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Geography is the science that studies the lands, the features, the inhabitants, and the phenomena of the Earth. A literal translation would be "to describe or write about the Earth". The first person to use the word "geography" was Eratosthenes (276–194 BC). Four historical traditions in geographical research are the spatial analysis of the natural and the human phenomena (geography as the study of distribution), the area studies (places and regions), the study of the human-land relationship, and research in the Earth sciences. Modern geography is an all-encompassing discipline that foremost seeks to understand the Earth and all of its human and natural complexities—not merely where objects are, but how they have changed and come to be. Geography has been called "the world discipline" and "the bridge between the human and the physical science". Geography is divided into two main branches: human geography and physical geography.

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Antarctica is the continent at the extreme southern latitudes of the Earth, containing the South Pole. It is surrounded by the Southern Ocean and divided in two by the Transantarctic Mountains. On average, it is the coldest, driest, windiest, and highest of all the continents. Although it is 98% covered in ice, because there is little precipitation, the entire continent is technically a desert and is thus the largest desert in the world. Cold-adapted plants and animals, including penguins, fur seals, mosses, lichens, and many types of algae live on the continent. Although myths and speculation about a Terra Australis ("Southern Land") go back to antiquity, the first sighting of the continent is commonly accepted to have occurred in 1821 by the Russian expedition of Mikhail Lazarev and Fabian Gottlieb von Bellingshausen. Antarctica is not under the political sovereignty of any nation, although seven countries (Argentina, Australia, Chile, France, New Zealand, Norway and the United Kingdom) maintain territorial claims, which are not recognized by other countries. Human activity on the continent is regulated by the Antarctic Treaty, which was signed in 1959 by 12 countries and prohibits any military activity, supports scientific research, and protects the continent's ecozone.

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Amundsen's party at the South Pole, December 1911

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Statue of the praying figure of Ebih-Il from ancient Mari

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Zhang Heng
Zhang Heng was an astronomer, mathematician, inventor, geographer, cartographer, artist, poet, statesman, and literary scholar from Nanyang, Henan, and lived during the Eastern Han Dynasty (AD 25–220) of China. After beginning his career as a minor civil servant, he eventually became Chief Astronomer, Prefect of the Majors for Official Carriages, and then Palace Attendant at the imperial court. His uncompromising stances on certain historical and calendrical issues led to Zhang being considered a controversial figure, which prevented him from becoming an official court historian. Zhang applied his extensive knowledge of mechanics and gears in several of his inventions. He invented the world's first water-powered armillary sphere, to represent astronomical observation; improved the inflow water clock by adding another tank; and invented the world's first seismometer, which discerned the cardinal direction of an earthquake 500 km (310 mi) away. Furthermore, he improved previous Chinese calculations of the formula for pi. His fu (rhapsody) and shi poetry were renowned and commented on by later Chinese writers. Zhang received many posthumous honors for his scholarship and ingenuity, and is considered a polymath by some scholars.



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Matua (island)
Credit: NASA

A view from space of an explosive eruption of Sarychev Peak on June 12, 2009. The volcano is the central peak of Matua, an uninhabited island in the Kuril archipelago in the Sea of Okhotsk east of Russia and north of Japan. During World War II, the Imperial Japanese Army had an airfield on the island, which was taken over by the Soviet Border Troops after the war and abandoned in 1999.

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