A deep freeze holding 90% of the world's ice, Antarctica is one of the biggest puzzles in debate on global warming with risks that any thaw could raise sea levels faster than United Nations projections. Even if a fraction melted, Antarctica could damage nations from Bangladesh to Tuvalu in the Pacific and cities from Shanghai to New York.
Aliens are landing in Antarctica: seeds, spores, mites, lichens and mosses alien to the continent have been brought unwittingly by scientists and tourists, and could disrupt life in the icy wilderness. Antarctica is best known for penguins as well as seals and whales, but scientists are finding a host of other tiny organisms, from springtails -- closely related to insects -- to mosses.
As top scientists meet in the comfort of Paris to hammer out a major report on climate change, a handful of their confreres hunker down on a frozen plateau in the middle of Antarctica, painstakingly gathering warning signs of global warming. A rotating commune of French and Italian researchers is tracing the history of the planet's climate.
It seems best to play it cool if you want to see a penguin. Those who come to McMurdo Station, the biggest United States science base in Antarctica, often dream of seeing the regal Emperor penguins or the smaller Adelies, but environmental policies require humans let the birds make the first move, and keep their distance in any case.