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Why the Antarctic is so important

The huge frozen landmass at the bottom of our planet is more than just spectacular icing on the globe. It could be vital for our survival too.

The Antarctic ice deflects some of the sun’s rays away from the Earth, keeping temperatures liveable.

Although it’s not predicted that the massive Antarctic ice sheets are likely to melt completely, even small-scale melting would raise global sea levels, and cause flooding around the world.

The ocean surrounding the continent also support masses of the world’s sealife – including 15 species of whale and dolphin, and five species of penguin. The nutrient-rich waters encourage blooms of tiny plankton, the basis of the ocean food chain.

Antarctica is one of the world's most important ‘natural laboratories’ – which is why so many scientists brave the cold to work there. As well as helping us understand global climate change now, the unique archive locked in Antarctica’s thick ice sheet tells us what our planet's climate has been like over almost a million years.

Rod Downie

"Antarctica still blows my mind. It is vast, remote, otherworldly and beautiful beyond imagination. But it is also fragile and vulnerable to the worst effects of climate change and fishing. I've spent more than two years living on the ice and two decades working to ensure that Antarctic remains protected for future generations."

Rod Downie
Polar programme manager

-68.83333, -90.583331

Location of the Antarctic

As far south as you can go… this huge frozen landmass at the bottom of our planet is encircled by the vast Southern Ocean.

About the Antarctic

Antarctica is a vast ice-covered landmass surrounded by sea (unlike the Arctic, which is an ice-covered ocean surrounded by land). It’s bigger than Europe, and in summer, it's still 62 times the size of the UK!

Antarctica is the world’s highest, driest, windiest and coldest continent. Its record low temperature is -94°C. But it doesn’t actually snow much – the Antarctic is so dry it’s classed as a polar desert.

And it’s in darkness part of the year. There are no trees, or shrubs, and only two kinds of native flowering plant.

Not surprisingly there are no people permanently living or native to Antarctica – although there can be up to 5,000 scientists and researchers based there (including teams supported by WWF studying Emperor and Adélie penguins). And about 30,000 tourists visit per year – who need to be well-managed so they don’t damage this pristine environment.

The Antarctic is one of the world’s least disturbed places, but it’s increasingly vulnerable, especially to global warming and climate change.

Wildlife living in Antarctica

Antarctica has no land-based mammals – just some hardy flightless insects – but it's rich in sealife, including seabirds like penguins, whales, seals and shrimp-like krill.

Adélie penguins
Adelie penguin facing left
eopard seal (Hydrurga leptonyx) hunting Gentoo Penguin
A humpback whale breaching
Emperor penguins
Pupil exploring the WWF Experience at the Living Planet Centre © Richard Stonehouse / WWF-UK
Gentoo penguins
Aptenodytes forsteri Emperor penguin Adults & chicks in snow storm Dawson-Lambton Glacier, Antarctica

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£25 could pay a Protection Unit ranger's salary for 10 days, to help keep these magestic creatures safe.

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