Map Antartica
Maps copyright Hammond World Atlas Corp.

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Background: Speculation over the existence of a "southern land" was not confirmed until the early 1820s when British and American commercial operators and British and Russian national expeditions began exploring the Antarctic Peninsula region and other areas south of the Antarctic Circle. Not until 1840 was it established that Antarctica was indeed a continent and not just a group of islands or an area of ocean. Several exploration "firsts" were achieved in the early 20th century, but generally the area saw little human activity. Following World War II, however, there was an upsurge in scientific research on the continent. A number of countries have set up a range of year-round and seasonal stations, camps, and refuges to support scientific research in Antarctica. Seven have made territorial claims, but not all countries recognize these claims. In order to form a legal framework for the activities of nations on the continent, an Antarctic Treaty was negotiated that neither denies nor gives recognition to existing territorial claims; signed in 1959, it entered into force in 1961.
Location: continent mostly south of the Antarctic Circle
Area land: 14 million sq km (280,000 sq km ice-free, 13.72 million sq km ice-covered) (est.)
Area water: 14 million sq km
Coastline: 17,968 km
Country name conventional long form: none
Country name conventional short form: Antarctica
Country name former: none
Population: no indigenous inhabitants, but there are both permanent and summer-only staffed research stations
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Statistics: CIA World Factbook.