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Antarctica is the southern-most
continent; most of it lies within the Antarctic Circle (analogous
to the Arctic Circle in the north.) The South Pole is near the
center of Antarctica while the North Pole is in the Arctic Ocean.
Unlike the Arctic, which is water and floating ice, Antarctica is land,
mostly covered with sheets of ice. The South Pole is on stationary
solid ice, overlaying land. South America is the closest inhabited
continent. Antarctica is the coldest and driest continent. Most of
the continent is high and windy. The Antarctic Peninsula has the most
moderate temperatures in the continent; during January, the temperatures
along the coast average slightly below freezing. Antarctica has no
arable land. It is larger than either Australia or Europe.
There are no native mammals that live on Antarctica, though there are sea mammals that spend time on the land—basically several types of seals, some of which give birth on land. Blue whales and orcas hunt in the rich waters around Antarctica. Emperor penguins and several other species of penguins make nests and raise their young on land, using the rich fisheries around Antarctica to get food for their offspring. A tremendous number of small invertebrates and single cell creatures live in, on and around Antarctica. Algae, fungi, mosses, mites, lice, nematodes, rotifers, springtails survive in the Antarctic climate, some actually living within the ice, others on the surface. Antarctica lacks larger plants such as trees and shrubs. Plants and animals must withstand not only cold temperatures, but the lack of liquid water.
A number of countries have research stations on Antarctica, of which the US McMurdo Station is the largest, with about 1,000 people over the winter, and several times that many during the Antarctic summer.
Argentina, Australia, Chile, France, New Zealand, Norway and the United Kingdom have all made territorial claims on Antarctica (some of them overlapping). Most other countries do not recognize these claims. There are a great many discovered and undiscovered natural resources in Antarctica. It would be very difficult to extract them and there are political questions as to who would own them and concerns about damage to the environment.