Antarctica is the coldest, highest, driest and most windy continent on earth. Around 98% of Antarctica is covered in ice; this ice is, on average, 1.6 km thick. Temperatures range from a maximum of 5°C to 15°C in summer by the coast, to –89.6°C (the world’s lowest recorded temperature) inland during winter. Antarctica is classed as a desert as it only has an annual precipitation of around 50 mm; a place has to have less than 254mm of annual precipitation to be a desert. This makes Antarctica drier than the Sahara desert. Antarctica can have extremely strong winds, getting up to 200 mph. Because the earth is tilted and it is at the bottom of the axis, Antarctica has extreme seasons. For half the year, Antarctica is tilted so that it is almost completely in the sun’s rays and the other half it is tilted almost completely away from the sun. This results in days where the sun never sets completely for half the year and days where the sun never rises completely, for the other half.
Tourism in Antarctica
Tourists are relatively new to Antarctica; the first commercial flights to Antarctica started in the 1950s. Today the vast majority come by ocean liner as currently there are no tourist facilities allowed on Antarctica. Tourists enjoy coming to Antarctica because of the amazing wildlife and scenery and for the sense of adventure. Tourism provides jobs and income for holiday companies. It also makes people more aware of Antarctica and the problems it faces. On the down side, the tourists litter and their transportation causes pollution of many kinds. Tourists can also cause damage to the wildlife and plants, for example, they can tread on lichen or moss, which (due to the harsh climate) would have taken many years to grow and will take many years to recover.
Tourists are only allowed to visit on specially monitored trips. They are allowed to travel to Antarctica on ships, as they do now, and walk around on the Antarctic surface. They are allowed to go in guided groups to see the native animals such as penguins and seals but from a fair distance so as not to disturb or tame them. They must stay in special centres or, more often, on the ship they came on. This prevents excess damage to Antarctica, such as litter and waste being left at the site.