Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Finding Antarctica: mapping the last continent

Terres Antarctiques, [1670.] Pierre Duval

From State Library New South Wales

A State library exhibition of the mapping of Antarctica from the 15th to the 21st century, from crude woodcut maps to the latest satellite imagery.

Antarctica is regulated by the Antarctic Treaty which applies to the area south of 60° South Latitude, including all ice shelves and islands.
The original signatories in 1959 of United Kingdom, South Africa, Belgium, Japan, United States of America, Norway, France, New Zealand, Russia, Argentina, Australia and Chile have been joined by many other States.

Now, numerous signatories agree to prohibit military activity, except in support of science; prohibit nuclear explosions and the disposal of nuclear waste; promote scientific research and the exchange of data; and hold all territorial claims in abeyance.
Many of these countries also have an interest in Antarctic conservation as shown by membership of the Convention on the Conservation of Antarctic Marine Living Resources (CCAMLR) 1982.

Antarctic Regions. Maps showing present state of research.
By J.G. Bartholomew. F.R.S.E. 1898.

Antarctica is the highest, driest, coldest, windiest continent.
The region around Antarctica, called the Southern Ocean, is open with no boundaries; the Antarctic Circumpolar Current flows towards the east, driven by westerly winds.
The only partial obstruction is the Drake Passage/Magellan Straits, between Cape Horn (at the tip of South America) and the Antarctic Peninsula.
Thick ice sheets flow off the coast of Antarctica and break away to form icebergs that are carried north into the basins of the Pacific, Indian and Atlantic Oceans.

The land has small mosses and lichens but no higher plants while the oceans contain a rich and diverse life with the better known whales, seals and penguins as well as icefish, starfish and sea urchins.
The only places where people live are bases or stations, usually operated by national governments.

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