Digging into Antarctica

Antarctica, one of the world's remotest regions, remains in many ways the undiscovered continent. However, scientists from around the world are spending long periods in Antarctica to learn more about it — and eco-oriented tourists are increasingly venturing southward. We wonder: Which of the following statements about Antarctica are true?

A. Antarctica is larger than the United States
B. The Antarctic ice sheet contains 80% of the world's freshwater
C. No more than 4,000 people live on Antarctica
D. Antarctica was once attached to India, Africa, Australia, New Zealand and South America
E. All of the above

A. Antarctica is larger than the United States is correct.

Antarctica is 14 million square kilometers (over five million square miles) — or almost 1.5 times the area of the United States. The fifth-largest of the world's seven continents, it is larger than Europe or Australia — but smaller than either North America, South America, Africa or Asia.

B. The Antarctic ice sheet contains 80% of the world's freshwater is correct.

The Antarctic ice sheet contains around 80% of the world's freshwater. This is explained both by the thickness of its ice sheet — up to 2.5 miles in some places — and the fact that Antarctica is so large.

C. No more than 4,000 people live on Antarctica is correct.

Antarctica has at most 4,000 residents in the southern summer, who are mostly scientific researchers. In addition, around 40,000 tourists visit Antarctica each year, mostly by sea. In winter, when average temperatures plunge to -10 to -30 degrees Celsius at coastal stations and darkness descends for six months, the population of researchers and support staff shrinks to less than 1,000.

Antarctica is also home to 20 million breeding pairs of penguins. Huddled up in the cold of winter, emperor penguins can reach a density of 19 birds per square meter.

D. Antarctica was once attached to India, Africa, Australia, New Zealand and South America is correct.

Antarctica contains some of the oldest known rocks on earth — formed four billion years ago. The continent was once attached to India, Africa, Australia, New Zealand and South America as part of the Gondwana supercontinent.

Antarctica began breaking apart from this landmass 170-180 million years ago because of shifting tectonic plates. This separation process was completed 30 million years ago when Australia detached itself fully from Antarctica.

E. All of the above is correct.

Antarctica is a continent of many facets. It stands apart from most of the world's territory because nobody owns it. Forty-eight nations representing an overwhelming majority of the world's population have acceded to a 1959 treaty that sets the continent aside forever for peaceful purposes and scientific research.

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