Antarctica is the coldest, driest, windiest, and most isolated continent on Earth. The extreme climate limits the presence and activities of humans in Antarctica. The persistent cold (even during the austral summer), the limited precipitation (which qualifies much of the continent as frozen desert), the frequent overcast skies, the severe winds, and the succession of storms over the ocean and coastal areas help explain why Antarctica is the only continent that has never had a native human population.
Although seven countries (Argentina, Australia, Chile, France, New Zealand, Norway, and the United Kingdom) maintain claims to territory in Antarctica, the United States and most other countries do not recognize those claims. Governance of the continent is managed through the Antarctic Treaty (signed in Washington, DC in 1959) and its associated instruments, such as the Environmental Protocol to the Antarctic Treaty. The continent is reserved for peaceful purposes and science and most of those who stay there for limited periods of time there are associated with national Antarctic science programs. The 49 Treaty Parties, one of which is the United States, meet annually at the Antarctic Treaty Consultative Meeting to discuss cooperation.
Antarctica’s popularity as a tourist destination is growing. More than one-third of all ship-borne tourists visiting Antarctica are U.S. citizens and almost half of all Antarctic tourist expeditions are subject to U.S. regulation because they are organized in or proceed from the United States. The Department of State is responsible for informing other Treaty Parties of non-governmental expeditions to Antarctica organized in or proceeding from the United States.