Antarctica - Land Surrounded by Water
The Continent Defined
There is no single definition of Antarctica, though the term generally means the continent of Antarctica, together with its surrounding ice shelves, islands, and seas. In geographical terms, the Antarctic encompasses the whole area south of 60°S. This is the area to which the Antarctic Treaty applies.
From a scientific point of view, the oceanographic and biological boundary formed by the Antarctic Convergence is the outer limit. The Antarctic Circle (at latitude 66°33S) demarks that portion of Antarctica, where daylight is continuous from November to February.
Antarctica is the fifth largest continent with an area of roughly 14 million square kilometers (5.4 million square miles). Australia and Europe are smaller. Most of this area, however, is made up by a vast permanent ice sheet averaging 2,450 meters (8,000 feet) in thickness. Only about one percent of the total landmass is visible, as mountains and coastal features.
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Campbell Island tussock with Albatrosses nesting.
Antarctica is very cold, very dry, and very windy.
These three qualities inhibit life to a great extent. The harsh climate tends to freeze living organisms, dry them, and blow them away. These conditions also help to prevent formation of mature soils. Normally rocks are broken down into gravel, sand, clay and silt. Bacteria and algae generate a basic flora in the mineral soil. In other parts of the world higher plants then move in to colonize the new soil and through chemical processes cause the release of various minerals which can then be used by the growing plants. In Antarctica, however, this process is inhibited.