Title: Klasyfikacja lodu jako podstawa do określenia granic i powierzchni Antarktydy = Ice classification as a basis for determining the borders and area of Antarctica


Dobiński, Wojciech

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Przegląd Geograficzny T. 88 z. 3 (2016)



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24 cm


Antarctica is commonly perceived to be a continent, and so must first and foremost have a clearly defined area and borders, if it is to be called a land. The area of each such land is determined by its borders. The question of the border between land and sea has everywhere raised certain doubts, but nowhere are these as severe as in the case of the Antarctic. Being entirely covered with ice creeping down to the ocean, Antarctica has a boundary that takes the form of an ice barrier along 95% of its length, with the ice in question entering the sea to a greater or lesser extent. There is thus no unified position as to where the borders of Antarctica should be taken to lie. Rather three different positions maintain that: 1. the border is the limit of the Antarctic ice sheet bedrock protruding above the water surface – and hence an entity particularly hard to determine given the aforementioned high level of coverage by a continental glacier; 2. the boundary of the Antarctic continent can be defined as a “grounding line”, i.e. a line where the creeping ice sheet as a whole rests on the sea-bed, and is thus in no part supported by water, i.e. floating. 3. the boundary of the continent is a land border together with the ice-barrier of glaciers ending in the sea, in particular ice shelves (the Antarctic continent is also sometimes taken to include so called “fast ice”, i.e. long-term sea ice frozen to the land or ice shelves and thus remaining at a standstill). Depending on criterion for the border that is adopted, Antarctica’s area can be seen to change markedly (in comparison with other continents). The size is usually calculated at between 13.5 and 14x106km2. However, this is not the end of the problems with defining borders and area in the case of Antarctica. As a continent may be deemed a continuous (in Latin continuus) land, hence the name of continent, it forms part of the lithosphere. However, ice joins other forms of water in being classified as part of the hydrosphere, and this precludes it being recognised as a component of the lithosphere. Antarctica is therefore believed commonly to be called a continent in a manner that has no regard to glaciation. In recent years, an image of the Antarctic bedrock called Bedmap 2 has been prepared on the basis of georadar research. This shows that 5.5x106 km2 of Antarctic bedrock, or 44.7% of the entire area, is located below sea level. This means that only about half of the surface of the continent in the traditional sense can actually be recognised as land, or rather an archipelago similar to the one located in the Canadian Arctic. In nevertheless remains common for ice to be treated as a mineral and as rock in geology. On this basis, its return to the lithosphere has long been postulated, while the lack of such a change in reality has tended to cause considerable disruption in science, to the extent that even an unambiguous determination of whether Antarctica is a continent is not permitted. The concept of the ice-lithosphere is not unknown to science, given that it is commonly present on other celestial bodies of the Solar System. There is no requirement that analogies relating to knowledge in the Earth sciences should be one-way only, with the effect that the analogy based on the principle of uniformitarianism can and should be reversed: it is not the Earth, as something exceptional in space, that should be the point of reference in the understanding of the cosmos, but rather the other planets that should serve as such a reference as the Earth is explored.


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Institute of Geography and Spatial Organization of the Polish Academy of Sciences

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Central Library of Geography and Environmental Protection. Institute of Geography and Spatial Organization PAS

Projects co-financed by:

Programme Innovative Economy, 2010-2014, Priority Axis 2. R&D infrastructure ; European Union. European Regional Development Fund

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