Antarctica, the basics


antarctic lettering

antarctica detailed map

Basic Facts about Antarctica

  • Population: Zero! Antarctica is so cold that nobody lives here full time. Lots of people visit though, and many scientists stay here for months.
  • Land Mass: Covering a whopping 13,209,000 square km (5,100,000 square miles), this continent is much larger than Europe, but less than half the size of Africa.
  • Countries: None! Antarctica is a continent unlike any other – because it has no countries. Instead, there are areas called territories, claimed by different countries on other continents, including the UKAustralia claims the biggest slice of land in Antarctica. Can you guess why?
  • Highest Peak: Vinson Massif rises to 4,897 meters (16,066 feet) above sea level. It is located near the base of the Antarctic Peninsula. The Peninsula is the area of land that sticks out from the continent – it looks a bit like an arm or a leg!
  • Largest Lake: Lake Vostok is the continent’s largest lake. It is found under the ice sheet.


Fun Facts about Antarctica

Antarctica is the windiest place on earth.

  • There is as much ice on Antarctica as there is water in the Atlantic Ocean. 
  • The lowest recorded temperature in history was -128 degrees F in Antarctica. 
  • Antarctica has the highest average elevation of any continent. This is due to all the ice on it! 
  • Because it never rains in Antarctica, it is considered the world's biggest desert. 

How is the landscape ?

Antarctica is almost entirely covered by an enormous sheet of ice. On average, the ice is about a mile (1.6 km) thick!

Scientists estimate that if all of the ice in Antarctica melted, sea levels around the world would rise by about 60 meters (200 feet). That gives you an idea just how much frozen water there is in Antarctica!

antarctica ice

Antarctica is almost entirely covered by ice


The ice sheet runs out beyond the edge of the land over the sea, forming floating ice shelves. Look at this map. Can you spot the Ross Ice Shelf in the north-west and the Ronne Ice Shelf in the south? Each of these ice shelves is larger in area than the British Isles.

Antarctica’s ice is on the move. Some areas of ice (ice streams) flow downhill at a rate of a kilometer a year. Icebergs are created as great chunks of ice break (or ‘calve’) off the edge of the ice shelves. This happens all the time. Look out! Creak, splash! There goes another one!

Many scientists based in Antarctica are working on what might happen here as the climate changes as a result of global warming.

The Antarctic continent is divided in two by the Transantarctic Mountains. This huge range stretches 3,500 km (about 2,200 miles) in length – about the same distance from the east to the west coast of the USA.

A large area of central Antarctica is high, which is why it is so cold – colder than the Arctic. This flat-topped area (plateau) is about 1,000 km across and rises to 3,000 meters above sea level on average. That’s three times the height of Snowdon, the tippy top of Wales.

Surprisingly, for such a cold place, there are boiling volcanoes in Antarctica, such as Mount Erebus, close to the Ross Ice Shelf. Captain Scott’s expedition in 1912 spotted that this volcano was active. Explosions from the volcano still occur today, as the lava lake bubbles away!

mount erebus antactic volcano

Mount Erebus is an Antarctic volcano


fur seal antarctica

Fur seal on black volcanic beach

Under the ice in Antarctica, precious metals and coal have been found. But something called the Antarctic Treaty means that people can’t dig up these natural resources. The Treaty was signed in 1959 but came into effect two years later, more than 50 years ago. Twelve countries originally signed the Treaty, including Argentina, Russia, the UK and the USA. Since then, many more countries have agreed to these rules in order to share, study and protect this wonderful wilderness.