On old maps what we know as Antarctica was often referred to as Terra Australis Nondum Cognita, meaning 'unknown south land'. While polar explorers and scientists have learnt a great deal about the continent over the last hundred years or so, for most people Antarctica remains terra incognita- a remote, little known, and little visited place, quite removed from everyday life and ordinary concerns. So why study Antarctica, and what is the relevance of this place that only a tiny fraction of the world's population will ever visit? If you have had a chance to browse other parts of this website, you will already know some of the answers. Apart from being a fascinating, unique and pristine environment, worthy of study in its own right, what goes on in Antarctica has global relevance for a number of issues, both environmental and political.
This section is tailored to A-level students of geography. It builds on the information and concepts presented elsewhere in this website to provide more advanced accounts of Antarctica's environment as well as how it is being studied, utilized and managed. More specifically, this section explores Antarctica in relation to six important themes in physical and human geography; the physical themes involving the cryosphere, atmosphere and biosphere, and the human themes keying into geopolitics, resources, and tourism.
The information, examples and case-studies contained here are particularly relevant for AS and A2 level topics focusing on cold environments and on managing global resources; however there is also much of relevance for other A-level topics, such as weather and climate, coasts, ecosystems, tourism and globalisation. In fact, a key element of A-level geography is learning to think 'synoptically' - in other words, to be able to come to a broad, general view based on an appreciation of how different aspects of physical and human geography interrelate. Even though this section divides up discussion into separate themes, you are encouraged to look for connections between the topics and to always bear in mind that a full understanding of Antarctica and its global importance requires an appreciation of both physical and human factors and how they affect each other.
Another important area of A-level Geography concerns geographical skills, and therefore many of the topics in this section also contain skills-based examples or activities. Various techniques of data collection, analysis, and interpretation are needed to tackle research questions, and our ability to monitor changes and analyse spatial data has been improved enormously in recent years thanks to advances in satellite and computer technology. Antarctica provides excellent examples of the application of remote sensing and GIS technology.
A more detailed explanation of how the resources in this section support the study of different topics found within A-level specifications is contained in the A-level teachers' pages, and the Student glossary page includes definitions of any term highlighted in bold within the A-level section.