Antarctica – 30 Facts You Should Know

English adventurer James Cook set out 247 years ago to uncover a new continent rich in resources by sailing south beyond all known territory and across the Antarctic Circle. He was forced to return home empty-handed since his way was blocked by ice. To paraphrase Cook’s words, “if there is the land beyond the ice, it has been doomed by nature to perpetual stiffness,” meaning it would never be able to give in to the sun’s warmth. Since then, Antarctica has been the focus of countless explorations, both in terms of actual visits and data retrieved from satellites. All of this research has uncovered some fascinating facts about Antarctica’s geography.

History of Geology

The continent of Antarctica as we know it now did not always exist. Gondwana, the “supercontinent” that includes portions of South America, India, Africa, and Australia 200 million years ago, was centered here. Africa and South America were separated by continental drift and the formation of the South Atlantic Ocean around 180 million years ago when Gondwana broke apart. 

During the same period, the Indian subcontinent migrated northward toward Asia and the ultimate uplift of the Himalayas, whereas Antarctica drifted southwards. The similarities of rocks and fossils discovered in the southern continents show evidence of continental drift. Evidence from rocks and fossils reveals that Antarctica was previously linked to these areas and warmer and drier in the distant past.



Coldest Continent on Earth

It is much colder in Antarctica than in the Arctic, even though they are both far from the equator. Temperatures in Antarctica range from 18°F in the summer to 76°F in the winter near the South Pole. That makes the North Pole appear like a tropical paradise compared to the typical summer temperature of 32°F and the average winter temperature of 40°F. On the East Antarctic Plateau, which contains the South Pole, temperatures of -144°F (98° C) were ever recorded.

Earth’s Largest Mass of Ice

Snow and ice cover almost all of Antarctica. The Antarctic ice sheet is the world’s most significant piece of ice, covering the continent entirely. A segment of the Antarctic Ice Sheet (EAIS) and a smaller piece (WAIS) are divided by the Trans-Antarctic Mountains (WAIS). Over 14 million square kilometers of Antarctica’s Ice Sheet, there are 26.5 million cubic kilometers (6,400,000 cubic miles), or about three times as much ice as the continental United States. Roughly 60 percent of the Earth’s freshwater is trapped in this ice sheet and 90 percent of the world’s ice.

Regions and Human Influence

There is still a human impact even in a region where no one lives. Maps of Antarctica show that it’s not entirely deserted. Humans have plotted Antarctica and classified it, with peaks and areas getting their own names. Generally speaking, the continent may be divided into three primary parts. East Antarctica is the biggest and is located east of the Transantarctic Mountains. West Antarctica refers to the region on the Transantarctic Mountains’ western flank. The Antarctic Peninsula is the name given to the narrow, pointed mass that rises toward South America.

Antarctica is a popular destination for humans. Some come to stay at one of the many research stations on the continent, while others see the beautiful scenery and take in the culture. Most visitors choose to remain close to the coastlines and avoid venturing beyond the Antarctic Peninsula, which is more accessible and less expensive. Even though the extreme cold of Antarctica makes it uninhabitable, the Antarctic Treaty of 1961 protects the continent as the planet’s last great wilderness. 

As a result of this agreement, the area south of 60° south latitude will remain off-limits to any nation. According to the agreement, the facility may only be used for peaceful research and cannot be used for military purposes or to dispose of radioactive waste. This is a critical step towards the preservation of Antarctica. Human impacts, however, are not necessarily direct. The melting and disintegration of numerous ice shelves are being accelerated by climate change. The quantity of water trapped as ice in the Antarctic is enormous, and the influence on the world’s sea levels might be huge in the future, although this effect is negligible.

30 Fascinating Facts

Arid can be found only in Antarctica's Dry Valleys. Snow and ice cannot build in the valleys due to the lack of humidity and moisture in this region of the continent.
On average, Antarctica is the windiest area on the planet. A wind speed of up to 200 miles per hour has been recorded by the scientists who are studying this southern continent.
Antarctica has some active volcanoes, including two that are actively spouting lava. Mount Erebus is the second-highest peak in Antarctica and the world's southernmost active volcano. You can see this volcano on Ross Island because it is covered in snow. It is famous for its frozen waterfalls and sculptures made of ice that form around vents near the crater.
Mt Erebus was first climbed in 1908 by an Australian team commanded by Edgeworth David and Douglas Mawson. They arrived at the crater's seething rim after a five-day, exhausting and freezing journey.
The South Shetland Islands' Deception Island, a volcanic basin, is the site of the second active volcano in the area. After the most recent eruption in 1969, the whaling station and research facility that had occupied the site were shuttered.
It is an exciting spot to visit, where you can view ancient whale bones and oil containers that are slowly degrading from the old refinery's foundation. The hot springs on Deception Island make it an ideal location for anyone interested in doing the Polar Plunge.
As the world's giant ice sheet, the Antarctic Ice Sheet is up to four miles thick at times. The continent includes over 90% of the world's freshwater ice and roughly 70% of the world's total freshwater!
About 16 feet of sea-level rise might be expected if the West Antarctic Ice Sheet melted.
The Ross Ice Shelf is the world's most prominent ice shelf, covering more than 510,000 square kilometers and extending off the continent's main landmass.
The Gamburtsev Mountains, which occupy more than 1200 kilometers of Antarctica, are the world's most extensive mountain range, even though Antarctica is covered in ice. Around 2,800 meters, or one-third of the height of Mount Everest, the highest peaks are located.
Lake Vostok, a freshwater lake submerged under 4 kilometers of frozen water, is another intriguing geographical feature hidden beneath the ice sheet. More than 200 distinct bodies of water have been identified under the ice, including this one, which is approximately the size of Lake Ontario.
Antarctica is warming at a higher rate than most other regions of the world. An area of Antarctica that has warmed most rapidly in recent decades is the peninsula's western coast. Temperatures on the Antarctic Peninsula have risen by three °C!
One of America's most famous natural wonders is regarded as the world's most enormous fissure, but scientists have uncovered another one in Antarctica that might equal it. During a 2010 trip, researchers discovered an unnamed canyon that runs more than 100 kilometers, is more than 9 kilometers broad and has depths of more than 1,6 kilometers. However, the more excellent study is needed to discover the actual extent of this enormous gap.
Mount Erebus, the southernmost active volcano globally, and the only known "lava lakes" are found in Antarctica. Despite the continent's cold environment, the lakes have contained liquid magma for millennia.
There are 80 research stations spread over the continent operated by 30 nations. Around 4,000 people live in these facilities during the summer months, but in the long, severe winter months, there are just 1,000.
Because Antarctica is primarily deserted and under international control, the area does not have time zones. The research stations choose time zones based on where they are located with the nation that provides them with funding or the physically nearest country (Chile, for example).
It is the world's biggest desert. A desert is a region with annual precipitation less than or equal to 254 millimeters. Less than 50 mm of rain falls annually on average in Antarctica. For more than 2 million years, parts of Antarctica have gone without snow or rain. Antarctica is the world's biggest desert because it is its driest continent. If the Sahara doesn't look out, who will?
Angola transported a pregnant lady to Argentina in an attempt to claim a piece of the continent when her child was born there. In 1977, this was the case. It was a few months later when Emilio Marcos Palma was born there. A human being has never been born on the continent before his birth. While the Antarctic Treaty already ensured international oversight of the region, Argentina felt that having residents born there would strengthen its claims. The birth of eight Argentine children in Antarctica occurred between 1978 and 1983.
The Antarctic ice now holds 90% of the world's total ice capacity with 70% of the world's fresh water supply. If all of the ice melted, enough water would be released to increase the Earth's sea level by 200 feet!
It is estimated that the ice sheet that covers Antarctica is the greatest globally. 5.4 million square miles or 14 million square kilometers of land are covered. This statement includes Antarctica's mountain ranges, gorges, and plateaus.
One percent of Antarctica is ice-free all year round. Tourists flock to the Antarctic Peninsula during the summer months when other locations are ice-free. From December through March is Antarctica's "summer."
An area of the Antarctic ice sheet is as thick as 4.5 kilometers (2.7 miles). That's less than half the height of Mount Everest! Sea levels would increase by 60 m or 200 ft if Antarctica's thickest ice sheet melted alone.
Polar cold is not always present. There is a good chance you believe temperatures are much below your tolerance level. The northern region of Antarctica is where most cruise ships go from November to March, while it is summer in the southern hemisphere. In this part of the peninsula, summer temperatures range from -2 to 2 degrees Celsius. Woe to you if you decide to go farther south in the dead of winter. In 2010, -92 °C was the world's lowest temperature recorded there.
Located on the Antarctic continent is a Chilean settlement. Villa Las Estrellas (The City of Stars) is a residential town and a scientific research site. It lies 120 kilometers from the peninsula's tip on an island. Villa Las Estrellas features a primary school, a post office, a gymnasium, and a modest hospital that serves the town's 150 summer residents and 80 winter residents.
There are more than 300 of these untouched bodies of water. There are roughly 300 lakes in Antarctica, even though the area is very frigid. Exactly how does this happen? Temperatures at the Earth's core keep them above zero degrees Fahrenheit.
There are no reptiles on this continent. Heat sources in their surroundings are essential for reptiles since they are cold-blooded creatures. A place like Antarctica is too cold for them to live in. As a result, the penguins can rest well at night, knowing that snakes won't disturb them.
Antarctica wasn't permanently frozen solid; it sat over the south pole for approximately 100 million years. In 34 million years, the environment radically altered.
Temperatures dropped sharply in the greenhouse, which had been consistently warm since the demise of the dinosaurs. An "ice-house" at the poles was constructed as a result, which has lasted.
The vast majority of the planet's ice is found on the continent. One-quarter of the freshwater on Earth comes from this source. The continent is twice the size of Australia; thus, there are rocks and dirt under the ice. It has been revealed that one of the icebergs is more considerable than Jamaica. It is the enormous iceberg ever measured at 11,000 square kilometers.
The same item will never appear again. Each month brings something new to the table on the frozen continent. As the summer begins, the icebergs become incredibly huge, and the birds begin flirting and mating. December is the time of year when penguins lay eggs. In late December and early January, the eggs begin to develop into chicks. Whale sightings are more prevalent in February and March as chicks molt. For most of the year, Antarctica lies in darkness, and the temperature is too cold for tourists to survive.