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The Place

Coldest, windiest, driest, most remote—Antarctica is extreme by any standard.

>> TEMPERATURE: In the dry interior of the continent, the annual mean temperature is between -58 and -76°F (-50 and -60°C). Toward the coast it rises to between 14 and -4°F (-10 and -20°C). The lowest world temperature on record was measured here: -128.6°F (-89.2°C).

>> WINDS: Hurricane-force winds, up to 200 miles (320 kilometers) an hour, batter the continent regularly. Called katabatic winds, they are pulled down the slope of the icecap by gravity. Upon reaching the coasts they create directional currents.

>> ICE: Almost the entire continent—98 percent—is covered in ice that is thousands of years old. If it all were to melt, the global sea level would rise by a couple of hundred feet (about 60 meters).

>> SEA ICE: Seawater here is as cold as it can get without freezing: 28.8°F (-1.8°C). The salt in the water lowers the freezing point. In the winter, sea ice forms on the Southern Ocean surface.

>> SEASONS: Antarctica has two distinct seasons, a very short summer and a very long winter. During the austral summer the days are very long. In the winter feeble sunlight breaks out for only an hour or two, if at all. The SeaLab: Antarctica team will be there in April, during the late fall.

>> WILDLIFE: The largest Antarctic land animal, an insect called a midge, is no bigger than a coarse grain of sand.

>> PRECIPITATION: Interior Antarctica is a desert. Less than three inches (seven centimeters) of precipitation fall on the elevated central plateau each year.

Unlike the Arctic, which is a great expanse of water surrounded by land, Antarctica is a great expanse of land surrounded by water. Many people call the parts of the Indian, Pacific, and Atlantic Oceans that circle Antarctica the Southern Ocean.

Forty-three nations have signed the Antarctic Treaty, a 35-year-old agreement to protect the fragile environment of the southernmost continent. Despite its remoteness, threats to Antarctica do exist and include overfishing, mineral harvesting, and increasing tourism.

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