Antarctica is the last remaining unspoilt wilderness; untouched by the massive industrialisation common everywhere else on the planet. It covers an area of 13.7 million sq km (5.3 million sq miles) and is covered by an ice sheet 4 km (2.5 miles) deep. It has no human inhabitants, other than a small number of scientists in research stations.
The vast, icy continent is governed by the terms of the Antarctic Treaty, which came into effect in 1961. This was signed by Argentina, Australia, Chile, France, New Zealand, Norway, the UK, Belgium, Japan, South Africa, the USA and Russia. The first seven of these countries have historic claims to the continent (none of which are generally recognised) and the Treaty preserves the status quo, neither recognising nor repudiating the old claims, but forbidding their expansion in any way. The terms of the Treaty also forbid the assertion of new claims.