's southernmost continent
, overlying the South Pole
. It is situated in the southern hemisphere, almost entirely south of the Antarctic Circle
, and is completely surrounded by the Southern Ocean
. The nearest land mass is South America
at 965 km.
Its area is close to 14 million km2. Antarctica is the fifth largest continent after Asia, Africa, North America and South America.
Antarctica is the coldest, driest and windiest continent, and has the highest average elevation of all the continents. The minimum recorded surface temperature on the planet, −89.2 °C, was at the Soviet research station Vostok in Antarctica on 21 July 1983.
Antarctica has 98% of its total area covered by ice. The mean thickness of the ice sheet is 1829 m and the maximum thickness has been measured as 4776 m. While most of the ice in East Antarctica is on bed rock, in West Antarctica a majority of it floats on water. Due to accumulation of ice over millions of years, the continent has been depressed by about 600 m on average.
Since there is little precipitation, except at the coasts, the interior of the continent is technically the largest desert in the world. There is no permanent population and there is no evidence of any existing or pre-historic indigenous population. Only cold-adapted plants and animals survive there, including mosses and lichens, and several species of penguins, ice seals and the Antarctic fur seals.
The British National Antarctic Expedition
, 1901–04, generally known as the Discovery Expedition
, was an official British
exploration mission to the Antarctic
regions. The main objectives of the expedition were summarised in the joint committee's "Instructions to the Commander" in the following terms: "to determine, as far as possible, the nature, condition and extent of that portion of the south polar lands which is included in the scope of your expedition", and "to make a magnetic survey in the southern regions to the south of the 40th parallel and to carry out meteorological, oceanographic, geological, biological and physical investigations and researches". The expedition launched the Antarctic careers of many who would become leading figures in the Heroic Age of Antarctic Exploration
, including Robert Falcon Scott
(who led the expedition), Ernest Shackleton
, Edward Wilson
, Frank Wild
, Tom Crean
, and William Lashly
- ... that the lowest officially-recognized temperature ever recorded ,from a ground observer, in nature on Earth was an astounding −89.2°C (−128.6°F), recorded on July 21, 1983, at Vostok Station?. The lowest temperature ever recorded, from a space observer, was -93.2°C (-135.8°F), recorded on August 10, 2010, from the NASA Aqua satellite.