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East Antarctica, also called Greater Antarctica, constitutes the majority (two-thirds) of the Antarctic continent, lying on the Indian Ocean side of the Transantarctic Mountains. It is the coldest, windiest, driest and most isolated land mass on Earth, and includes a number of high mountains.
Location and description
Almost completely covered in thick, permanent ice, East Antarctica comprises Coats Land, Queen Maud Land, Enderby Land, Kemp Land, Mac. Robertson Land, Princess Elizabeth Land, Wilhelm II Land, Queen Mary Land, Wilkes Land, Adélie Land, George V Land, Oates Land and Victoria Land. All but a small portion of this region lies within the Eastern Hemisphere, a fact that has suggested the name. The name has been in existence for more than 90 years (Balch, 1902; Nordenskjöld, 1904), but its greatest use followed the International Geophysical Year (1957–58) and explorations disclosing that the Transantarctic Mountains provide a useful regional separation of East Antarctica and West Antarctica. The name was approved in the United States by the Advisory Committee on Antarctic Names (US-ACAN) in 1962. East Antarctica is generally higher than West Antarctica, and is considered the coldest place on Earth.
Flora and fauna
Very little of East Antarctica is not covered with ice, but the small areas that are (Antarctic oasis), including the McMurdo Dry Valleys inland, constitute a tundra-type biodiversity region known as Maudlandia Antarctic desert, after Queen Maud Land. There are no trees or shrubs, as only very limited plant life can survive here; the flora consists of lichens, moss, and algae that are adapted to the cold and wind, and cling to rocks.
The coasts are home to seabirds, penguins, and seals, which feed in the surrounding ocean, including the emperor penguin, which famously breeds in the cold, dark Antarctic winter.
Seabirds of the coast include southern fulmar (Fulmarus glacialoides), the scavenging southern giant petrel (Macronectes giganteus), Cape petrel (Daption capense), snow petrel (Pagodroma nivea), the small Wilson's storm-petrel (Oceanites oceanicus), the large south polar skua (Catharacta maccormicki), and Antarctic petrel (Thalassoica antarctica).
The seals of the Antarctic Ocean include leopard seal (Hydrurga leptonyx), Weddell seal (Leptonychotes weddellii), the huge southern elephant seal (Mirounga leonina), crabeater seal (Lobodon carcinophagus), Ross seal (Ommatophoca rossii).
Threats and preservation
The remote and extremely cold bulk of Antarctica remains almost entirely untouched by human intervention. The area is protected by the Antarctic Treaty System which bans industrial development, waste disposal and nuclear testing, while the Barwick Valley, one of the Dry Valleys, and Cryptogam Ridge on Mount Melbourne are specially protected areas for their undisturbed plant life.
- "Maudlandia Antarctic desert". Terrestrial Ecoregions. World Wildlife Fund.
- World Wildlife Fund, C. M. Hogan, S. Draggan. (2011) Marielandia Antarctic tundra. in C. J. Cleveland, ed., Encyclopedia of Earth. National Council for Science and the Environment, Washington, DC