Antarctica is the Earth’s southernmost continent, surrounding the South Pole. It’s the fifth largest continent (14 million square kilometers) and most sparsely populated of all. The population varies depending on the season – in research stations scattered across the continent around 1000 people live in winter. In summer, when research activity is at its peak, up to 5000 people stay in Antarctica. There are no indigenous inhabitants of Antarctica, the only people are scientists and staff coming from other countries.
Climate of Antarctica is very hostile to humans. Antarctica is considered to be a desert, due to extremely low precipitation rates, mostly concentrated around coastlines. The lowest temperature in history on Earth was recorded on Antarctica, in the Soviet Vostok station in 1983: -89.2oC. Satellite data suggest, that in certain parts of the continent temperature may fall below -90oC.
Although the Antarctic Ice Sheet covers 98% of Antarctica, the two things are not the same. The word “Antarctica” relates to the continent, but not to the ice sheet specifically. Nevertheless, a scientist or explorer, who travels across the ice sheet can say, that they visited Antarctica, just as well as a researcher of glaciers in Alps can say, that they have been to Europe.
The legal status of Antarctica is regulated by the Antarctic Treaty, just as in the case of The Antarctic. Territorial claims made by some countries in the Antarctic include also, or even mainly, sectors of Antarctica. According to the treaty, Antarctica includes also surrounding ice shelves.