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Antarctica is the fifth largest of the seven continents It is situated over the South Pole almost entirely south of latitude 6630 south the Antarctic Circle It is a very rough circular shape with the long arm of the Antarctic Peninsula stretching towards South America There are two large indentations the Ross and Weddell seas and their ice shelves The nearest other land masses are South America 600 mls 1000 km away across the roughest stretch of water in the world - the Drake passage Australia is 1550 mls 2500 km away and South Africa 2500 mls 4000 km away The total surface area is about 142 million sq km about 55 million sq mls in summer approximately twice the size of Australia half as big again as the USA and fifty times the size of the UK Antarctica is the coldest and also the windiest continent The lowest temperature ever recorded anywhere on earth -892 C -1286 F was on July 21st 1983 at the Russian Vostok Station at the pole of inaccessibility This is the furthest point from any coast and so is the least affected by the warming effect of the oceans The continent is also buffeted by strong winds calm periods are rare and typically last hours rather than days A wind speed of 320 kmh 200 mph was recorded at the French Dumont dUrville base in July 1972 The winds flow downwards from the interior toward the coast driven largely by gravity as air cools and becomes denser over the pole These winds are known as katabatic winds when they reach the coast they produce west-flowing ocean current known as the East Wind Drift as a result of the rotation of the earth which has an influence far beyond the immediate coastline There are three climatic regions in Antarctica The interior of the continent is extremely cold with little snowfall the coastal areas have
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