Antarctica is like a different planet on earth. She is owned by nobody. She is the core of Gondwanaland, the first land to form on earth. The earth's fifth continent; larger than Australia. Somewhere deep in her frozen ice, lies the world's very first rock. She is neither flat nor very snowy. Instead, Antarctica is a mountainous desert.
Mountain ranges the size of the Alps in Europe are buried in her ice, with only the summits exposed. Eternal deserts lay bare at places, dotted by meteorites and ancient skeletons preserved forever by the dry air. Katabatic winds, the strongest on earth, sweep down her plateau. This frozen continent, at places pushed by the ice far below sea level, hides the files of our world's beginning.
In the sky, the earth's magnetic field bends, attracting meteorites and the spectacular solar winds. The atmosphere is so thin that Astronomers can pick up faint messages from Space, bringing with them the story of our Universe's birth. Marine life bursts in the waters surrounding the land. Killer whales and huge ancient cod swim in the dark, cold depths. Some creatures have white blood, other manufacture their own antifreeze and sunscreens. In the summer season, Antarctica's waters boil with plankton. Oceanic wildlife migrates from all corners of earth to attend this annual fiesta. Scuba diving is spectacular.
Emperor penguins, over three feet tall (1m), reign the beaches. They spend the winter fasting, with their young standing on their feet the entire period to protect them from the cold ice. The penguins are curious; if you visit they'll walk up to take a closer look. The Skuas however, are not as friendly. These clumsy birds will attack you just for the heck of it. And it feels like being hit by a frozen chicken.
Antarctica is divided into Greater (east) and Lesser (west) Antarctica. Great Antarctica is one stable plate, whereas the lesser Antarctica consists of several smaller, moving plates. The South Pole is on Greater Antarctica. Greater and lesser Antarctica is divided by the Transantarctic mountain range and there is a circle of mountains surrounding the coast. The area is covered by thick ice, at places pushed up to 2000ft (600m) below sea level. The ice sheet, at places thicker than 2.5 miles (4km), averages 1.7 miles (2,7km) in thickness with an area of 5.2 sq miles (13,5 million sq km).
The ice is the result of snowfall over millions of years. All this snow, frozen and preserved, tells the history of past climates. Drilling a sample shows the chemicals and gases trapped in the ice thousands of years ago. This is helpful in understanding cyclic global warming. Antarctica's ice sheet, 1.5 times the size of or America or Europe, is the world's sweet water reservoir. It is important that the Global warming is kept under control, or the sheet will melt and flood the earth.