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20 November, 2000

Antarctic Basics

Earth’s North Pole is located in the Arctic Ocean upon which floats sea ice that is several feet thick. By contrast, at the South Pole you find a large land mass covered by a thick sheet of ice. (Image credit: NASA)

Antarctica covers an area about equal to that of the United States and Mexico combined. It is the highest, coldest, and windiest continent. (Image credit: NSF)

Antarctica is also the driest continent. The interior receives only a couple inches of snow each year. However, accumulated snowfall over thousands of years has formed an ice sheet thousands of feet thick covering the land. (Image credit: National Geographic)

Antarctica is surrounded by the Southern Ocean. During the austral winter (June-September), the surface of the ocean freezes. This sea ice effectively doubles the size of continent. The colored area on this satellite image shows the extent of sea ice in October. (Image credit: NASA)

The harsh climate of the interior precludes most life. However, an abundance of life is found around the edges of the continent. Large species include varieties of penguins, seals, whales, and birds. (Image credit: Ann Parks Hawthorne, NSF)

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