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Speculation over the existence of a "southern land" was not confirmed until the early 1820s when British and American commercial operators and British and Russian national expeditions began exploring the Antarctic Peninsula region and other areas south of the Antarctic Circle.
Not until 1840 was it established that Antarctica was indeed a continent and not just a group of islands. Several exploration "firsts" were achieved in the early 20th century.
Following World War II, there was an upsurge in scientific research on the continent. A number of countries have set up year-round research stations on Antarctica.
Seven have made territorial claims, but not all countries recognize these claims.
In order to form a legal framework for the activities of nations on the continent, an Antarctic Treaty was negotiated that neither denies nor gives recognition to existing territorial claims; signed in 1959, it entered into force in 1961.
Source: CIA World Fact Book
no indigenous inhabitants, but there are both permanent and summer-only staffed research stations
note: 28 nations, all signatory to the Antarctic Treaty, operate through their National Antarctic Program a number of seasonal-only (summer) and year-round research stations on the continent and its nearby islands south of 60 degrees south latitude (the region covered by the Antarctic Treaty); these stations' population of persons doing and supporting science or engaged in the management and protection of the Antarctic region varies from approximately 4,000 in summer to 1,000 in winter; in addition, approximately 1,000 personnel, including ship's crew and scientists doing onboard research, are present in the waters of the treaty region; peak summer (December-February) population - 3,944 total; Argentina 417, Australia 200, Brazil 40, Bulgaria 15, Chile 224, China 70, Czech Republic 20, Ecuador 26, Finland 20, France 122, Germany 78, India 65, Italy 113, Japan 125, South Korea 60, NZ 85, Norway 44, Peru 28, Poland 40, Romania 13, Russia 429, South Africa 80, Spain 28, Sweden 20, Ukraine 24, UK 205, US 1,293, Uruguay 60 (2006-2007); winter (June-August) station population - 1,077 total; Argentina 176, Australia 62, Brazil 12, Chile 88, China 29, France 37, Germany 9, India 25, Italy 2, Japan 40, South Korea 15, NZ 10, Norway 7, Poland 12, Russia 148, South Africa 10, Ukraine 12, UK 37, US 337, Uruguay 9 (2006); research stations operated within the Antarctic Treaty area (south of 60 degrees south latitude) by National Antarctic Programs: year-round stations - 37 total; Argentina 6, Australia 3, Brazil 1, Chile 3, China 2, France 1, Germany 1, India 1, Japan 1, South Korea 1, NZ 1, Norway 1, Poland 1, Russia 5, South Africa 1, Ukraine 1, UK 2, US 3, Uruguay 1, Italy and France jointly 1 (2005); seasonal-only (summer) stations - 16 total; Bulgaria 1, Chile 1, Czech Republic 1, Ecuador 1, Finland 1, Germany 1, Italy 1, Japan 1, Norway 1, Peru 1, Romania 1, Russia 1, Spain 2, Sweden 1, UK 1 (2006-2007); in addition, during the austral summer some nations have numerous occupied locations such as tent camps, summer-long temporary facilities, and mobile traverses in support of research (July 2007 est.)
Fishing off the coast and tourism, both based abroad, account for Antarctica's limited economic activity. Antarctic fisheries in 2004-05 (1 July-30 June) reported landing 147,000 metric tons (estimated fishing from the area covered by the Convention on the Conservation of Antarctic Marine Living Resources (CCAMLR), which extends slightly beyond the Antarctic Treaty area).
Unregulated fishing, particularly of Patagonian toothfish, is a serious problem. The CCAMLR determines the recommended catch limits for marine species.
A total of 26,245 tourists visited in the 2005-06 Antarctic summer, up from the 22,712 visitors the previous year.
Nearly all of them were passengers on commercial (nongovernmental) ships and several yachts that make trips during the summer. Most tourist trips last approximately two weeks.
A Warming Effect
A behind-the-scenes look at the 60 Minutes team's trip to Patagonia, Chile and Antarctica.
More and more often, travelers are realizing that Antarctica is well worth a visit.
- Photo Essay: Travel Antarctica
- Interactive: Continental Shift
- Interactive: Tectonic Plates
- Interactive: Extremes of the World
- Interactive: Global Warming
- Photo Essay: 2007 Netherlands Press Photos