Ice, land and sea

Part 1

Ice, land, and sea

Antarctica is the highest continent on Earth. It is also the world's fifth largest continent with an area of approximately 13.8 million km2. This is about 58 times the area of the UK.


Check for yourself, and compare Antarctica's size with other continents:

Sizing up Antarctica

However unlike other continents, most of the Antarctic land mass is covered with ice. Roughly 45 000 km2 (0.32%) of Antarctica is ice free – an area about the same size as Denmark. In fact, there is so much ice on Antarctica that if it were all to melt away, the addition of water to the oceans would raise global sea level by over 60 metres.

In contrast with the Arctic, which is sea surrounded by land, the Antarctic consists of a land mass surrounded by sea. The Southern Ocean contains the largest surface ocean current in the world, the Antarctic Circumpolar Current which transports sea water clockwise around Antarctica, and in the austral winter much of the Southern Ocean freezes over, causing sea ice to cover as much as 20 million km2 – an area larger than South America.

This section focuses on the physical characteristics of Antarctica and the Southern Ocean and considers the processes that have shaped, and continue to shape, the Antarctic environment. The resources contained here support A-level studies of the distribution and nature of cold environments, as well as studies of glacial processes and landscapes.


>> 1:1 Key physical features


British Antarctic SurveyRoyal Geographic SocietyForeign and Commonwealth OfficeBritish Antarctic Territory