Map of AntarcticaAntarctica is the fifth largest of the seven
continents. It is situated over the South Pole almost entirely south
of latitude 66°30’ south (the Antarctic Circle). It is a very rough
circular shape with the long arm of the Antarctic Peninsula stretching
towards South America. There are two large indentations, the Ross and
Weddell seas and their ice shelves.
The nearest other land masses are South America 600 mls / 1000 km away
across the roughest stretch of water in the world - the Drake passage,
Australia is 1550 mls / 2500 km away, and South Africa 2500 mls / 4000
The total surface area is about 14.2 million sq km (about 5.5 million
sq mls) in summer, approximately twice the size of Australia, half as
big again as the USA and fifty times the size of the UK.
In the winter Antarctica doubles in size due to the sea ice that forms
around the coasts. The true boundary of Antarctica is not the
coastline of the continent itself or the outlying islands, but the
2/ Why is Antarctica considered to be a desert?
A Desert is defined as a region that has less than 254 mm (10 in) of
annual rainfall or precipitation. Antarctica can be classified as a
desert by this definition. In the interior of the continent the
average annual precipitation (in *equivalent of water) is only about
50 mm (about 2 in), less than the Sahara. Along the coast, this
increases, but is still only about 200 mm (8 in) in *equivalent of
water. Heavy snowfalls occur when cyclonic storms pick up moisture
from the surrounding seas and then deposit this moisture as snow along
Unlike other deserts, there is little evaporation from Antarctica, so
the relatively little snow that does fall, doesn't go away again.
Instead it builds up over hundreds and thousands of years into
enormously thick ice sheets.
*this precipitation doesn't fall as water of course, but as snow, the
"water equivalent" is the amount of water you would get if the
snowfall were collected and melted.
3/ What is the climate like? How cold does it get in Antarctica?
Antarctica is the coldest, and also the windiest continent. The lowest
temperature ever recorded anywhere on earth, -89.2° C (-128.6° F) was
on July 21st 1983 at the Russian Vostok Station at the "pole of
inaccessibility". This is the furthest point from any coast and so is
the least affected by the warming effect of the oceans.
The continent is also buffeted by strong winds, calm periods are rare
and typically last hours rather than days. A wind speed of 320 km/h
(200 mph) was recorded at the French Dumont d'Urville base in July
1972. The winds flow downwards from the interior toward the coast
driven largely by gravity as air cools and becomes denser over the