The Antarctic (pronounced /ænˈtɑrktɪk/) is the region around the Earth's South Pole, opposite the Arctic region around the North Pole. The Antarctic comprises the continent of Antarctica and the ice shelves, waters and island territories in the Southern Ocean situated south of the Antarctic Convergence. The region covers some 20% of the Southern Hemisphere, of which 5.5% (14 million km2) is the surface area of the continent itself.
The maritime part of the region constitutes the area of application of the international Convention for the Conservation of Antarctic Marine Living Resources (CCAMLR), where for technical reasons the Convention uses an approximation of the Convergence line by means of a line joining specified points along parallels of latitude and meridians of longitude. The implementation of the Convention is managed through an international Commission headquartered in Hobart, Australia by an efficient system of annual fishing quotas, licenses and international inspectors on the fishing vessels, as well as satellite surveillance.
Most of the Antarctic region is situated south of 60°S latitude parallel, and is governed in accordance with the international legal regime of the Antarctic Treaty System. The Treaty area covers the continent itself and its immediately adjacent islands, as well as the archipelagos of the South Orkney Islands, South Shetland Islands, Peter I Island, Scott Island and Balleny Islands.
The islands situated between 60°S latitude parallel to the south and the Antarctic Convergence to the north, and their respective 200-mile Exclusive Economic Zones fall under the national jurisdiction of the countries that possess them: South Georgia and the South Sandwich Islands (United Kingdom; also an EU Overseas territory), Bouvet Island (Norway), and Heard and McDonald Islands (Australia).
Kerguelen Islands (France; also an EU Overseas territory) are situated in the Antarctic Convergence area, while the Falkland Islands, Isla de los Estados, Hornos Island with Cape Horn, Diego Ramírez Islands, Campbell Island, Macquarie Island, Amsterdam and Saint Paul Islands, Crozet Islands, Prince Edward Islands, and Gough Island and Tristan da Cunha group remain north of the Convergence and thus outside the Antarctic region.
The first Antarctic land discovered was the island of South Georgia, visited by the English merchant Anthony de la Roché in 1675. The first human born in Antarctica was Solveig Gunbjörg Jacobsen born on 8 October 1913 in Grytviken, South Georgia.
The Antarctic region had no indigenous population when first discovered, and its present inhabitants comprise a few thousand transient scientific and other personnel working on tours of duty at the several dozen research stations maintained by various countries. However, the region is visited by more than 40,000 tourists annually, the most popular destinations being the Antarctic Peninsula area (especially the South Shetland Islands) and South Georgia Island.
In December 2009, the explosive growth of tourism, with consequences for both the ecology and the safety of the travellers in its great and remote wilderness, was noted at a conference in New Zealand by experts from signatories to the Antarctic Treaty. The definitive results of the conference would be presented at the Antarctic Treaty states' meeting in Uruguay in May 2010 .
|Currency||varies by station|
|Area||14 million sq km (280,000 sq km ice-free) (est.)|
|Population||no permanent inhabitants, seasonally staffed research stations vary from 1000-4000|
|Language||varies by station|
|Electricity||varies by station|
|Time Zone||varies by station|
Antarctica is a land of extremes: it is the coldest and driest continent on Earth and has the highest average elevation. As the fifth largest continent in the world, Antartica is also the most Southern, overlying the "South Pole". Scarcely touched by humans, the frozen land boasts breathtaking scenery, broken by only handful of scientific bases and a "permanent" population of scientists numbering only a few thousand. Visitors to Antarctica generally must brave rough sea crossings aboard ice-strengthened vessels, but those who do are rewarded with amazing scenery and tremendous and unique wildlife.
Although several countries have laid claim to various portions of Antarctica, it is governed by the 1958 Antarctic Treaty, which establishes the continent as a peaceful and cooperative international research zone. There are no cities per se, just some two dozen research stations with a total population ranging from 1000-4000 depending on the time of year. These are maintained for scientific purposes only, and do not provide any official support for tourism. The laws of the nation operating each research station apply there.
Private travel to Antarctica generally takes one of three forms: 1) commercial sea voyages with shore visits (by far the most popular), 2) specially mounted land expeditions, or 3) sightseeing by air. Approximately 80 companies belong to the International Association of Antarctica Tour Operators , a membership organization which regulates non-research travel to the region. In the 2005-2006 summer season, an estimated 26,250 people visited Antarctica or the surrounding waters.
Antarctica is notable for being the only continent with no significant land plant life and no native land mammals, reptiles, or amphibians. (There are no polar bears; they are only at the North Pole.) However its shoreline serves as nesting ground for many species of migratory birds and penguins, and the Southern Ocean surrounding it is home to many fish and marine mammals, including whales.
Don't be fooled by all the ice: Antarctica is a desert. The region's moisture is all tied up in frigid seawater and the huge sheets, shelves, and packs of ice which cover nearly all of the continent plus surrounding waters. There is little snowfall here, and even less rain.
For tourists, Antarctica is accessible only during the austral summer season from November to March, during which sea ice melts enough to allow access, coastal temperatures can rise up to highs of 14ºC (57ºF) and there are twenty four hours of daylight. During the winter the sea is impassable. Temperatures can fall to -40ºC and there are twenty four hours of darkness.
The above temperatures apply to the islands and coastal regions that tourists ordinarily visit. Temperatures in the interior, such as the South Pole, are far harsher, with summer highs of around -15ºC (5ºF) and winter lows plummeting to -80ºC (-112ºF).
For most people, reading about Antarctica is the only affordable means of experiencing the continent. Books range from wild works of fiction to non-fiction accounts of the extraordinary early missions of adventurers looking to conquer Earth's last land frontier.
Antarctica's principal destination, nearest to Tierra del Fuego, with the impressive topography of the Antarctic Andes, island hot springs, the continent's densest concentration of research stations
the Eastern Hemisphere's vast icy desert wasteland that makes up most of the continent is probably the least well known to tourists, but there are a few interesting destinations, including Mawson's Huts, and the Southern Pole of Inaccessibility
the principal destination for cruise ships leaving Australia and New Zealand has some of Antarctica's most impressive sights around volcanic Ross Island and the huge Transantarctic Mountain Chain
Unlike its northern cousin, the South Pole sits upon stationary ground, and therefore supports a permanent research station and a ceremonial "pole"
With the exception of the Antarctic Peninsula, West Antarctica is barren and empty, even of research stations (except for the Brunt Ice Shelf), but it does contain the continent's highest & lowest points, the former of which you can climb on a guided expedition
Note: All dots on map represent inhabited research stations.
Also see Islands of the Southern Ocean
The primary destinations for those visiting Antarctica will either be a research base (for those working on the frozen continent) or the Antarctic Peninsula or Ross Sea area (for those visiting by ship). Other destinations are reachable only by those blessed with extreme motivation and (most importantly) funding.
The native languages of the nations operating bases are used. English is the lingua franca used between different stations.
Aircraft and pilots need to be capable of landing on ice, snow, or gravel runways, as there are no paved runways. Landings are generally restricted to the daylight season (Summer months from October to March). Winter landings have been performed at Williams Field but low temperatures mean that aircraft cannot stay on the ice longer than an hour or so as their skis may freeze to the ice runway. Travel is normally by military aircraft, as part of the cargo. Passengers should anticipate carrying all their own luggage and may need to assist with freight as well.
Major landing fields include:
Commercial overflights to Antarctica are limited - a handful of operators offer flights from Sydney, Melbourne, and Punta Arenas. These flights typically visit Antarctica and spend several hours flying over the ice. Passengers in most seating classes rotate their position in the row halfway into the flight, to give everyone a window or one-over-from-window seat for half of the time. Rates range from $5199 for first class, to $1399 for partially-obstructed-view economy class, or $899 for non-rotating center-section seats with window access depending on the courtesy of better-seated travelers. Keep in mind that these flights involve substantial risk: a successful search-and-rescue mission would be all but impossible in the event of a crash, which is what happened to one Air New Zealand flight in 1979. Due to a combination of low flying altitude and a navigational error, they hit Mount Erebus on Ross Island and all 257 people aboard were killed.
Boat is the most common method of visiting the Antarctic. In the Antarctic summer, several companies offer excursions on ice strengthened vessels to Antarctica. Ice strengthened (not quite as tough as icebreakers) boats are preferred since icebreakers are round on the bottom -- a configuration that amplifies the already massive wave action in the Drake passage. The ships typically offer a couple of excursions to the continent (usually the Antarctic peninsula) or Antarctic islands (e.g., Deception Island, Aitcho Island) each day over the course of a week. The views are phenomenal, the penguins are friendly (well, some of them are), and the experience is one that is unparalleled!
When traveling by boat, be aware that smaller ships (typically carrying 50-100 passengers) can go where the big ships can't, getting you up closer to Antarctica's nature and wildlife. Larger vessels (carrying as many as 1200 people) are less prone to rough seas but have more limited landing options. Many vessels include naturalist guided hikes, zodiac excursions and sea kayaking right from the ship, perfect for active, casual travelers.
You'll need warm clothing: boots, hoods, glove, water repellent pants, parka and warm underwear. Most of these items can be bought or hired in Ushaia, but sometimes - in the high season - it is not always easy to get the right sizes. So bring whatever you can from your own stock.
It must also be remembered that cruise operators typically only allow 100 people on land at any one time in order to comply with IAATO agreements. Consequently if you are in a boat with more than 200 people the chances are you will only spend a couple of hours at most per day off ship. Generally the smaller ships will try to ensure 2 different locations per day around Antarctica, although this is of course dependent on the weather and you may expect a 60% success rate on landing people for any given visit.
Companies offering cruises to Antarctica include:
Most cruise ships depart from the following ports:
About a dozen charter sailboats, many of them members of IAATO, offer three to six week voyages to the Antarctic Peninsula from South America. Most offer "expedition style" trips where guests are invited to help out, although usually no prior sailing experience is required. Yachts take individuals on a "by the bunk" basis and also support private expeditions such as scientific research, mountaineering, kayaking, and film-making. Compared to the more popular cruse ships, a small yacht can be more work and significantly less comfortable, but typically allows more freedom and flexibility. For the right people this can be a far more rewarding experience.
Coastal stations include
Ponies, sledges and dogs, skis, tractors, snow cats (and similar tracked vehicles) and aircraft including helicopters and ski planes have all been used to get around Antarctica. Cruise ships use zodiac boats to ferry tourists from ship to shore in small groups. Bring your own fuel and food, or arrange supplies in advance. You cannot purchase fuel or food on the continent. Cruise ships come fully prepared with landing transport, food, etc. Some (but not all) even provide cold-weather clothing.
Antarctica has 24-hour sunshine during the southern hemisphere summer. Visitors should ensure that they take steps to keep regular sleeping hours as continuous daylight disturbs the body clock. There are no hotels or lodges on the continent, and research bases will not generally house guests. Most visitors sleep on board their boat, although land expeditions will use tents for shelter.
It is possible to obtain employment with scientific expeditions in Antarctica. Induction and training need to be undertaken prior to departure for Antarctica.
The following agencies are responsible for staffing bases in Antarctica:
As most visitors to Antarctica will arrive by boat, the greatest dangers occur due to storms at sea. The weather in the Southern Ocean is nature at its most extreme, with the potential for hurricane force winds and waves as high as 60-70 feet (18-23 meters). With modern safety and ship design the odds of sinking are low, but the odds of being thrown about by a wave are high. Every year numerous people die or are seriously injured during the crossing to and from the continent. When on a boat in rough weather always make sure that you have at least one secure handhold, and avoid opening doors during storms as a sudden shift in the waves can easily bring a heavy door crashing back onto a body part. In severe weather stay in your cabin and wait for the storm to subside.
Weather on the continent is equally extreme, although most visitors pack appropriate gear. For expeditions there are limited search-and-rescue options, so expeditions must plan for all contingencies. There is no formal government or legal system in Antarctica, but the laws of the country of origin or departure as well as those of a claimant government may apply. Rules regarding protection of the environment and of historical sites will be strictly enforced, and fines can be extreme.
Also note that when visiting Antarctica that a hospital is usually days away. Most ships and research stations have a doctor, but facilities are limited. In cases where evacuation is required (if even possible), costs can run into the tens of thousands of dollars. Those with pre-existing conditions should strongly consider the risks of venturing into a land where medical help may not be available prior to embarking on an Antarctic journey.
Antarctica has an extreme environment. The cold is a major health hazard. Visitors should be properly prepared and equipped for any visit. Waterproof and windproof gloves, coat, pants, and boots are an absolute necessity. Other necessities that are often overlooked include sunscreen and sunglasses - summertime visitors will be exposed to the sun's rays from above and from reflections off of snow, ice, and water. Additionally, for those arriving by boat seasickness medicine is strongly encouraged - even the most seaworthy individual will feel queasy in a severe storm; check with your doctor before visiting to determine what medicine is appropriate.
Antarctica has a very fragile environment. Pollution should be avoided if at all possible. Expeditions should anticipate the need to remove all waste from the continent when they leave. Waste disposal and sewage facilities on the continent are severely limited and restricted to permanent installations. Of particular concern to tourists is the danger of introducing foreign organisms into the fragile Antarctic environment. Many tour operators will require visitors to do a boot wash after every landing to avoid carrying seeds or other items from one location to another. In addition, visitors should examine all clothing prior to embarking to avoid bringing any plant or animal material to the Antarctic; invasive species have devastated many regions of the planet, so it is particularly important to protect Antarctica from this danger.
The International Association of Antarctica Tour Operators (IAATO) is a voluntary organization of tour operators which promotes safe and environmentally responsible tourism in Antarctica. It publishes standards for member tour operators on responsible practices for private visitors to Antarctica. 
|This is a usable article. It gives a good overview of the region, its sights, and how to get in, as well as links to the main destinations, whose articles are similarly well developed. An adventurous person could use this article, but please plunge forward and help it grow!|
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From the lower-case antarctic.