West Antarctica, or Lesser Antarctica, one of the two major regions of Antarctica, is the part of the continent that lies within the Western Hemisphere, and includes the Antarctic Peninsula. It is separated from East Antarctica by the Transantarctic Mountains and is covered by the West Antarctic Ice Sheet. It is separated from the main land mass of Antarctica by the Ross Sea, partly covered by the Ross Ice Shelf, and the Weddell Sea, largely covered by the Filchner-Ronne Ice Shelf. It may be considered a giant peninsula stretching from the South Pole towards the tip of South America.
West Antarctica is largely covered by the Antarctic ice sheet, but there have been signs that climate change is having some effect and this may be shrinking slightly. The coasts of the Antarctic Peninsula are the only parts of West Antarctica that become ice-free in summer. These constitute the Marielandia Antarctic tundra and have the warmest climate in Antarctica. The rocks are clad in mosses and lichens that can cope with the intense cold of winter and the short growing season.
Location and description
Lying on the Pacific Ocean side of the Transantarctic Mountains, West Antarctica comprises the Antarctic Peninsula (with Graham Land and Palmer Land) and Ellsworth Land, Marie Byrd Land and King Edward VII Land, offshore islands such as Adelaide Island, and ice shelves, notably the Filchner-Ronne Ice Shelf on the Weddell Sea, and the Ross Ice Shelf on the Ross Sea. West Antarctica is separated from the main land mass of the continent by the Ross Sea and Weddell Sea, and may be considered a giant peninsula that stretches roughly from the South Pole towards the southern tip of South America.
West Antarctica was named in the early 20th century (Balch, 1902; Nordenskiöld, 1905); that ussage became standard following the International Geophysical Year (1957–58) and explorations, which disclosed that the Transantarctic Mountains provide a useful regional border between West Antarctica and East Antarctica. The name was approved by Advisory Committee on Antarctic Names (US-ACAN) in 1962.
Marielandia Antarctic tundra
The parts of West Antarctica not covered with ice (Antarctic oasis), which are the coasts of the Antarctic Peninsula, constitute a biodiversity region known as Marielandia Antarctic tundra (after Marie Byrd Land). This area has the warmest climate in Antarctica and the moss and lichen-covered rocks are free of snow during the summer months, although the weather is still intensely cold and the growing season very short.
- "Antarctic ice sheet is an 'awakened giant'". New Scientist. 2 February 2005. Retrieved 2008-01-26.
- Western Antarctica warming confirmed December 23, 2012 USA Today
- World Wildlife Fund (2001). "Marielandia Antarctic tundra". WildWorld Ecoregion Profile. National Geographic Society. Archived from the original on 2010-03-08. Retrieved 2008-01-26.