In this addition to the What Everyone Needs to Know series, David Day examines the most forbidding and formidably inaccessible continent on Earth.
For over a century following its discovery by European explorers in 1820, Antarctica played host to competing claims by rival nations vying for access to the frozen land's vast marine resources -- namely the skins and oils of seals and whales.
Though the Antarctic Treaty of 1959 was meant to end this contention, countries have found other means of extending control over the land, with scientific bases establishing at least symbolic claims.
Exploration and drilling by the United States, Great Britain, Russia, Japan, and others has led to discoveries about the world's climate in centuries past -- and in the process intimations of its alarming future. Delving into all the relevant issues -- the history of the continent, its wildlife, underwater mountain ranges, arguments over governance, and the continent's effect on global climate change -- Day's work sheds new light on a territory that, despite being the coldest, driest, and windiest continent in the world, will continue to be the object of intense speculation and competition.
With new evidence that Antarctica's ice is melting three times faster than it was a decade ago, the need to understand the world's southernmost region has never been more pressing.