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Antarctica—an Overview, Geology, Climate, Plants And Animals, Exploration Of The Continent, Scientific Exploration

Of the seven continents on planet Earth—North America, South America, Europe, Africa, Asia, Australia, and Antarctica—the last lies at the southernmost tip of the world. It is the coldest, driest, and windiest continent. Ice covers 98% of the land, and its 5,100,000 sq mi (13,209,000 sq km) occupy nearly one-tenth of the Earth's land surface, or the same area as Europe and the United States combined. Despite its barren appearance, Antarctica and its surrounding waters and islands teem with life all their own, and the continent plays a significant role in the climate and health of the entire planet.

Humans have never settled on Antarctica because of its brutal climate, but, since its discovery in the early 1800s, explorers and scientists have traveled across dangerous seas to study the continent's winds, temperatures, rocks, wildlife, and ice. Scientists treasure the unequaled chance at undisturbed research; as travel to the continent improves, tourists enjoy the opportunity to visit the last "frontier" on the earth; environmentalists focus on Antarctica as the only continent largely unspoiled by human hands; and, in an increasingly resource-hungry world, others look at the continent as a key source of oil and mineral resources. While some countries have tried to claim parts of the continent as their own, Antarctica is an independent continent protected by international treaty from ownership by any one country.

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