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Antarctica's continental shelf averages 500 m in depth and exhibits a landward slope, due to the combined effects of isostatic loading and glacial erosion. These effects are more pronounced near the continent. The highly rugged topography of the shelf typifies high latitude continental shelves.

Antarctica is the coldest, driest, windiest place on earth and the extremely hostile climate represents a formidable obstacle to the exploration for hydrocarbons. Sea ice covers the entire continental shelf during most of the year and presents another serious threat to the explorationist. The distribution and movement of sea ice on the continental shelf are hard to predict and have historically been responsible for the demise of several research vessels. Even less predictable is iceberg movement. Individual icebergs within the same area may drift at different speeds and in different directions because their size and draft determines to what extent winds and currents affect them. Drift speeds up to 3 km/hr and drafts exceeding 400 m have been reported.

Rugged topography and interstratification of stiff glacial deposits with water-saturated glacial-marine deposits combine to make the sea floor of the Antarctic continental shelf and slope unstable. Evidence for this exists in the form of abundant sediment gravity flow deposits on the shelf and slope. To date, shallow gas has been observed only in the Bransfield Basin. Significant earthquake activity is virtually nonexistent.

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