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Antarctica, also called Antarctica in Brazil, (see question of the name) is the southernmost and the second smallest of the continents (only bigger than Australia), with a surface of 14 million square kilometers. It surrounds the South Pole, and for this reason it is almost completely covered by huge glaciers (glaciers), except for some areas with high slopes in mountain ranges and the northern tip of the Antarctic peninsula. Its formation was due to the separation of the ancient supercontinent Gondwana approximately 100 million years ago and its cooling occurred in the last 35 million years. [1]

It is the coldest, driest continent, with the highest average altitude and the highest rate of strong winds on the planet. [2] The lowest temperature on Earth (-93.2 ° C) was recorded in Antarctica, with the average temperature on the coast during the summer being -10 ° C; inland, it is -40 ° C. [3] Many authors consider it a great polar desert, due to the low rate of precipitation in the interior of the continent. [4] [5] [6] The average altitude of Antarctica is approximately 2,000 meters. [7] Gusts with speeds of approximately 100 km / h are common and can last for several days. [3] Winds of up to 320 km / h have already been recorded in the coastal area. [6]

Legally, Antarctica is subject to the Antarctic Treaty, whereby the various nations that claimed territories on the continent (Argentina, Australia, Chile, France, Norway, New Zealand and the United Kingdom) agree to suspend their claims, opening the continent to exploitation. scientific. [8]

For this reason, and due to the harsh climatic conditions, it does not have a permanent population, although it has a temporary population of scientists and support personnel at the polar bases, which ranges from 1,000 (in winter) to 4,000 people (in summer). [9 ] Two of these settlements with a regular population (including children) are Villa Las Estrellas (from Chile) and Base Esperanza (from Argentina). [10]