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Antarctica


Home Of Frosty Cold Climate


      The freezing continent around the South Pole is called Antarctica. This region, at the bottom of the world, is larger in area than the United States and Mexico combined. It is a cold and forbidding land that has no permanent human population and is almost devoid of animal or plant life. Signs of life only teems in the oceans bordering Antarctica.

        Antarctica is the coldest continent. The world's record low temperature of -89.2 C was recorded there. The mean annual temperature of the interior is -57 C. The coast is warmer. Monthly mean temperatures at McMurdo Station range from -28 C in August to -3 C in January. Along the Antarctic Peninsula temperatures have been as high as 15 C.

       Because it is such a large area of extreme cold, Antarctica plays an important role in global atmospheric circulation. In the tropics the sun warms the air, causing it to rise and move toward the poles. When these air masses arrive over Antarctica, they cool, become heavier, and fall from the high interior of the continent toward the sea, making some Antarctic coasts the windiest places in the world. Winds on the Adelie Coast in the winter of 1912 to 1913 averaged 64 kilometres per hour 64 percent of the time, and gusts of nearly 320 kilometres per hour have been recorded. Antarctica's interior is one of the world's major cold deserts. Precipitation (if melted) averages only 2.5 to 5 centimetres a year.

Endangered Species in Antarctica

       The first people to make money by going to Antarctica were whalers and sealers, who first crossed the Antarctic Convergence in 1778. Seal hunters began catching Antarctic seals for their oil and fur in the early 1790s. Fur seals and then elephant seals were reduced almost to extinction by the mid-1800s, at which point the sealers finally stopped their Antarctic hunts. The populations of fur and elephant seals once again began growing. In 1978, the nations interested in Antarctica agreed to prohibit the taking of fur, elephant, and Ross seals. This pact also limits the annual catch of crabeater, leopard, and Weddell seals. But no seal hunting has taken place in Antarctica since 1964.

        Whaling began in Antarctic waters in the 19th century. The industry enlarged greatly in the early 1900s, when steamships, harpoon guns, and shore processing stations, notably at South Georgia, were introduced. During the 1912-13 season 10,760 whales were caught. After that time nearly all the whales caught in the world were caught in Antarctic waters. In 1931, a peak year, 40,199 whales were caught in the Antarctic, while only 1,124 were caught in the rest of the world. So many whales were caught that their numbers declined, just as had those of the seals. The industry declined after 1960. In the 1980-81 season fewer than 6,000 whales were caught in the Antarctic; all were minke whales, a relatively small-sized species also called the lesser rorqual.

      Commercial fishing was begun by the Soviet Union in 1967. In 1971 a Soviet fleet of 40 trawlers and support ships in the southern ocean landed an estimated 300,000 tons mostly cod, herring, and whiting. Today fleets of other nations, mainly Japan and Norway, also fish the waters. Krill fishing began in the early 1970s, and by 1980 the Soviet Union and Japan were taking about 100,000 tons a year for use as a shrimp substitute and animal feed. Some scientists believe that huge amounts of krill could be harvested from the Antarctic, enough to double the worldwide catch of seafood. But much remains to be learned about the biology and population of krill to know how much damage would be done by huge harvests.

         In 1982, the nations that were interested in Antarctica set up a scientific committee to study the Antarctic ecosystem and a commission to set catch limits. The nations wanted to protect the unique ecosystem and to avoid any activities that had already reduced the numbers of whales and seals in the area.

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