The Antarctic: A Continent Surrounded by Ocean
Antarctica differs from the Arctic in topography, ecology, and history. A vast continent, it is covered by ice up to three-mile (4,572 m) thick in some places. The Southern Ocean surrounding Antarctica connects the Atlantic, Pacific, and Indian Oceans. Its nutrient-rich waters create an ecosystem teeming with life.
Human history is shorter in Antarctica than in the Arctic. The continent has no native peoples; seaman in search of whales were the first to venture into the region. They were followed by explorers, scientists, and artists.
COOL FACT: The mean temperature at the South Pole is –58°F (–50°C) versus the North Pole, which is a balmy 0°F (–18°C).
“If you were standing at the South Pole, you would be at an elevation of 9,300 feet above sea level (that’s how thick the ice is there) and 800 miles from the moderating influence of the ocean (i.e., a continental climate). If you were standing at the North Pole, you would be on an ice floe about 6-10 feet thick floating in the middle of the Arctic Ocean, which is about 13,000 feet deep there (i.e., a maritime climate).
At the North Pole, the temperature is about +30°F in summer and can be as cold as −40°F in winter. At the South Pole, it’s always very cold: −15°F in the Antarctic summer and −80°F in the Antarctic winter.”
– Harry Stern, Polar Science Center, University of Washington