| ||The Antarctic covers an area of 6.37 million square miles (16.5 million km2)—or thirty times the size of France—plus an additional 580,000 square miles (1.5 million km2) of ice platform that stretch out into the sea. The sixth continent is a unique observation point for atmospheric and climatic phenomena; its ancient ice, which trapped air when it was formed, contains evidence of the Earth’s climate as it has changed and developed over the past hundreds of thousand years. On the other hand, in the North Pole there is an ocean covered by an ice floe. Under the influence of global warming, this sea ice tends to melt. The average thickness of Arctic sea ice has decreased, from 10.23 feet (3.12 m) in the 1960s to 5.9 feet (1.8 m) in the 1990s. This phenomenon also affects mountain ecosystems, which fall victim to rises in temperature. The melting of glaciers is a threat to many inhabited regions; Mount Kilimanjaro has lost 55 percent of its glaciers in forty years. In Peru, in 1970, the sudden break of a water’s pocket of the Huascarane’s glacier provoked the death of at least 15 000 people. If present trends continue, a large number of mountain glaciers will vanish before the end of the century.
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