Antarctica, the southernmost continent and site of the South Pole, is a virtually uninhabited, ice-covered landmass. Most cruises to the continent visit the Antarctic Peninsula, which stretches toward South America. It’s known for the Lemaire Channel and Paradise Harbor, striking, iceberg-flanked passageways, and Port Lockroy, a former British research station turned museum. The peninsula’s isolated terrain also shelters rich wildlife, including many penguins.
Antarctica is on average the coldest, driest, and windiest of the continents, and has the highest average elevation. It is mainly a polar desert, with annual precipitation of over 8 inches along the coast and far less inland. About 70% of the world's freshwater reserves are frozen there, which if melted would raise global sea levels by almost 200 feet. Antarctica holds the record for the lowest measured temperature on Earth, −128.6 °F. The coastal regions can reach temperatures over 50 °F in summer. Native species of animals include mites, nematodes, penguins, seals and tardigrades. Vegetation consists of tundra.
During the summer months, 5,000 people reside at research stations, a figure that drops to around 1,000 in the winter. Antarctica is governed by about 30 countries, all of which are parties to the 1959 Antarctic Treaty System. According to the terms of the treaty, military activity, mining, nuclear explosions and nuclear waste disposal are all prohibited.