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Antarctica is Earth's southernmost continent, overlying the South Pole. It is situated in the southern hemisphere, almost entirely south of the Antarctic Circle, and is surrounded by the Southern Ocean. At 14.4 million km² (5.4 million sq mi), it is the fifth-largest continent in area after Asia, Africa, North America, and South America. Some 98% of Antarctica is covered by ice, which averages at least 1.6 kilometres (1.0 mi) in thickness.
The Antarctic Treaty was signed in 1959 by twelve countries; to date, forty-six countries have signed the treaty. The treaty prohibits military activities and mineral mining, supports scientific research, and protects the continent's ecozone. Ongoing experiments are conducted by more than 4,000 scientists of many nationalities and with different research interests.

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