Antarctica: Is Any Place Safe from Mankind?

Once inaccessible and pristine, the white continent is now threatened by spreading pollution, budding tourism and the world's thirst for oil

DEA / C.DANI / I.JESKE / De Agostini / Getty Images

Ice floating in Paradise Bay, Antarctic Peninsula

From atop a windswept hill, the panoramic landscape looks eerily beautiful -- and yet completely hostile to life. Even at the height of summer, the scene is one of frigid desolation. To the west lies a saltwater bay whose surface is frozen solid. Beyond the bay loom glittering glaciers and towering, rocky peaks. On the south and east rises a blinding white shelf of permanent ice, so thick that it grinds against the seabed far below. And to the north is a snow- covered volcano that continuously belches noxious fumes. This is the bottom of the world, where winds can reach...