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What is the History of Antarctica?

Most of Antarctica became covered with ice by about 15 million years ago.
Millions of years ago, Antarctica was likely farther north and much warmer than it is now.
Marsupials mammals that were related to modern Koalas once lived in Antarctica.
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Antarctica is the Earth's southernmost continent, roughly centered around the South Pole. 98% of Antarctica is covered by a gigantic ice sheet, averaging 1.6 kilometers (1.0 mi) thick, which contains about 60% of the world's fresh water. The continent has the most extreme climate of any continent, experiencing the world's lowest temperatures and least rain. It is also the continent most devoid of life, with animals only living near the coasts. Antarctica has only a couple of short rivers which flow only during the summer. The continent is mainly inhabited by research scientists on temporary stays, with a population of about 4,000 during the summer and 1,000 during winter.

A long time ago, approximately 40 million years in the past, Antarctica was still connected to South America by land as well as being connected to Australia as part of a land continent called Gondwana. Gondwana has not located as close to the South Pole as Antarctica is today, and had a tropical and sub-tropical climate, complete with dense forests and marsupial fauna. Then, approximately 40 million years ago, Australia broke away from Antarctica, beginning to isolate it. Around this time, an Ice Age on Earth began, and Antarctica cooled down, becoming more of a tundra climate.

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23 million years ago, Antarctica finally broke from South America, and the Drake Passage opened, allowing a freezing circumpolar current to circulate Antarctica. The Ice Age was in full swing, and snow hitting the ground in Antarctica stopped melting, even during the summer, and continental ice sheets began to form. By about 15 million years ago, most of the continent was covered in ice.

Antarctica was not discovered by humans until 27 January 1820, when Russian Imperial Navy captain Von Bellingshausen sighted the Antarctic mainland from his ship. For millennia previous, geographers had suspected the existence of a vast, far south land — which they called "Terra Australis" — to "balance" out the land masses of the north. The reasoning is not especially sound, but these geographers ended up being right.

Today, Antarctica is home to just over a dozen research bases, manned by scientific researchers from over a dozen countries. Even a few families live in Antarctica on a temporary basis, as their relatives work in the facilities there. There is even an Antarctic base at the South Pole itself.

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Discuss this Article

BioNerd
Post 4

@BostonIrish

This is an interesting idea, but the facts are quite controversial and hotly contended due to the global warming debate. Personally, I find it unlikely that the ice sheet would expand beyond the height of Mt. Everest due to geothermal heat melting it from the bottom.

BostonIrish
Post 3

If the Antarctic ice sheet continues to grow over so many hundreds of years, what is to stop it from rivaling Mt. Everest in height?

Qohe1et
Post 2

@Leonidas226

This would be an interesting situation. The Antarctic is generally harsher and colder than the Arctic region and would be more difficult for supporting life. There is little tundra or vegetation in the Antarctic, and food sources would be difficult. With modern or future technology, however, it might be feasible that a society would one day exist in the Antarctic region.

Leonidas226
Post 1

There are few people in Antarctica, and it seems that no civilization has dwelt there permanently. What if one day there is vast overpopulation in the world and we are forced to settle Antarctica? Mankind has learned to survive in the harshest conditions. Could it be that we may one day need to learn the techniques of Eskimos and live near the South Pole?

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