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- Land of Ice -
The continent of Antarctica is shaped somewhat like a comma, with a round body surrounding the pole and a tail curving toward South America. The round portion, lying mainly in the Eastern Hemisphere, makes up East Antarctica. The tail and its thickened base, located entirely in the Western Hemisphere, form West Antarctica. East Antarctica includes the regions of Queen Maud Land, Enderby Land, and Wilkes Land; West Antarctica includes Palmer Land, Ellsworth Land, and Marie Byrd Land. Antarctica lies 1,000 km (600 mi) from South America, its nearest neighbor; 4,000 km (2,500 mi) from Africa; and 2,500 km (1,600 mi) from Australia.
With an area of 14 million sq km (5.4 million sq mi), Antarctica is larger than either Europe or Australia. Its average elevation of more than 2,000 m (6,500 ft) is over twice that of Asia, the next highest continent. However, much of this mass is ice. Below this ice, East Antarctica is a landmass about the size of Australia, and West Antarctica is a collection of islands. Only 2.4 percent of the total continental area is exposed rock. Exposed areas include the peaks of several mountain ranges and other smaller scattered outcrops, both of which poke through the ice cover, as well as dry valleys, glacier-carved areas that are kept clear of snow by gusty winds. Only about 2 percent of the coast is exposed cliffs or beaches; the rest is made up of ice cliffs that extend beyond the end of the continental rock.
The Ross and Weddell seas indent the thickened base of West Antarctica where it meets East Antarctica, while the Amundsen and Bellingshausen seas lie at West Antarctica’s outer edge. Numerous bays also indent the outer edge of East Antarctica, creating a jagged coastline.
The geographic South Pole lies near the center of the continent in East Antarctica. This point is where all map lines of longitude converge at the southern end of Earth’s axis of rotation. Distinct from the geographic south pole is the south magnetic pole, where the lines of force of Earth’s magnetic field emerge vertically, arching upward over the planet to enter Earth again at the north magnetic pole. The south-seeking end of a compass needle points to the south magnetic pole. The south magnetic pole is currently located off the Adelie Coast of East Antarctica, but was on land when it was first recorded in 1909. The south magnetic pole has migrated gradually out to sea with changes in the fields, a phenomenon known as polar wandering. The south geomagnetic pole is the hypothetical location of the magnetic pole if Earth’s magnetic field were a perfect bar magnet. The south geomagnetic pole is located near Vostok station in East Antarctica.