Data from the GRACE satellites allow scientists to see how fresh water is being redistributed across the continents over time.


AREA: 5,400,000 square miles (14,000,000 km2)


POPULATION: No indigenous inhabitants. Permanent and summer-only research stations staffed by 29 nations engaged in non-military scientific research.

GEOGRAPHY: The continent is centered asymmetrically around the South Pole. A thick continental ice sheet covers 99.6% of Antarctica. The rest is barren rock. Average elevations range between 6,500 and 13,000 feet (2,000 to 4,000 meters). The Transantarctic Mountain Range rises to roughly 16,000 feet (5,000 meters). Ice-free coastal areas include parts of southern Victoria Land, Wilkes Land, the Antarctic Peninsula and parts of Ross Island on McMurdo Sound. Glaciers form floating ice shelves along approximately half the coastline and constitute 11% of the area of the continent.

CLIMATE: Severe low temperatures throughout the continent vary slightly with latitude, elevation and distance from the ocean. Temperatures range from -112°F (-80°C) to -130°F (-90°C) in the interior during winter, and between 41°F (5°C) and 59°F (15°C) near the coasts in summer. East Antarctica is colder than West Antarctica because of its higher elevation. The Antarctic Peninsula has the most moderate climate; higher temperatures, averaging slightly below freezing, occur in January along the coast. In the summer Antarctica experiences 24 hours of daylight, and in winter the Sun never rises. Antarctica receives so little precipitation that it is considered the world’s largest desert.

ECONOMY: Limited activity includes fishing and tourism.

Photo © Liam Quinn


The GRACE data visualization shows changes in total freshwater storage across the landscape for the period January 2007 to March 2009, relative to the average amount of water at that location during this period. The blue colors show regions that are wetter than the average and the red colors show regions that are dryer.


Examine areas in detail: