The Antarctic
 is the sea 
and land that
 lies within
  both the 
 and the 
Polar Circle.
 is the 
large, frozen
  at its heart.
Antarctic ice
The continent of Antarctica is 14 million square kilometers in area, including its permanent outer shelf ice.
A narrow peninsula curves from the central continent, its northern tip reaching beyond the polar circle into the waters of the Antarctic convergence.
Ice shelves, ice piedmonts, ice rises, glacier tongues, iceberg tongues, sea-pack ice, open seas, islands, this is the Antarctic outer scenery.
When the surrounding seas freeze in winter, sea ice more than doubles the world’s greatest cover of ice.
Antarctica for much of its history has been free of ice.
The core rock was once a part of a much larger landmass that had forests and lakes. Significant deposits of coal have been found in two areas, in the Transantarctic Mountains and in the Prince Charles Mountains.
Glossopterids are an extinct group of plants that have sometimes been considered to be ancestors of the flowering plants.   These plants were a diverse group that thrived throughout the temperate forests of the Southern Hemisphere, including Antarctica, around 250 million years ago.   Petrified Glossopteris seed fern has been found, as have fossilized tree stumps, roots, stems, and leaves of fossil southern beech wood.
Almost the entire continent is covered by deep ice making it extremely difficult to obtain fossilized evidence from past geologic ages, but dinosaur bones have been found on Ross island and in other areas, indicating they roamed this region during the Jurassic and Cretaceous age.   On Mt. Kirkpatrick, at a height of 14,000 feet, a team discovered the bones of a dinosaur, a flying pterosaur, a tritylodont, a prosauropod and the remains of other ancient animals.
Antarctica began splitting from its adjoining lands about 96 million years ago.   There was likely a land bridge from South America, a series of small mountains, but as the land drifted southwards the mountain peaks became submerged.
45 to 30 million years ago Antarctica became completely encircled by the much colder Antarctic current.   Although there have been cycles of temperature increase since this time, the abundance of vegetation began to enter a world of ice.   Today this continent is where the lowest surface temperatures on Earth are recorded.   Scientists at the base station at Lake Vostok registered a temperature of  -91 degrees Celsius in 1997.
Current Weather
Mt. Kirkpatrick, approximately 650 kilometers from the Geographic South Pole, is part of the mega-range of mountain peaks we call the Transantarctic range.
The base of the mountains — laid on the ocean bed 750 million years ago — began to uplift for their most recent time 45 million to 30 million years ago.
The Theron Mountains, the Shackleton Range, the Pensacola Mountains, the Thiel Mountains, Dufek Massif, the Horlick Mountains, Whichaway Nunataks, the Queen Maud mountains are high peaks, merely that exposure we can see — the base of the land is covered by ice that began as far back as 15 million years.
These seen peaks form a 3,200 kilometer long chain of mountains that runs from Coats Land on the Weddell Sea to Cape Adare in Victoria Land.
Transantarctic Mountains, Antarctica
“The Transantarctic Mountains.”
Photo by Commander John Bortniak,   NOAA
There are several mountain ranges around the edges of the continent.   The hills of Queen Maud Land, with heights up to 3,000 meters, the Enderby Land summits, with heights above 2,000 meters, and the spectacular Prince Charles Mountains, a series of ranges and isolated nunataks, that rise beside the largest glacier in the world, the Lambert Glacier — 25 miles wide and 250 miles long.
The Ellsworth Mountains, the tallest range, are on the northern side of the vast East ice sheet.   Here, at 4,897meters, 16,067 feet above sea level, is the Vinson Massif.   The massif — includes the highest peak in Antarctica — looks over an amazing, stunning flow of snow and ice extending far, far across this remote and isolated land.
Ice Sheets
The east side of the continent has some of the oldest rocks known on Earth — close to 4 billion years at its core shield — 40 to 50 kilometer thick.
The west side of the continent is a mosaic of 30 kilometer islands of continental crust.
This patchwork of crust formed when tectonic plates began moving at the splitting of the super continental landmass from which Antarctica separated.
Two ice sheets developed — the East Antarctic, or Greater Ice Sheet, and the West Antarctic, or Lesser Ice Sheet.
The two sheets are separated by the Transantarctic Mountain range.
On the east rock bed the early ice sheets were confined to the interior.
It is believed the first large eastern ice sheet existed around 40 million years ago.
Several million years later a western side ice sheet started forming.
The massive east and west sheets that exist today began between 15 and 12 million years ago.
Warmer cycles have occurred since and it is not known how much of the ice retreated.
Fossil dolphins have been found kilometers inland that date around 4 million years.
Ancient tree fossils from 3 million years ago have been found in the Transantarctic Mountains.
As the glacial cycles became more extreme, the ice sheets advanced to cover almost the entire continent.
Eighteen thousand years ago, the ice sheet could have been as much as 100 to 500 meters thicker than it is at its present variation — between 2,000 to 4,000 meters, 1¼ mile to 2½ miles thick.
The West Antarctic ice sheet is much smaller and thinner, and has been classified, due to its base being below sea level, as a marine ice sheet.
Sitting on a mosaic of small blocks of continental crust, it is estimated that if all the ice melted — and the underlying crust rebounded to its normal position with the freeing of the tremendous ice weight — most of the area of this former West Antarctic ice sheet would remain covered by ocean water.
The West Antarctic sheet sits on crust in places 1½ miles below sea level.
One of the driest places on Earth
Precipitation on the continent averages 5 centimeters per year and Antarctica is classified as a desert.
Today, Antarctica, given its vast size, is the driest place on earth.
The Dry Valleys of Victoria Land, an island of rock surrounded by a sea of ice, exemplify this.   The McMurdo Dry Valleys are the largest ice-free area in Antarctica.   At times, the lakes have been as much as 400 meters deeper than they are now, likely fluctuating on a millennial timescale.
Some areas in the ‘dry’ valleys do have lakes and shallow water in this present time.   Some have so much salt they never freeze even when temperatures dip to  -73°C.   The water at the more extreme temperatures becoming syrupy.
Other lakes work as a magnifying glass does.   Sun shining through the ice crust, heats the the bottom layers of cold, often turning the underneath water into a balmy  +25°C.
Photo of soil covered dry valley, Antarctica, Dry Valleys being studied for causes of abrupt climate change.
Dry Valleys being studied for causes of abrupt climate change
In the dry valleys, those without any water, which are completely desolate, mummified seals are seen, but no live plant or animal life, nor even snow or ice.
Patches of white are on the ground but this is not ice.
The white deposits of salt, former lakes, the water long evaporated.
Her, however, under the vista of tall mountains and glaciers in the distance, beautifully shaped rock fragments called ventifacts stand among the red rock.
Some that might be called ornaments of an adorned garden.
Finger sized pyramids, to shapes large enough to crawl inside, the flat faces can meet in crisp angles, often the fine grained black basalt polished to a soft black luster.
In the peach, or the rose-hued evening sunlight, these shapes can resemble elephants, birds, even hollywood spaceships; anything you can take your fancy to imagine.
Carried from winds off the polar plateau, here among the polar desert full of buttes and canyons, sand action creates a salt weathering process called tafoni.   Tafoni wears the stones into these polished sculptures.
As the wind whips around the edges of the stones, singing tones can be heard — eerie pitches that resonate through these monolithic structures.
In this ice-free land, as the wind howls, as the little moisture that enters evaporates into the atmosphere above, sand and wind continues nature’s creating urge.
Continues to make this one of the most fascinating spots on Earth.
The South Pole
“Surrealistic view of South Pole station with auroral curtain and exhaust emanating in curved line.”
Photo by Commander John Bortniak,   NOAA
The photo above was taken in the austral autumn of 1979.
Today a new
Atmospheric Research Observatory has been built five hundred meters from the dome, (completed late 1996).
Other smaller buildings have been added.
Amundsen-Scott South Pole Station.

The Atmospheric Research Observatory, Clean Air Building, is the blue building at the bottom of the photo.

Photo: Andrew V. Williams, NSF
Amundsen-Scott South Pole Station
The ARO is the blue building at the bottom of this photo by Andrew V. Williams, NSF
The new South Pole Station main building was seasonally constructed, becoming operational the austral summer of 2005.
These buildings are generally downwind of the ARO (Clean Air Building).
1/3 of Antarctica has been designated as a ‘clean air sector’.
This designation means that no construction or travel is allowed inside this area by international treaty.
Ninety percent of the time the wind blows out of this area towards the Clean Air Building, allowing for careful precise measurements of various gasses.
Measurements show the steady global rise of CO
50 years of carbon dioxide measurmentas, 1957 to 2007

NOAA/CMDL atmospheric measurements date back to the International Geophysical Year (IGY) South Pole expedition of 1957.
NOAA/CMDL atmospheric measurements date back to the International Geophysical Year (IGY) South Pole expedition of 1957
Click above image for Earth System Research Laboratory ARO page
Click here for a version of the CMDL site of 2005.
McMurdo Station, Ross Island, located on the McMurdo Sound, is the largest base on the continent.
With local time at Greenwich plus 12 hours, it serves as the control center and catchment area for 'beakers,' or scientists traveling onto the continent.   Some coming to the South Pole station.
McMurdo, with medics, a decent meal, and a warm bed, has a sizable coffee house for the pilots and beakers, who come to study ice flow rates, and toxic gas emissions, and ozone depletion and even penguin fertility.
McMurdo is where, in austral summer time, there might be a 1,000 people passing through doing research.
The cold hits when setting foot at the geographical south pole.
Here wind-chill is the great equalizer on the polar plateau.
Wind chills of   -73°C  to   -95°C  are not uncommon.
December and January, the average temperature is around   -28°C.
March through September the average temperature ranges between   -54°C and    -60°C.
Every year there are some days when it drops below   -73°C.
The warmest temperature in 43 years of recording is   -13°C   (+8°F).
All the buildings on the station are slowly migrating north about 10 meters, or 30 feet per year, as the ice underneath is moving.
Each January a new post is designated, showing the actual position of the geographical South Pole.
South Pole Observatory, Antarctica

Photo: Seifert, Glen Kinoshita, NOAA
South Pole Observatory, Antarctica
Photo by Jason Seifert, Glen Kinoshita   NOAA
A White Desert
The vast polar plateau, the interior of the continent, is a mega-plateau, as high as some of the mountain peaks due to the thickness of ice.
This is where the station at the South Pole sits, at an elevation of 2,900 meters, almost 2 miles above sea level.
No landmarks are visible from the base.
With no trees or mountains, wind slips easily across the surface of the continent.
This air mass has an abrasive effect on the ground — grating and sculpting the snow and ice into strange, protruding designs.
These ice bumps — or waves of snow — are called ‘Sastrugis.’
Wonderful shapes can be made of this extremely fine ice crystal and snow that looks like shimmering, light dust.
The storms that build up these strange, packed snows can be a mind-numbing, white, milk-fog for those foolhardy enough to travel across the deserts.
1,000 meters above, air can be 30 degrees warmer than it is on the ground.
The skies are still clear but below winds of trapped layered air are producing Antarctic blizzards.
The higher warmer air is a part of what generates the katabatic winds that descend from the elevated plateau towards the coast.
white dessert, Antarctica.

photo Jason Seifert, Glen Kinoshita, NOAA
White Desert, Antarctica
Photo by Jason Seifert, Glen Kinoshita   NOAA
As the air descends it becomes intensely cold.
In the downdraft, dense, dreadful blizzards become one of the many wonders of this land.
Flowing from the glaciers, katabatic winds can reach frightening speeds as they approach the outer shelves.
The highest recorded wind velocity on earth, 327 km per hour, was measured at the French base of Dumont d'Urville in July 1972.
These winds carry ice crystals into the canyons and valley gaps as they move from the high plateau towards the sea.
10,000 microscopic ice crystal particles within a square inch can be carried by a strong katabatic wind.
The plateau land begins to descend steeply one hundred to two hundred kilometers from the coast.
As the wind reaches these outer slopes it hurtles down into the flat plains below.
Often as the downward draft reaches the flat ice surface, velocity is lost in minutes.
This creates pressure disturbances that make for spectacular turbulences along the coast.
The turbulent air will spread in any direction.
In the uplift the new wind carries with it everything, loose snow, penguins, birds.
Katabatic winds can persist for days.
The incessant Antarctic katabatic wind circulation interacts with atmospheric pressures that can be traced to the subtropics of the Southern Hemisphere.
Flowing down onto the coastal shelves these fierce winds will push sea ice outward.
As the ice is pushed from the ice shelves or shore, latent Heat Polynyas, or ice-free patches, begin occurring which produces new ice.
Wind sea-ice movement, and the subsequent forming of new ice, creates bottom water filled with fresh oxygen and salts.
For the life that exists at these levels, the new bottom water is a life-sustaining source.
The current that subsequently circulates under the ocean acts as a part of the thermohaline system that circulates into the Indian and Pacific oceans.
A system that impacts weather patterns and climates globally.
World News
March 31, 2006
Antarctic air is warming faster
By Mark Henderson
New finding could have implications for sea level rises
AIR temperatures above the entire frozen continent of Antarctica have risen three times faster than the rest of the world during the past 30 years.
While it is well established that temperatures are increasing rapidly in the Antarctic Peninsula, the land tongue that protrudes towards South America, the trend has been harder to confirm over the continent as a whole.
Now analysis of weather balloon data by scientists at the British Antarctic Survey (BAS) has shown that not only are the lower reaches of the Antarctic atmosphere warming, but that they are doing so at the fastest rate observed anywhere on Earth.
Temperatures in the troposphere — the lowest 8km (5 miles) of the atmosphere — have increased by between 0.5C and 0.7 C (0.9F and 1.3F) per decade over the past 30 years.
This signature of climate change is three times stronger than the average observed around the world, suggesting that global warming is having an uneven impact and that it could be greater for Antarctica.
It is already known that temperatures in the Arctic are rising steeply, but with the exception of the Antarctic peninsula, the data for the southern ice-cap are more mixed.
Although the Antarctic peninsula has warmed by more than 2.5C during the past 50 years, most surface measurements suggest that there have been no pronounced temperature changes elsewhere on the continent, while some have indicated a small cooling effect.
The new research, led by John Turner, of the BAS, shows that the air above the surface of Antarctica is definitely warming, in ways that are not predicted by climate models and that cannot yet be explained.   The results are published today in the journal Science.
“The rapid surface warming of the Antarctic Peninsula and the enhanced global warming signal over the whole continent shows the complexity of climate change,” Dr Turner said.
“Greenhouses gases could be having a bigger impact in Antarctica than across the rest of the world and we don’t understand why.
“The warming above the Antarctic could have implications for snowfall across the Antarctic and sea level rise.   Current climate model simulations don’t reproduce the observed warming, pointing to weaknesses in their ability to represent the Antarctic climate system.   Our next step is to try to improve the models.”
The weather balloons from which the data has been collected have been launched daily from many of Antarctica’s research stations since 1957.   These balloons carry instrument packages known as radiosondes, which measure temperature, humidity and winds at altitudes of 20km and beyond.
The radiosonde data showed a pronounced warming effect throughout the troposphere during the winter months, while the stratosphere above cooled appreciably.
There is increasing evidence that greenhouse gases such as carbon dioxide are creating a blanket about the Earth that traps heat at lower levels, warming the troposphere and surface, while cooling the stratosphere above.
The study is the third to be published this month to suggest that the effects of global warming on Antarctica are likely to be more pronounced than has often been predicted.
Research has indicated that the melting of the Greenland ice-cap in the Arctic could produce sea level rises that destabilise Antarctic ice-shelves, and Nasa satellite data have shown the internal Antarctic ice-sheets to be thinning.
Copyright 2006   Times Newspapers Ltd.
British Antarctic Survey Halley Research Station
A design by Faber Maunsell and Hugh Broughton Architects which has won the competition for the new British Antarctic Survey Halley Research Station is shown in this undated handout image released on July 18, 2005.

Designed to cope with one of the most inhospitable environments on Earth, the winner was announced in the international competition to build a new ice station in Antarctica resembling a giant blue centipede.

Picture: Faber Maunsell and Hugh Broughton Architects/Handout
A design by Faber Maunsell and Hugh Broughton Architects which has won the competition for the new British Antarctic Survey Halley Research Station is shown in this undated handout image released on July 18, 2005.
Designed to cope with one of the most inhospitable environments on Earth, the winner was announced in the international competition to build a new ice station in Antarctica resembling a giant blue centipede.
The British Antarctic Survey (BAS), formerly the Falkland Islands Dependencies Survey (FIDS), is an institute of the Natural Environment Research Council, and has, for the last fifty years, undertaken the majority of Britain's scientific research on and around the Antarctic continent.
It now shares that continent with scientists from around thirty countries.
There are three stations in the Antarctic, at Rothera, Halley and Signy Island, and two stations on South Georgia, at King Edward Point and Bird Island.
Scientists at Halley Research Station record chorus waves among other projects in an attempt to understand space weather processes such as the formation of magnetic storms.
Each morning, as the Earth and its enveloping atmosphere turns towards the Sun, very low frequency radio waves are produced in space.
These waves can be 'heard' as they travel down to the surface.
Converted to audible sound waves, a birdsong sound is heard and for this reason they waves were given the name 'Dawn Chorus' in the mid 20th century.
A recent theory by BAS scientists and colleagues, based on measurements in space and Antarctica, has proposed that chorus waves generated by solar wind interact with and accelerate electrons.
Eruptions on the Sun — Coronal Mass Ejections (CMEs) — cause the solar wind to blow harder than usual, which accelerates these electrons to very high speeds.
Within the Earth's protective magnetic field lies the van Allen radiation belt.
Surrounding the Earth like a doughnut, these so-called 'killer electrons' penetrate the belt.
Killer electrons damage communications satellites during space storms.
Research continues on how to minimize disruption to satellites.
Halley Antarctic research station up and running
By Jonathan Amos
Science correspondent, BBC News
6 February 2013
Britain's new Halley research station in the Antarctic goes into full operation this month.
The base sits on the Brunt Ice Shelf, and is the sixth such UK facility to be erected at this location since 1957.
Map of Halley Research Station Antarctica and other research and supply stations operated by The British Antarctic Survey.

The British Antarctic Survey operates a number of research stations and forward supply facilities
The British Antarctic Survey operates a number of research stations and forward supply facilities
Together with Rothera on the Antarctic Peninsula, it will spearhead UK science on the White Continent.
Halley gathers important weather and climate data, and it played a critical role in the research that identified the ozone 'hole' in 1985.
In recent years, Halley has also become a major centre for studying solar activity and the impacts it can have on Earth.
This is most evident in the beautiful auroras that form over the base — the consequence of particles from the Sun crashing into air molecules high in the atmosphere.
Halley VI's researchers now have a state-of-the-art complex from which to monitor these phenomena.
Perhaps the most striking thing about the new station is its appearance.
Hally bar and recreation room, Hally Research Station, Antarctica

Inside the new Halley: All mod cons

The central red module, which is on two storeys, is the social hub where residents can gather to relax.

It contains the dining room, the bar and even a gym.

Photo: Sam Burrell
Inside the new Halley: All mod cons
"It looks like something in space," says architect Hugh Broughton.
The British Antarctic Survey (BAS) station comprises eight modules in all.
The seven blue ones are work and habitation units.
The central red module, which is on two storeys, is the social hub where residents can gather to relax.
It contains the dining room, the bar and even a gym.
The entire base stands on a hydraulic leg and ski system that allows it to be raised above the annual snowfall, and periodically to be towed closer to land.
If these adjustments were not to happen, the station would eventually be buried and carried to the ice edge where it would then be dropped into the ocean.
Halley bases I to IV were abandoned to this fate.
The new design makes the adjustments easier and less labour intensive.
The station was constructed in large part in South Africa and then shipped to the Antarctic in easy-to-assemble units.
Hally VI Research Station Red Module being moved on skis.

As much as possible of the Hally modules was fabricated before arrival in the Antarctic.
As much as possible was fabricated before arrival in the Antarctic
"The idea was to prefabricate as much as possible," explained Karl Tuplin, the project manager for the Halley VI building programme.
"Room pods, bedrooms, bathrooms — they were all made in advance.
Mechanical, electrical services — the wires and piping — came in cassettes that were just slotted into place."
The hope is, some refurbishment notwithstanding, the new Halley can last 30-40 years before a wholly new structure is required.
"The feedback has been great," Mr Broughton told BBC News.
"In the last station, not everyone had a window from their bedroom.
Now everyone's got a view.
The acoustics are better, and there're more opportunities to rest.
But also the working conditions are much better and there's a far greater array of different scientific experiments now possible at Halley VI compared to Halley V."
The old station has just been dismantled and all its parts removed from the Antarctic.
BBC © 2013
Halley VI
AN architectural design competition was launched by RIBA Competitions and the British Antarctic Survey in June 2004 to provide a new design for Halley VI was won by Faber Maunsell and Hugh Broughton Architects.
Skis on the bottom of the legs allow for the building to be relocated.
Halley VI was built in Cape Town, South Africa by a South African consortium.
Servaccomm supplied modular accommodation pods for the new station through Galliford Try International.
The contract was for the manufacture of 26 pods in total, installed in eight modules, which provides fully serviced accommodation for 32 people.
The first sections were shipped to Antarctica in December 2007.
Halley VI Station was officially opened in Antarctica on 5 February 2013.
Halley VI research station surrounded by Austral aurora

Photo: Kirk Watson
Halley VI research station surrounded by Austral aurora
Temperatures at Halley rarely rise above 0°C although temperatures around -10°C are common on sunny summer days.
Typical winter temperatures are below -20°C with extreme lows of around -55°C.
Winds are predominantly from the east with strong winds picking up surface snow reducing visibility to a few metres.
Halley is under the Austral Auroral oval.
Frequent displays of the Aurora Australis are seen overhead especially between May and the middle of August
During this time the sun neves rises above the horizon.
Once the last ship leaves in late February there is usually no contact until November with a grouping of technical specialists remaining to perform the necessary tasks to keep the station functioning and to continue with whatever experiments have been established to continue through the winter.
The 2012 wintering team at Halley has a chef, a doctor, a communications manager, a vehicle mechanic, an electrician, a plumber, a field assistant, two electronics engineers, two meteorologistsm a data manager and a Base Commander
From December through February staff numbers will increase to around 70.
1996 saw the first woman spending the winter at Halley.
April 29 sees a ceremony for Sun Down.
August 13 is the day chosen for Sun Up when the sun rises after the long dark winter.
The oldest person who has remained on the base for the winter lowers the tattered flag on sundown.
The youngest raises a new ceremonial flag on sun-up day.
Halley VI research station aerial array.

The region is important to the research of Earth's magnetic field and near-space atmosphere.

Photo: Kirk Watson
Halley VI research station aerial array
The region is important to the research of Earth's magnetic field and near-space atmosphere
Antarctic Bases.

Photo: USGS
Antarctic Bases
The Peninsula
French geographer, Philippe Buache in his Buache Map of 1739 shows two southern continents separated by an interior polar sea.
A peninsula juts northward of the smaller continent pointing towards Africa.
At the time no one in the present era had been to Antarctica and it is believed Buache copied his map from ancient Greek documents.
It is interesting to speculate that there was a period of history when the underwater Western Antarctic land portion was not totally covered in ice, and might not have been submerged.
At that time the Ross and Weddell seas could have been one sea between the two landmasses.
If this is so it is likely the map details came from as far back as Atlantis time, when the seas were lower — for those who choose to believe such an ancient civilization existed.
Our history shows that Captain James Cook was the first to cross the Antarctic Circle in his expedition of 1772-1775.
James Bransfield mapped the South Shetland Islands and part of the shore of the Antarctic Peninsula in 1820.
Fur sealing began and during that time it was held that the much of the ice shelves and sea ice were all part of the large landmass of Antarctica.
Only with the John Rymill expedition of 1934 was the curving land portion of the peninsula truly mapped.
Southern fur seal with elephant seals and penguins in the background.

Seal Island off Antarctic Peninsula.

Photo: Commander Richard Behn, NOAA
“Southern fur seal with elephant seals and penguins in the background.”
Seal Island off Antarctic Peninsula
Photo by Commander Richard Behn,   NOAA
Today the peninsula is seen as a land of mountains flanked by huge glaciers, deep fjords, ice shelves, sea ice and rugged offshore islands.
The widest, southern portion is Palmer Land and the offshore mountainous Alexander Island.
Palmer Land extends into Graham Land and Trinity Peninsula — a long, narrow spine of small peaks.
Many small islands are on the west side.
The South Shetlands and the Palmer Archipelago surround the tip.
The Antarctic coast is 670 miles, nearest point, from Cape Horn, South America.
A curving chain of submerged mountains continues under the ocean into the Scotia Sea.
These peaks surface in places as the South Orkneys, South Sandwich, and South Georgia islands.
The islands in this region have an astonishing diversity of Antarctic wildlife.
Penguin rookeries abound, and there are huge, elephant seal wallows along the shore.
Millions of birds, including giant and cape petrels, blue-eyed shags and kelp gulls, inhabit the shoreline.
The western coast is etched with fjords.
Among the dozens of islands are narrow passageways with towering rock faces and glaciers.
It is a spectacular maze of sheltered channels and inlets.
In the water, jet spouts can be seen being emitted from the blowholes of minke and humpback and orca whale as they exhale at the ocean’s surface.
Antarctica is uninhabited today — except for the research stations and scientific stations set up by various government.
But the islands off the peninsula have many reminders of early explorers, government bases and a whaling industry that once existed.
With spectacular surrounding mountains, glaciated peaks disappearing into the mist and clouds, this is the playground of the Antarctic for its animal inhabitants.
The past half-century has seen a dramatic increase in air temperature — one of the signs the Antarctic is giving us of a climate change.
The average summer temperature now approaches above freezing, and many small fringing ice shelves — such as the Wordie and Müller Ice Shelves on the western side of the peninsula — are retreating.
The larger Wilkins shelf on the southwest coast has stabilized after a dramatic summer breakup in 1998.
On the east side of the peninsula, the seaward front of the Larsen Ice Shelf began to retreat in the late 1940’s.
In 1995, almost 2,000 square kilometers of the northernmost ice disintegrated into hundreds of small icebergs during a storm.
The warmer temperatures allow melt water collecting in surface crevasses to penetrate to the bottom of the ice.
This aids in the dramatic displays seen in the ice-shelf disintegrations.
New large, shelf front rifts — and summertime surface melt ponds — are appearing in satellite images.
Many of the northern shelves continue to retreat.
Climate Change: Hundreds of Antarctic Glaciers In Retreat, Says Study
PARIS — Scientists have issued a fresh warning about the effect of climate change on Antarctica, saying that more than 200 coastal glaciers are in retreat because of higher temperatures.
Of the 244 marine glaciers that drain inland ice on the Antarctic peninsula, a region previously identified as vulnerable to global warming, 87 percent have fallen back over the last half century, according to research by British experts.
The shear face of the massive B-15A iceberg in McMurdo Sound after it broke off the Ross Ice Shelf in antarctica, November 2000.
Scientists say that more than 200 coastal glaciers in are in retreat because of higher temperatures.
Using 2,000 aerial photos dating back to the late 1940s and 100 satellite pictures, experts from the British Antarctic Survey (BAS) compiled a record of glacier-ice shelves and tidewater glaciers along the peninsula — the tongue of land that juts 800 kilometers (500 miles) northwards out of continental Antarctica.
Glacier-ice shelves are floating glaciers on the shoreline that are still connected to the land glaciers from which they flowed.
Tidewater glaciers rest on rock and break off into the ocean when they reach the water's edge.
Glacier fronts have reversed direction
Over the last half century, during which time regional temperatures have risen by around 2 C (3.6 F), these glacier fronts have reversed direction, the authors note in a study published on Friday in the US weekly journal Science.
Until the mid-1950s, most of the glaciers advanced.  For the next decade after that, they were roughly stable.  Since then, though, most have been shrinking.
In the past five years, the retreat has accelerated, and the pattern of retreat is widening.  It started in the warmer northern tip of the peninsula and is heading progressively to the colder south as atmospheric temperatures rise.
"Fifty years ago, 62 percent of the glaciers that flowed down from the mountains to the sea we looked at were slowly growing in length, but since then this pattern has reversed," said lead author Alison Cook.
The average retreat of the 212 shrinking glaciers has been 600 metres (yards) over 50 years.
Numerous islands exposed that were once ice-smothered
But this does not take into account a dramatic acceleration in recent years, exposing numerous islands that were once ice-smothered.
Sjogren Glacier, at the northern tip of the peninsula has fallen back eight kilometers (8.5 miles) since 1993, while Widdowson Glacier, on the west coast of the peninsula, has been retreated at 1.1 kms (0.6 miles) per year over the past five year.
As for the cause, the BAS team caution against a leap to judgement.
At present, it is unclear that the man-made "greenhouse effect" — the burning of fossil fuels which disgorged carbon dioxide into the atmosphere, trapping solar heat — is entirely to blame, they say.
They note that over the past 50 years, a minority (32) of glaciers has grown, by an average of 300 metres (yards), and that key data on local ocean temperatures and circulation remain scarce.
Antarctica's geology is split into three main regions:  East Antarctica, which comprises the bulk of the continent; West Antarctica, which has two huge ice shelves on either side; and the Antarctic Peninsula, which juts out of West Antarctica.
Peninsula hot spot for global warming
Previous research had already identified the peninsula as a vulnerable "hot spot" for global warming, although the reasons for this are debatable.
In February, BAS researcher Chris Rapley presented evidence that ice flows into the Southern Ocean from three big inland glaciers were accelerating, spurred by the loss of the vital shelves of floating glacial ice at the coast.
Like a cork released from a bottle, the lost shelves let the icy river flow swiftly into the sea, causing sea levels to rise by some 1.8 mm (0.07 inches) per year.
The new study repeats that warning, although without giving figures.  It says the erosion of floating glacier ice could spur glacier flow from inland and "make a substantial contribution" to rising sea levels.
Antarctica, the fifth largest continent in the world, contains more than 90 percent of the world's ice, most of it above sea level.
If even a small part of this cap melts, rising sea levels could drown low-lying island states, cities and deltas.
Published on Friday, April 22, 2005 by the Agence France Presse
Copyright © 2005 Agence France Presse
West Antarctic Ice Sheet warming twice earlier estimate
By Matt McGrath
Environment correspondent, BBC News
23 December 2012
A new analysis of temperature records indicates that the Western Antarctic Ice Sheet is warming nearly twice as fast as previously thought.
US researchers say they found the first evidence of warming during the southern hemisphere's summer months.
Temperature measurement in West Antarctic, 2005/6

The temperature measurements at Byrd station do not match at all well those of other Antarctic sites
Temperature measurement in West Antarctic, 2005/6
The temperature measurements at Byrd station do not match at all well those of other Antarctic sites
They are worried that the increased melting of ice as a result of warmer temperatures could contribute to sea-level rise.
The study has been published in the journal
Nature Geoscience.
The scientists compiled data from records kept at Byrd station, established by the US in the mid-1950s and located towards the centre of the West Antarctic ice sheet (WAIS).
Previously scientists were unable to draw any conclusions from the Byrd data as the records were incomplete.
The new work used a computer model of the atmosphere and a numerical analysis method to fill in the missing observations.
The results indicate an increase of 2.4C in average annual temperature between 1958 and 2010.
"What we're seeing is one of the strongest warming signals on Earth," says Andrew Monaghan, a co-author and scientist at the US National Centre for Atmospheric Research.
Temperature correlation with Byrd Station West Antarctic.

The data from Byrd Station shows rapid warming on the west Antarctic ice sheet
The data from Byrd Station shows rapid warming on the west Antarctic ice sheet
"This is the first time we've been able to determine that there's warming going on during the summer season." he added.
Top to bottom
It might be natural to expect that summers even in Antarctica would be warmer than other times of the year.
But the region is so cold, it is extremely rare for temperatures to get above freezing.
According to co-author Prof David Bromwich from Ohio State University, this is a critical threshold.
Prof David Bromwich:
"The fact that temperatures are rising in the summer means there's a prospect of WAIS not only being melted from the bottom as we know it is today, but in future it looks probable that it will be melting from the top as well."
research published in Nature indicated that the WAIS is being warmed by the ocean, but this new work suggests that the atmosphere is playing a role as well.
The scientists say that the rise in temperatures has been caused by changes in winds and weather patterns coming from the Pacific Ocean.   Dr Monaghan:
"We're seeing a more dynamic impact that's due to climate change that's occurring elsewhere on the globe translating down and increasing the heat transportation to the WAIS."
This place has very variable weather, some of it is influenced by human acts and some of it isn't”
Prof David Bromwich
Ohio State University
Unable to say greater warming due to human activity
But he was unable to say with certainty that the greater warming his team found was due to human activities.
"The jury is still out on that.
That piece of research has not been done.
My opinion is that it probably is, but I can't say that definitively."
This view was echoed by Prof Bromwich, who suggested that further study would be needed.
"The tasks now are to look at the relative contributions of natural variability," he said.
"This place has very variable weather — some of it is influenced by human acts and some of it isn't.
I think its premature to answer that question right now."
Whatever the source, the researchers are concerned that this warming can lead to more melting and have direct and indirect effects on global sea levels.
The direct impacts are the run-off of melting waters into the sea.
Larsen b ice shelf

The Larsen B ice shelf collapsed in just a month in 2002.
The Larsen B ice shelf collapsed in just a month in 2002
But the scientists say this is unlikely to happen for several decades because much of the water is likely to percolate down the ice sheet and refreeze.
Glacial pace
The indirect effect is that it can 'pre-condition' the ice shelves that float at the edges of the ice sheet.
The scientists say that this is what happened in 2002 on the Antarctic peninsula when the Larsen B shelf
collapsed spectacularly in just a month.
"The melt water went down into the crevasses and filled them up," Dr Monaghan said.
"Just like a pothole in the road in wintertime, the water will freeze and expand and break it apart."
He is concerned that a similar situation could now occur on the WAIS.
"What we saw after the breakup of Larsen was that the glaciers that were buttressed by the ice shelves sped up tremendously, by a factor of eight.
That's a potential concern of the enhanced melt in west Antarctica if the warming trend we find in summer continues."
The authors say they are confident that the data from Byrd Station is representative of the region because the scientific outpost sits on a plateau and conditions are essentially uniform for a considerable distance.
BBC © 2013

Warm ocean currents cause majority of ice loss from Antarctica
25 Apr 2012
Number: 04/2012
Reporting this week (Thursday 26 April) in the journal Nature, an international team of scientists led by British Antarctic Survey (BAS) has established that warm ocean currents are the dominant cause of recent ice loss from Antarctica.
New techniques have been used to differentiate, for the first time, between the two known causes of melting ice shelves — warm ocean currents attacking the underside, and warm air melting from above.
This finding brings scientists a step closer to providing reliable projections of future sea-level rise.
Researchers used 4.5 million measurements made by a laser instrument mounted on NASA’s ICESat satellite to map the changing thickness of almost all the floating ice shelves around Antarctica, revealing the pattern of ice-shelf melt across the continent.
Of the 54 ice shelves mapped, 20 are being melted by warm ocean currents, most of which are in West Antarctica.
Wilkins Ices Shelf, West Antarctic Peninsula.

Wilkins Ice Shelf
West Antarctic Peninsula
In every case, the inland glaciers that flow down to the coast and feed into these thinning ice shelves have accelerated, draining more ice into the sea and contributing to sea level rise.
Lead author Dr Hamish Pritchard from British Antarctic Survey, which is funded by the UK’s Natural Environment Research Council (NERC), said:
“In most places in Antarctica, we can’t explain the ice-shelf thinning through melting of snow at the surface, so it has to be driven by warm ocean currents melting them from below.
We’ve looked all around the Antarctic coast and we see a clear pattern: in all the cases where ice shelves are being melted by the ocean, the inland glaciers are speeding up.
It’s this glacier acceleration that’s responsible for most of the increase in ice loss from the continent and this is contributing to sea-level rise.
What’s really interesting is just how sensitive these glaciers seem to be.
Some ice shelves are thinning by a few metres a year and, in response, the glaciers drain billions of tons of ice into the sea.
This supports the idea that ice shelves are important in slowing down the glaciers that feed them, controlling the loss of ice from the Antarctic ice sheet.
It means that we can lose an awful lot of ice to the sea without ever having summers warm enough to make the snow on top of the glaciers melt — the oceans can do all the work from below.
But this does raise the question of why this is happening now.
We think that it’s linked to changes in wind patterns.
Studies have shown that Antarctic winds have changed because of changes in climate, and that this has affected the strength and direction of ocean currents.
As a result warm water is funnelled beneath the floating ice.
These studies and our new results therefore suggest that Antarctica’s glaciers are responding rapidly to a changing climate.”
A different picture is seen on the eastern Antarctic Peninsula (the long stretch of land pointing towards South America).
Here, the ice-shelf thinning found by this study can be explained by warm summer winds directly melting the snow on the ice-shelf surfaces.
Both patterns, of widespread ocean-driven melting and this summer melting on the Antarctic Peninsula, can therefore be attributed to Antarctica’s changing wind patterns.
This research is part of international efforts to improve understanding of the interactions between ice and climate in order to improve the reliability of sea-level rise projections.
Professor David Vaughan is the leader of ice2sea — a major EU-funded FP7 programme.
He said,
“This study shows very clearly why the Antarctic ice sheet is currently losing ice, which is a major advance.
But the real significance is that it also shows the key to predicting how the ice sheet will change in the future is in understanding the oceans.
Perhaps we should not only be looking to the skies above Antarctica, but also into the surrounding oceans.”
The study was carried out by an international team from British Antarctic Survey, Utrecht University, University of California in San Diego and Earth & Space Research in Corvallis, Oregon. NASA’s ICESat — Ice, Cloud and Land Elevation Satellite — measurements were collected during the period 2003 – 2008 to detect changes in ice-shelf thickness through time.
Click here for video interview with Dr Hamish Pritchard and animation
Study: West Antarctic — Poster Child of Global Warming — is Getting Colder   click here
Click here or frame link on left side to see more on Antarctic Ice Shelves
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The WE Environment News Archives
South Pole Observatory, Antarctica
          CO2 record high levels in the atmosphere          
           — Climate fear as carbon levels soar          
      Highest for 650,000 years      
(See Abrupt Climate Change and Global Warming in Kalaallit Nunaat section
   includes Pentagon report on abrupt climate change)
(See Recent changes observed in Arctic Areas - in Arctic section.)
Mount Everest and climate change   
Antarctica here we come
Antarctica here we come 2003 version
Sailing through the antarctic Peninsula
Wilkes land
A look at the flat South Pole - Base 90º South.
        Why did you cut down the trees Grandma?       
       State of the World's Garden       
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Photograph top of page:  The Ross Ice Shelf at the Bay of Whales — Michael Van Woert, NOAA