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World Factbook (1990) Antarctica.jpg

 See regional map XII


Total area: about 14,000,000 km²; land area: about 14,000,000 km²

Comparative area: slightly less than 1.5 times the size of the US; second-smallest continent (after Australia)

Land boundaries: see entry on Disputes

Coastline: 17,968 km

Maritime claims: see entry on Disputes

Disputes: Antarctic Treaty suspends all claims; sections (some overlapping) claimed by Argentina, Australia, Chile, France (Adélie Land), New Zealand (Ross Dependency), Norway (Queen Maud Land), and UK; Brazil claims a Zone of Interest; the US and USSR do not recognize the territorial claims of other nations and have made no claims themselves (but reserve the right to do so); no formal claims have been made in the sector between 90° west and 150° west

Climate: severe low temperatures vary with latitude, elevation, and distance from the ocean; East Antarctica colder than Antarctic Peninsula in the west; warmest temperatures occur in January along the coast and average slightly below freezing

Terrain: about 98% thick continental ice sheet, with average elevations between 2,000 and 4,000 meters; mountain ranges up to 5,000 meters high; ice-free coastal areas include parts of southern Victoria Land, Wilkes Land, and the scientific research areas of Graham Land and Ross Island on McMurdo Sound; glaciers form ice shelves along about half of coastline

Natural resources: coal and iron ore; chromium, copper, gold, nickel, platinum, and hydrocarbons have been found in small quantities along the coast; offshore deposits of oil and gas

Land use: 0% arable land; 0% permanent crops; 0% meadows and pastures; 0% forest and woodland; 100% other (98% ice, 2% barren rock)

Environment: mostly uninhabitable; katabatic (gravity) 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 around the coast; during summer more solar radiation reaches the surface at the South Pole than is received at the Equator in an equivalent period; in October 1987 it was reported that the ozone shield, which protects the Earth's surface from harmful ultraviolet radiation, has dwindled to its lowest level ever over Antarctica; subject to active volcanism (Deception Island)

Note: the coldest continent


Population: no indigenous inhabitants; staffing of research stations varies seasonally Summer (January)—population 3,330; Argentina 179, Australia 216, Brazil 36, Chile 124, China 62, France 46, FRG 9, GDR 15, India 59, Italy 121, Japan 52, NZ 251, Poland 19, South Africa 102, South Korea 17, UK 72, Uruguay 47, US 1,250, USSR 653 (1986-87)

Winter (July) population—1,148 total; Argentina 149, Australia 82, Brazil 11, Chile 59, China 16, France 32, FRG 9, GDR 9, India 17, Japan 37, NZ 11, Poland 19, South Africa 15, UK 61, Uruguay 10, US 242, USSR 369 (1986-87)

Year-round stations—43 total; Argentina 7, Australia 3, Brazil 1, Chile 3, China 1, France 1, FRG 1, GDR 1, India 1, Japan 2, NZ 1, Poland 1, South Africa 1, South Korea 1, UK 6, Uruguay 1, US 3, USSR 8 (1986-87)

Summer only stations—26 total; Argentina 3, Australia 3, Chile 4, Italy 1, Japan 1, NZ 2, South Africa 2, US 4, USSR 6 (1986-87)


Long-form name: none

Type: The Antarctic Treaty, signed on 1 December 1959 and entered into force on 23 June 1961, established, for at least 30 years, a legal framework for peaceful use, scientific research, and suspension of territorial claims. Administration is carried out through consultative member meetings the 14th and last meeting was held in Rio de Janeiro (Brazil) in October 1987.

Consultative (voting) members include claimant nations (they claim portions of Antarctica as national territory and some claims overlap) and non-claimant nations (they have made no claims to Antarctic territory, although the US and USSR have reserved the right to do so and do 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 an original 1959 treaty signatory. Claimant nations are Argentina, Australia, Chile, France, New Zealand, Norway, and the UK. Non-claimant nations are Belgium, Brazil (1983), China (1985), FRG (1981), GDR (1987), India (1983), Italy (1987), Japan, Poland (1977), South Africa, Uruguay (1985), US, and the USSR.

Acceding (nonvoting) members, with year of accession in parenthesis, are—Austria (1987), Bulgaria (1978), Cuba (1984), Czechoslovakia (1962), Denmark (1965), Finland (1984), Greece (1987), Hungary (1984), Netherlands (1987), North Korea (1987), Papua New Guinea (1981), Peru (1981), Romania (1971), South Korea (1986), Spain (1982), and Sweden (1984).

Antarctic Treaty Summary. Article 1—area to be used for peaceful purposes only and military activity, such as weapons testing, is prohibited, but military personnel and equipment may be used for scientific purposes; Article 2—freedom of scientific investigation and cooperation shall continue; Article 3—free exchange of information and personnel; 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° 00′ south, but that the water areas be covered by international law; 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 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 and acceding nations given consultative status; 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: Convention on the Conservation of Antarctic Marine Living Resources; Convention for the Conservation of Antarctic Seals; a mineral resources agreement is currently undergoing ratification by the Antarctic Treaty consultative parties


Overview: No economic activity at present except for fishing off the coast and small-scale tourism, both based abroad. Exploitation of mineral resources will be held back by technical difficulties, high costs, and objections by environmentalists.


Airports: 39 total; 25 usable; none with permanent surface runways; 3 with runways over 3,659 m; 6 with runways 2,440-3,659 m; 4 with runways 1,220-2,439 m

Ports: none; offshore anchorage only

Defense Forces

Note: none; Article 7 of the Antarctic Treaty states that advance notice of all activities and the introduction of military personnel must be given