at the Vostok Station, on 21st July, 1983. On the other hand, the warmest temperature ever recorded on the continent of Antarctica is 58.3°F, on 5th January, 1974, at the Vanda Station. Wind speeds of 320 km/hr, which are frequently recorded in Antarctica, also contribute to its cold climate.
Why is Antarctica So Cold?
Many factors come into play when it comes to the freezing environmental conditions prevailing in the continent of Antarctica. As Antarctica is located in the polar region, it only receives sunlight for a part of the year; and even when it does, it is dispersed over a larger area.
At 2,800 m above mean sea level (msl), Antarctica has the highest average elevation of all the continents. Going by the fact that temperature drops with the rise in altitude, it is bound to be cold on this continent. The thin atmosphere of Antarctica does very little to trap the sunlight, and 80 percent of the same is reflected back into the space by the permanent cover of ice.
As Antarctica is surrounded by water on all four sides, the moderating influence of water is nearly absent in the interiors.
Ice cover with an average thickness of 1 mile
Why is Antarctica Called the Desert
Antarctica is referred to as a desert - the largest desert of the world to be precise, because it fits in the definition of a desert, which states that 'a desert is a region devoid of vegetation and an annual precipitation of less than 10 inches'. In Antarctica, the precipitation seldom crosses the 4 inch mark, and whatever little precipitation that occurs is usually attributed to the cyclonic storms that collect the moisture from the surrounding areas and bring it here.
Why Doesn't it Rain in Antarctica?
Precipitation occurs in form of snowfall, not rainfall. Even in that case, the amount of snowfall that this region experiences is very little. As we mentioned earlier, the snowfall here is attributed to the moisture brought in by cyclonic storms. Evaporation is virtually absent in this region, and that being a basic prerequisite for precipitation, the latter is also absent here. (As evaporation is virtually absent, whatever little snowfall that occurs here only adds to the existing ice cover.)
What Plants are Found in Antarctica
With the ice cover, freezing conditions, poor soil quality and absence of sunlight, the plant life in Antarctica is virtually non-existent. Antarctica is home to more than 100 species of mosses, around 25 species of liverworts, and 2 species of flowering plants - the Antarctic hair grass and the Antarctic pearlwort; all of which grow is summer and disappear with the onset of winter.
What Animals Live in Antarctica?
While the continent of Antarctica is poor in terms of flora, there is a fair bit of biodiversity when it comes to fauna here. The species of animals found in Antarctica include birds like the King Penguins, Emperor Penguins, Snow Petrels, etc., mammals like the Blue whales, seals, etc., as well as some species of insects. All these birds and animals resort to adaptation skills, like formation of huddles, migration and hibernation, to survive in the harsh conditions prevailing here.
Antarctica is the only continent wherein no reptiles are found.
Emperor Penguins in Antarctica
Does Anyone Live in Antarctica?
Although the resident population of Antarctica is zero, many scientific minds wander to this place in summer. These are mainly the scientists who visit the 60 scientific research stations that have been set up for research purpose by different countries who are party to the Antarctica Treaty System, and some adventure enthusiasts who accompany the scientific expeditions to the south pole. The average annual visiting population of Antarctica is somewhere around 4000-5000.
These were some of the most prominent facts about the southernmost continent on the planet. As with facts, there also exist some myths about Antarctica; and the existence of polar bears and Eskimos in Antarctica is by far the most popular among them. It is impossible for the territories of these polar bears (north pole) and penguins (southern hemisphere) to overlap; if that happens it will only spell doom for this flightless bird!