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Antarctica, fifth largest of Earth’s seven continents. Antarctica surrounds the South Pole and is a place of extremes. It is the southernmost, coldest, iciest, driest, windiest, most remote, and most recently discovered continent. Nearly the entire landmass lies within the Antarctic Circle. Air temperatures of the high inland regions fall below -80°C (-110°F) in winter and rise only to -30°C (-20°F) in summer. Massive ice sheets built up from snow over millions of years cover almost all of the continent and float in huge ice shelves on coastal waters. In winter frozen sea water (sea ice) more than doubles the size of the Antarctic ice cap. Antarctica's vast areas of ice on land and on sea play a major role in Earth’s climate and could be strongly affected by global warming. The melting of Antarctic ice could dramatically raise global sea level.

Antarctica means “opposite to the Arctic,” Earth’s northernmost region. Antarctica is completely encircled by the Southern Ocean. The entire area south of the Antarctic Convergence zone where cold Antarctic waters sink below warmer waters on the northern boundary of the Southern Ocean is referred to as the Antarctic region.

The small human presence on Antarctica is made up of visiting scientists, support staff, and tourists. The last continent to be discovered, Antarctica remained hidden behind barriers of fog, storm, and sea ice until it was first sighted in the early 19th century. Because of the extreme cold and the lack of native peoples, forests, land animals, and obvious natural resources, the continent remained largely neglected for decades after discovery. Scientific expeditions and seal hunters had explored only fragments of its coasts by the end of the 19th century, while the interior remained unknown. Explorers first reached the South Pole in 1911, and the first permanent settlements—scientific stations—were established in the early 1940s. From that time the pace of exploration and scientific research has accelerated rapidly. In the mid- to late 20th century, the region’s majestic scenery and wildlife began to attract increasing numbers of tourists.

Seven nations—Argentina, Australia, the United Kingdom, Chile, France, New Zealand, and Norway—claim territory in Antarctica. Other nations, including the United States and Russia, do not acknowledge these claims and make no claims of their own, but reserve rights to claim territory in the future. Since 1961 the continent has been administered under the Antarctic Treaty, an international agreement to preserve the continent for peaceful scientific study.


Burleigh, Robert. Black Whiteness: Admiral Byrd Alone in the Antarctic. Simon & Schuster, 1998. For readers in grades 3 to 6.

Bredeson, Carmen. After the Last Dog Died: The True-Life, Hair-Raising Adventure of Douglas Mawson and His 1911-1914 Antarctic Expedition. National Geographic, 2003. For readers in grade 5 and up.

Cerullo, Mary M. Life Under Ice. Tilbury, 2003. Text accompanied by photographs taken above and below the ice, for readers in grades 3 to 7.

Conlan, Kathy. Under the Ice. Kids Can, 2002. A marine biologist describes her experiences living at McMurdo Station.

Marcovitz, Hal. Sir Ernest Shackleton and the Struggle Against Antarctica. Chelsea House, 2001. For readers in grades 4 to 6.

McMillan, Bruce. Summer Ice: Life Along the Antarctic Peninsula. Houghton Mifflin, 1995. For readers in grades 4 to 6.

Sayre, April Pulley. Antarctica. Twenty-First Century, 1998. For middle school and high school readers.

Alexander, Caroline. The Endurance: Shackleton's Legendary Antarctic Expedition. Random House, 1998. One of the greatest survival stories, evoking both the beauty and the terror of Antarctica.

Crossley, Louise. Explore Antarctica. Cambridge University Press, 1995. This environmental study provides a foundation for understanding the region and its natural history, from animals to the movement of ice.

Gurney, Alan. Below the Convergence: Voyages Toward Antarctica 1699-1839. Penguin, 1998. A history of early British, American, and Russian expeditions to Antarctica in search of scientific knowledge, national prestige, and profit.

Heacox, Kim. Antarctica: The Last Continent. National Geographic Society, 1998. Provides a history of polar explorations, information on the geography of Antarctica, and its wildlife.

Monteath, Colin. Antarctica: Beyond the Southern Ocean. Barrons Educational Series, 1997. Collection of photographs with accompanying text covering everything from wildlife to weather.

Swithinbank, Charles. An Alien in Antarctica: Reflections upon Forty Years of Exploration and Research on the Frozen Continent. McDonald & Woodward, 1997. First-person narrative and photography enhance this polar scientist's account of six expeditions to Antarctica.

Wheeler, Sara. Terra Incognita: Travels in Antarctica. Random House, 1999. An account of the first woman journalist to travel the south polar continent.

Woodworth, Lynn. Antarctica and the Arctic: The Complete Encyclopedia. Firefly, 2001. A beautifully illustrated study of the world's two polar continents.

Alexander, Caroline. The Endurance: Shackleton's Legendary Antarctic Expedition. Random House, 1998. Exciting narrative of Shackleton's near-fatal odyssey, with photographs.

Berton, Pierre. Arctic Grail: The Quest for the North West Passage and the North Pole, 1818-1909. Viking, 1988. Lyons, 2000. Classic account of Arctic explorers and exploration during the late 19th and early 20th centuries.

Bryce, Robert M. Cook and Peary: The Polar Controversy, Resolved. Stackpole, 1997. Who reached the North Pole first? This work studiously examines the rival claims.

Calvert, Patricia. Robert E. Peary: To the Top of the World. Marshall Cavendish, 2001. For younger readers; grades 5 to 8.

Fleming, Fergus. Ninety Degrees North: The Quest for the North Pole. Grove, 2002. Tells of the major expeditions sent to the North Pole from 1845 to 1969.

Gurney, Alan. Below the Convergence: Voyages Toward Antarctica, 1699-1839. Norton, 1997. Penguin, 1998. Maritime adventures to the south polar lands and how captains and crews endured.

Huntford, Roland. The Last Place on Earth. Modern Library, 1999. The race to reach the South Pole, first published in 1979 as Scott and Amundsen.

Kimmel, Elizabeth Cody. Ice Story: Shackleton's Lost Expedition. Houghton, 1999. For younger readers, grades 4 to 8.

Ross, M. J. Polar Pioneers: John Ross and James Clark Ross. McGill-Queens University Press, 1994. Biography of two 19th-century British naval officers and their search for the Northwest Passage.

Vaughn, Norman D. With Byrd at the Bottom of the World. Stackpole, 1990. An account by a dog handler on Byrd's expedition from 1928 to 1930.


Stonehouse, Bernard, B.S., M.A., Ph.D. Senior Associate and head of the Polar Ecology and Management Group, Scott Polar Research Institute, University of Cambridge. Author of Polar Ecology and other books.

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