The information in files FACTS_01 through FACTS_11 is from a National Science Foundation pamphlet titled "Facts about the U.S. Antarctic Program." The pamphlet provides a digest of the operation: facilities in Antarctica, objectives, Federal responsibilities (including environmental protection), the substantial international aspects, and a brief history of prior U.S. activities. A final section provides sources of further information.
Approximately 2,500 Americans work in and around Antarctica each year in the U.S. Antarctic Program, which the National Science Foundation funds and manages. This National program involves the operation of ships, aircraft, stations, camps, and communications, and it draws upon the resources and scientists of numerous U.S. universities, Federal agencies, and commercial firms.
An ice sheet covers all but 2.4 per cent of Antarctica's 14 million square kilometers. At its thickest point the ice sheet is 4,776 meters deep. It averages 2,160 meters thick, making Antarctica the highest continent. This ice is 90 percent of all the world's ice, and it is 70 percent of all the world's fresh water.
The Transantarctic Mountains cross the continent, di- viding the ice sheet into two parts. The larger, eastern part of the ice sheet rests on land that is mostly above sea level. It has been there for millions of years. The smaller, western part is on land that is mostly below sea level.
Other mountain ranges are the Prince Charles Mountains and smaller groups near the coasts. The Antarctic Peninsula has many mountains. The Ellsworth Mountains are Antarctica's tallest; the Vinson Massif is 4,897 meters above sea level.
Antarctica's few ice-free areas, generally near the coast, include the McMurdo Dry Valleys of southern Victoria Land, the Bunger Oasis in Wilkes Land, isolated spits of land, and peaks of mountains--called nunataks--that are surrounded by ice.
Surrounding Antarctica are the southern parts of the Pacific, the Atlantic, and the Indian Oceans. The Antarctic Convergence, which encircles Antarctica roughly 1,500 kilometers off the coast, divides the cold southern water masses and warmer northern waters. An ocean current, the world's largest, moves eastward around the continent at an average speed of about half a knot. Sea ice up to 3 meters thick forms outward from the continent every winter, making a belt 500 to 1,500 kilometers wide. Even in summer the sea ice belt is 150 to 800 kilometers in most places. The area of sea ice varies from 3 million square kilometers in summer to 20 million square kilometers in late winter.
Some 200 million years ago Antarctica was joined to South America, Africa, India, and Australia in a single large continent called Gondwanaland. There was no ice sheet, and trees and large animals flourished. Today, only geological formations, coal beds, and fossils remain as clues to Antarctica's warm past.
Antarctica is the coldest continent. The world's record low temperature of -89.2 degrees Celsius was recorded there. The mean annual temperature of the interior is -57 degrees Celsius. The coast is warmer. Monthly means at McMurdo Station range from -28 degrees Celsius in August to -3 degrees Celsius in January. Along the Antarctic Peninsula, temperatures as high as 15 degrees Celsius have been recorded.
Some coasts of Antarctica are the windiest places in the world. Winds on the Ad‚lie Coast in the winter of 1912-1913 averaged 18 meters per second 64 percent of the time, and gusts have been recorded at nearly 90 meters per second.
The interior of Antarctica is the world's biggest desert, with the precipitation (if it were melted) averaging under 5 centimeters of water a year.