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Useful Notes / Antarctica

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Antarctica is the southernmost continent in the world. It is also the only one that doesn't have any permanent human residents, hence the lack of independent countries in the continent. Other extremes include 'highest' and 'driest'—seriously, it's a desert down there.

There are many claims to the various parts of the continent made by the United Kingdom, France, Norway, Australia, New Zealand, Argentina and Chile. The current "government" of the continent is run by what is known as the Antarctic Treaty which was signed in 1959. The treaty freezes all the territorial claims on the continent while setting it aside as a scientific reserve. It also bans all military activities on the continent, effectively making Antarctica a neutral country of sorts. And yes, the United States did sign this one, although 'reserving' the right to make a claim later if it feels like it. Right now it's just research stations. Still, it's nice to know that not bombing the place was worth the Antarctic Treaty System (there's a bunch now) being in general one of the first arms control treaties of the Cold War.

It is also known as the home of the Emperor Penguins, and also the setting for the film March of the Penguins which documented the lives of the aforementioned penguins.

Another minor issue is the 'ozone hole'. In the mid-1980s, scientists noticed that the ozone layer over the south polar region would get very thin during springtime (for the southern hemisphere). This was traced to some man-made chemicals, usually called 'CFCs', for 'chlorofluorocarbons'. Most people finally figured out that atmospheric ozone is useful, and stopped making these. Fortunately, there seems to be signs that the ozone layer is repairing itself in the absence of CFCs.

So, aside from no precipitation, penguins, research stations, and a lack of ozone, what else is down here? Lately, a few tourists, but not a lot else. There are, however, two civilian settlements on the continent, Villa Las Estrellas and Esperanza Base, controlled by Chile and Argentina, respectively.

People had generally figured something was down here for quite a while. Even the ancient Greeks thought so, if only to help balance the rest of the land mass up north.note  According to The Other Wiki, though, the first recognised discovery was around 1820 by a Russian expedition. And for most of the 19th century, that was about it. Even in 2014, it's a barren waste; imagine trying to live there in 1850.

Though it sounds crazy, there are several sub-glacial lakes scattered around the continent, buried beneath the ice sheet. They are far enough below the surface that water is insulated by the ice above and warmed by geothermal heat below, allowing it to remain in its liquid state. The largest of these lakes, Lake Vostok, has long been an interest of Antarctic explorers. Only in February of 2012, after twenty years of drilling, did a Russian research team finally break through the ice sheet to the surface of the lake.

Maps of the place can't put 'north' at the top, of course, as once you're down there, everything's north. The usual convention is to have the 'top' of the round map be the Prime Meridian. The continent is then 'split' into West (in the Western hemisphere) and East Antarctica. The Western bit has the Antarctic peninsula, that dangly bit on the side that eventually meanders up to South America. Western Antarctica, which contains Graham Land and Marie Byrd Land, isn't all that bad; it houses a narrow strip of balmy Antarctic tundra along its shores, there were several whaling towns before the whole whaling business was shut down by environmental consciousness, and today there are two small settlements, the aforemented Villa las Estrellas and Esperanza Base. Eastern Antarctica, on the other hand, is deadly. A mountain range called the Transantarctic separates them.

As mentioned earlier, some nations claim some chunks of Antarctica. (Oddly, there's still a bit left, from 90 to 150 degrees west longitude. Register now!) Some of these overlap; more specifically, Argentina, Chile, and the United Kingdom each have a bit that has the peninsula. Even Those Wacky Nazis tried getting in on it (20ºE to 10ºW), although not much came out of it.

To keep the record, the claims are the following:

  • United Kingdom: 20°W to 80°W
  • New Zealand: 150°W to 160°E
  • France: 142°2'E to 136°11'E
  • Australia: 160°E to 142°2'E and 136°11'E to 44°38'E
  • Norway: 44°38'E to 20°W
    • It also claims Peter I Island, 68°50′S 90°35′W
  • Chile: 53°W to 90°W
  • Argentina: 25°W to 74°W
  • The unclaimed territory, Marie Byrd Land, goes from 90°W to 150°W

However, these territorial claims are considered invalid by the majority of nations (signatories of the Antarctic Treaty, which include USA, Russia and China), and you may have noticed some of them overlap. Let's hope things never get desperate enough that wars start over ownership of one of the most desolate places on Earth... Also, despite Russia being a signatory of the treaty and thus withholding any official claim, Russian nationalistic circles often unofficially claim the entire continent by right of first discovery (it was discovered by a Russian expedition).

The United States military has a base on Antarctica, McMurdo, which also plays host to civilian scientists and is located on Ross Island. However, the country doesn't claim any territory for itself; the bit with McMurdo on is actually claimed by New Zealand.

Recently, Antarctica was named the most LGBT+-friendly continent on Earth. This most likely has more to do with the inherent nature of Antarctica than anything else: there are no permanent human residents, no corporations or companies based in Antarctica, and no lawmaking bodies either in Antarctica or abroad making laws unfavorable (or, for that matter favorable) towards LGBT+ people. (It also helps that some penguins are known to form same-sex pair bonds, and even raise eggs together.) In 2018, it held its first pride celebration.

See also Mysterious Antarctica for older depictions of Antarctica, and Polar Bears and Penguins for the usual confusion between them, the polar bears and their respective habitats. If you're not careful, you risk to be Reassigned to Antarctica, also. Do not confuse with Green Antarctica.

Works set in Antarctica:

Anime & Manga

  • A Place Further than the Universe tells the story of Shirase Kobuchizawa's attempt to reach the continent to discover what happened to her Missing Mom. It also details the trials and tribulations of the friends who accompany her there, all of whom have their own reasons for wanting to travel to Antarctica.

Comic Books

  • Whiteout, Greg Rucka's first comic, is about a female U.S. Marshal investigating Antarctica's first murder.


  • Antarctica is a 1983 film about the 1958 Japanese Antarctic Research Expedition where Taro and Jiro, along with the other dogs being left behind with two of them surviving. This film also depicts the deaths and disappearances of the dogs, with Riki being attacked by a killer whale while trying to protect Taro and Jiro, Anko and Deri falling through the ice and drowning in the freezing waters, Shiro falling off a cliff to his death, and Jakku and Kuma disappearing in the wilderness, never to be seen again.
  • Encounters at the End of the World is a documentary about both the wilderness and fauna of Antarctica, and of the scientists that work there.
  • The Great White Silence, a 1924 documentary about the tragic Terra Nova expedition to the South Pole, in which explorer Robert Scott and four of his men lost 1) the race to the South Pole, beaten by Roald Amundsen, and 2) their lives, on the way back
  • March of the Penguins is a very popular documentary focusing on emperor penguins.
  • Scott of the Antarctic, a 1948 film about the Robert F. Scott expedition, starring John Mills as Scott
  • The Secret Land is a 1948 film about a U.S. Navy expedition to Antarctica and the South Pole. This expedition is famous for the discovery of the Bunger Hills, a coastal region that is free of ice year-round, for reasons scientists still don't understand.
  • Shackleton, a 2002 TV movie starring Kenneth Branagh about Ernest Shackleton's very eventful Imperial Trans-Antarctic Expedition of 1914-1916
  • South, possibly the first feature-length documentary ever, a 1919 film about the Shackleton expedition
  • Whiteout, 2009 film adaptation of the Greg Rucka comic book (see above), starring Kate Beckinsale

Live-Action Television

  • The Last Place on Earth, a 1985 miniseries about the Scott and Amundsen expeditions to the South Pole, one which takes a much more skeptical attitude towards Robert F. Scott than prior media.
  • David Attenborough narrated Life in the Freezer, a six-part BBC documentary on life in the continent and its surrounding seas.
  • The Michael Palin travelogue Pole to Pole ends, logically enough, at the South Pole, but not before Palin meets a guy trying to cross the continent on a motorcycle.



  • Ralph Vaughan Williams wrote incidental music for the 1948 film Scott of the Antarctic, and later expanded it into his Symphony No. 7 Sinfonia Antarctica of 1953.

Video Games

The True South flag
There is no official flag of the continent as the Antarctic Treaty System, the condominium that governs the continent, has yet to formally select one. The flag you see here, called True South, was made by American journalist Evan Townsend at a research station during the austral winter of 2018. Its design's meaning:
Horizontal stripes of navy and white represent the long days and nights at Antarctica's extreme latitude. In the center, a lone white peak erupts from a field of snow and ice, echoing those of the bergs, mountains, and pressure ridges that define the Antarctic horizon. The long shadow it casts forms the unmistakable shape of a compass arrow pointed south, an homage to the continent's legacy of exploration. Together, the two center shapes create a diamond, symbolizing the hope that Antarctica will continue to be a center of peace, discovery, and cooperation for generations to come.

There have also been various proposed designs including this popular one by British vexillologist Graham Bartram (which is used as the representative emoji for "Flag for Antarctica", 🇦🇶),note  who used the colors of the flag of the United Nations for his rendition. His design was first used for The MultiMedia Corporation's 3D Atlas CD-ROM program in 1996. Nevertheless, True South has quickly seen greater use among those directly involved with the continent than Bartram's design, usurping his design as the "most official" Antarctic flag proposal yet. It has been formally adopted by various National Antarctic Programs, Antarctic nonprofits, and expedition teams, and has been flown at over a dozen research stations across Antarctica along with several other locations on all the other continents. Most recently, on January 1, 2022, the marker stake for the geographic South Pole (i.e. the physical pole at the actual point of 90° south), which is moved every New Year's Day due to ice drift, was changed to use the True South symbol.

See also Wikipedia's articles on proposed flags of Antarctica and a list of Antarctic flags.