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The Last Continent

Today I’d like to tell about the land where probably you had never been.

When astronauts view the earth from space, says the book Antarctica: The Last Continent, the most distinctive feature of our planet is the ice sheet of Antarctica. It “radiates light like a great white lantern across the bottom of the world” the astronauts reported.

Why Antarctica is a unique continent?

Antarctica is the most isolated continent in the world. It is supremely beautiful and pristine but brutally inhospitable. It is the windiest, coldest place on earth, yet it is singularly delicate and sensitive. It has less precipitation than any other continent, but it’s ice represents 70 percent of the planet’s fresh water. With an average thickness of some 2200 meters, the ice makes Antarctica earth’s highest continent, averaging 2300 meters above sea level.

In fact, Antarctica has been likened to a vast natural laboratory for studying the earth and its atmosphere as well as global environmental changes, including those related to human activities. Antarctica is also earth’s fifth-largest continent, yet it has no permanent residents larger than a one-centimeter wingless midge, a type of fly.

As you venture into Antarctica’s interior, you see fewer and fewer signs of life, especially when you reach the areas called dry valleys. Covering some 3000 square kilometres, these polar deserts are mostly set high in the Transantarctic Mountains – a chain of ranges spanning the continent and rising in places to over 4300 meters. Icy gales whistle through the dry valleys and quickly whip away any snow that might fall. Scientists believe these valleys to be the nearest earthly equivalent to the surface of Mars. Hence, they were deemed a suitable venue for testing space equipment before launching the Viking mission to Mars.

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