A Chinstrap penguin stands on the coast near the town of Villa Las Estrellas on King George Island in Antarctica. Their beady little eyes, squarish torsos and adorable waddling make penguins one of the main attractions for tourists who come to Antarctica. Tourism to Antarctica rose by 10 percent in 2014, compared to the previous year. AP Photo
In this Jan. 20, 2015 photo, wooden arrows show the distances to various cities near Chile's Escudero station on King George Island, Antarctica. Thousands of scientists come to Antarctica for research. There are also non-scientists, chefs, divers, mechanics, janitors and the priest of the world’s southernmost Eastern Orthodox Church on top of a rocky hill at the Russian Bellinghausen station. (AP Photo/Natacha Pisarenko)
In this Jan. 22, 2015 photo, Chilean navy officers pushes ice by twisting a zodiac around in circles to get close to the Aquiles navy ship to carry international scientists to Chile's scientific Station Bernardo O'Higgins, Antarctica. The ship transports international scientists studying global warming and other pressing global concerns by collecting samples from the Antarctic peninsula. The "Aquiles" also transports some tourists and carries cargo to supply international research stations. (AP Photo/Natacha Pisarenko)
In this Jan. 27, 2015 photo, boats sit on the beach at Bahia Almirantazgo, Antarctica. Most visitors arrive on the Antarctic Peninsula, accessible from southern Argentina and Chile by plane or ship. The next most popular destination is the Ross Sea on the opposite side of the continent, which visitors reach after sailing 10 days from New Zealand or Australia. (AP Photo/Natacha Pisarenko)
Scuba diver Luis Torres tests the water at Chilean scientific station Escudero at Villa Las Estrellas, in King George Island, in the South Shetland Islands archipelago of Antarctica. Scientists come here for cutting-edge research on climate change and myriad of other areas. Others come seeking the thrill of adventure or simply seeking to follow their professions - from chefs to scuba divers - in the challenging conditions of the desolate, but beautiful White continent. AP Photo

DECEPTION ISLAND, (Antarctica): Their beady little eyes, squarish torsos and adorable waddling make penguins one of the main attractions for tourists who come to Antarctica. But far from the surface waters where they swim with seals and whales, deep in the oceans and across thousands of miles of frozen continent is another side of Antarctica that is both forbidding and mysterious.


In this Jan. 22, 2015 photo, a gentoo penguin feeds its baby at Station Bernardo O'Higgins in Antarctica. "To understand many aspects in the diversity of animals and plants it’s important to understand when continents disassembled,” said Richard Spikings, a research geologist at the University of Geneva. “So we’re also learning about the real antiquity of the Earth and how (continents) were configured together a billion years ago, half a billion years ago, 300 million years ago,” he said, adding that the insights will help him understand Antarctica’s key role in the jigsaw of ancient super continents. (AP Photo/Natacha Pisarenko)

It’s in those places that scientists study the rapid melting of icebergs and global warming, look for clues about humanity’s past that could help us see the future and even find forms of life that survive and thrive in extremely harsh conditions.

Over two weeks, an Associated Press team traveled to Antarctica with scientists who were looking for hints of pollution, studying rock formations and analyzing the worrisome melting of the ice along the western side of the continent. Along the way, the team encountered awe-inspiring glaciers and jagged craters, a Russian orthodox church that doubles as a beacon of light for incoming ships and even spent several days stranded in a nasty patch of fog, the kind of volatile weather that is practically a staple of any Antarctica visit.

This selection of photos provides a window into to some of the animals, landscapes and unique people who live and work in one of the world’s most inhospitable yet important places. -AP

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