The name Antarctica is derived from the Greek word ‘antarktikos’ meaning “opposite to the Arctic.” In 1959, a group of twelve countries devised the Antarctic Treaty - that document, now signed by forty-five countries, prohibits activities of a military nature or any commercial mining operations. Seven nations claim territories ( UK, Norway, Chile, France, Australia, Argentina and New Zealand) and two others, (the United States and Russia) have reserved the right to do so. The Antarctic treaty neither recognizes nor contests those claims. Today, more than 4,500 scientists work there conducting research not possible anywhere else. The population tends to be seasonal, increasing to over 33,000 in its summer. In 2006, more than 28,000 tourists visited, carried there by the approximately 25 ships that have regular routes through the region.
WHEN TO VISIT
Most visits from travelers occur during the Antarctic summer from November to March, when there is typically 20 or more hours of sunlight each day. Sunglasses, hats and sunscreen are a must as more solar radiation hits the earth here than anywhere else - due to both the length of the day and the invisible, infamous hole in the ozone layer. During the summer, the coastal zone ice melts, making incursion by ice-hardened tourist vessels possible. The scenery is comprised of every shade of purple, blue, white and golden images and reflections against the water, which is filled with enormous icebergs. Winter visits by tourist ships are nearly impossible due to the shifting ice flows that can encapsulate a ship very quickly, stranding it in the pack ice that extends for more than 600 miles around the continent in the near total dark of the southern winter.
Antarctica is far from the lifeless void many perceive it to be. Summer is the mating season for penguins and the many species of seabirds. Fur seals and elephant seals breed here, and more than 200 species of lichens grow. The long days create spectacular lighting conditions for photography as the penguin chicks begin to hatch and the rookeries become a maddening cacophony of noise. As late summer approaches humpback, orca and minke whale are a common site. Antarctic expeditions offer some of the most unique and esteemed photography and wildlife viewing opportunities.
Created with images by spalla67 - "iceberg antarctica cold" • jodeng - "snow mountain ice" • Rod Long - "Humpback whales feeding in a bay in Antarctica" • henrique setim - "The iced lake"