Epic Antarctica Facts: The Ultimate Resource

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Antarctica facts

Known as the White Continent, Antarctica is the most southerly point on earth. 

Because of its unique geography and even more unique political status, Antarctica is bursting with incredible facts. 

Antarctica is also home to some pretty cool wildlife including penguins, seals, seabirds and whales, some of which can only be found here. 

So, if you're studying for a school project, or just thinking of visiting this amazing landscape, read on below to for all the best Antarctica facts. We have grouped them for ease of use - please use the quicklinks provided to jump to a certain section. 

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Antarctica Weather Facts

Antarctica facts - weather

It's a dry place

Because Antarctica gets so little rain, it's actually classed as a desert. In fact, Antarctica is the driest desert on earth - it even beat the Sahara! 

It's a windy place

Antarctica holds the record for being the windiest place, all year-round, at sea level. Between 1912 and 1913, scientists recorded the wind speed at Cape Denison station - the fastest recorded speed that year was 95mph (153km/h). Winds over 200mph have been recorded in Antarctica since. 

It's a cold place

As you probably can believe, Antarctica holds the record for being the coldest place on earth.  At Vostok Station in 1983, the temperature reached a record-breaking low of −89.2 °C (−128.6 °F). 

Does it ever get warm?

Not really. In summer on the peninsula temperatures can reach a balmy 5-10°C, however, the average on the peninsula all year-round is -10°C (14°F). The interior of Antarctica is even colder with an average temperature of -55°C (-67°F)! This is why Antarctic cruises focus on the peninsula region. 

A warm history

According to research, Antarctica used to have a fairly warm climate! 40-50 million years ago, during the Eocene epoch, Antarctica temperatures averaged 14°C (57°F) - with highs over 20°C. 

Dark balances light

Thanks to the earth's tilt, during the peak austral winter season, the days are dark, plummeting the continent into blackness for months. Ships and planes do not land during this period. 

During the summer however, this is reversed, with 24 hours of daylight. This is the tourist season and the period when wildlife is most active. 

Diamond dust

Because the air is so cold in Antarctica, tiny ice crystals are sometimes formed from condensed moisture in the air. On a sunny day, the sun's rays glint off the crystals, creating a phenomenon known as diamond dust. It essentially looks like there suns rising on the horizon instead of one. 

The ozone hole

Since the 1970s it has been clear to scientists that there is an ozone hole above Antarctica. More accurately, there is a 'thining' of the ozone layer, allowing more UV light to pass through. However, in recent years there has been clear evidence that the hole is now healing. Let us hope it continues! 

The appendix myth

Because the weather is so harsh during winter, researchers and workers wintering in Antarctica cannot be moved or evacuated for long periods of time. Because of this, a myth built up that led people to believe that you had to have you appendix removed prior to working in Antarctica. 

Although this is not true, most countries require that doctors working in Antarctica over winter have their appendix removed. This is due to the fact that there is generally only one medical doctor working in each base or research station. 

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Antarctica History Facts

Antarctica facts - history

A great guess

The ancient Greeks were the first people to hypothesise the existence of Antarctica. They called the Arctic 'Arktos' and believed that, to create balance, there would be a similar southerly ice mass. They called this unknown place 'Ant - Arktos'. This, of course, is where the name Antarctica comes from. 

So close

On the 17th of January 1773, Both Captain James Cook's ships, the HMS Resolution and Adventure, crossed the Antarctic Circle and sailed within 150 miles of Antarctica before turning back due to severe ice. 

A late discovery

Although there we're rumours of a Southern Land dating back to antiquity, Antarctica wasn't actually discovered until 1820. A Russian expedition sighted the Fimbul ice shelf, but did not land. 

Mr Weddell

In February 1823, Englishman James Weddell sailed to Antarctica in the hope of reaching the South Pole. Although he did not reach it, he managed to get 74 degrees south and discover what is now called the Weddell Sea. 

Mr Ross

Following James Weddell, Sir James Clark Ross set sail for the South Pole in January, 1841. Once again, the mission was unsuccessful, but they did discover the Ross Sea and Ross Sea Ice Shelf. 

First steps

The first confirmed landing in Antarctica was at Cape Adair in 1895 by a Norwegian team led by Henryk Bull. However, it was claimed that the American sealer John Davis, landed at Hughes Bay on the 7th of February, 1821. 

Mr Scott

In 1902 Robert F. Scott, Edward Wilson and Ernest Shackleton landed in Antarctica and set out for the South Pole. The team reached 82 degrees south before having to turn back due to scurvy and snow-blindness. Although the attempt failed, the team covered a staggering 3100 miles! 

Mr Shackleton

In 1908, Ernest Shackleton, Frank Wild, Eric Marshall and Jameson Adams struck out for the South Pole. Although unsuccessful due to illness, the team got within 100 nautical miles of the Pole! 

Mr Amundsen

On December 14, 1911, Norwegian explorer Roald Amundsen and his team became the first people to reach the South pole. The team had discovered a new route that took only 57 days! 

Scott's disappointment

Just over a year later, Robert F. Scott, Edgar Evans, Edward Wilson, and Lawrence Oates finally reach the South Pole. One can only imagine their disappointment at seeing Amundsen's Norwegian flay flying high. All the men perished on the return trip due to a lack of supplies. 

Uncomfortable times

Although today we have comfortable warm gear that can withstand Antarctica's cold climate - early explorers did not. They were forces to use itchy wooden material that captured moisture and sweat. Any clothing taken off over night would freeze solid and have to be warmed up slowly while wearing it the next day.... 

The nutrition issue

Many of the early exploration attempts failed due to a lack of nutrition knowledge. In cold climates your body requires more food so it can convert it to heat. Early explorers did not factor this in and often did not bring enough supplies. 

Food obsession

Because rations were often meagre, expedition members became fairy obsessive over equal portions. Most times the chef would split everything evenly and one member of the crew would turn his back to the food. The chef would then point to a portion and ask for a name from that man.

Although this was deemed the fairest way - there were still arguments! There were even arguments over biscuit crumbs as these were also split evenly. 

Sealers Finger

Because seals eat a great variety of food, their mouth are filled with a great variety of bacteria. When sealers were bitten by seals, their finger would become infected - this was both painful and septic. Although the finger would not fall off, it became completely immobile, becoming known as Sealers Finger. 

Antarctica Geography Facts

Antarctica facts - geography

A big place

Although not the largest continent on earth, Antarctica is still bigger than Europe, America, and nearly twice the size of Australia! If you want the exact measurements, you're looking at At 14,000,000 square kilometres (5,400,000 square miles). 

A big ice block

The Antarctic ice sheet, as one can imagine, is the largest single mass of ice anywhere on earth. In fact, it makes up 90% of the world's ice. The current ice sheet is over 40 million years old and roughly 26.5 million square km (6,400,000 square miles) in size - that's big! 

The melting ice issue

If Antarctica's ice sheet melted, sea levels would rise by 60m (200ft)! That's easily enough to submerge many of the worlds low-lying cities. Puts a new spin on global warming doesn't it... 

Thick as ice

It may sound strange, but some the highest elevations in the world can be found in Antarctica. This is mainly because the ice sheet is 2km thick on average! When you add this to the landmass that was already there before the ice sheet built up, you get a pretty high elevation! 

The gravity game

The earth gravity actually varies slightly from place to place. According to recent research, Antarctica's melting ice is causing a fairly substantial gravity shift! The gravity pull is becoming weaker as the ice continues to melt... just another global warming issue. 

Rough seas

Antarctica is surrounded by the Southern Ocean, which is know for it's rough seas and inclement weather - just ask any sailor! Antarctica is also home to the South Pole. 

A long range

Antarctica is actually home to one of the longest mountain ranges on earth. Called the Transantarctic Mountains, the range separates the east and west of Antarctica for 2,175 miles (3,500 kilometers). 

A high mountain

The highest mountain in Antarctica is called Mount Vinson which stands at 16,066 feet (4,897 meters). I tis part of the Sentinel Range of the Ellsworth Mountains in Southern Antarctica and is one of the famous 7 Summits. 

An active volcano

Yes, that's right, despite the ice, Antarctica is home to the southernmost active volcano on Earth. Called Mount Erebus, the volcano has been active for the last 1.3 million years. 

The big berg

It comes as no surprise to learn that the largest iceberg ever recorded comes from Antarctica. The iceberg in question, known as B-15, split from the Ross Sea ice shelf in 2000. It covered a massive 295 km (183 miles). 

A big current

The Circumpolar Current is the world's largest wind-driven current and circulates Antarctica in a clockwise direction. Due to its size, the current is responsible for moving heat, nutrients, salt, and marine life into the largest ocean basins across the world. 

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Antarctica Geology Facts

Antarctica facts - geology

Freshwater frenzy

The ice sheet mentioned above actually holds 61% of the Earth’s fresh water supply! The only problem is it's frozen.... so we won't be drinking it anytime soon. 

A hidden kingdom

Did you know there is a huge mountain range in Antarctica? Known as the Gamburtsev Mountains, these epic mountains rise 9,000 feet (3,000 meters) and stretch over 750 miles. The only issue is they're buried beneath 15,000 feet of ice! So cancel the climbing trip.... 

A hidden lake

You can probably guess what's coming here. Buried about 2.5 miles below the ice is Lake Vostok. This huge freshwater lake is about the size of  Lake Ontario! It's the largest of over 200 such lakes buried beneath Antarctica's ice. 

It's melting!

recent studies have shown that Antarctica's melting ice has accelerated threefold in the last five years! Scientists worry that the entire west Antarctic ice sheet will melt, leading to a se-level rise of at least 3.5 meters worldwide. 

That huge shelf

The largest ice shelf in Antarctica is the Ross Ice Shelf. It makes up 3.7% of Antarctica's landmass and measures a whopping 197,000 square miles (510,680 square kilometers). 

Causing a rift

Between 2009-2010, scientists discovered an enormous rift beneath Antarctica's ice sheet. The rift sits 1 mile down and is roughly 62 miles (100 km) long and 6 miles (10 kilometers) wide - big enough to compete with the Grand Canyon! 

A lack of diversity

According to geologists, the soil found in Antarctica is the least bio-diverse unearth. This means it has less flora and fauna species than any other desert. 

In fact, there is a not a single tree in Antarctica - or shrub! There is only 2 flowering planets; both can only be found on the warmer peninsula region, or some outlying islands. 

Retreat! 

According to American research, 87% of all the glaciers in Antarctica are retreating. This is thanks to global warming of course. 

Sand and ice

Although you may think Antarctica is big block of ice, there are actually plenty of sand dunes! The biggest is located in the McMurdo Dry Valleys and is 230 feet (70 meters) in height, and more than 650 feet (200 m) wide!

Meteorites galore

Meteorite hunters love Antarctica! The reason? Because the black meteorites tick out like soar thumbs on the white landscape, making them easy to spot. The ice also protects the fallen meteorites from natural processes like erosion. 

Antarctica Political Facts

Antarctica facts - political

Where's the government? 

Because the continent of Antarctica has not been separated into individual countries, there is no government here. There is also no indigenous population or permanent settlers. 

The famous Treaty

The Antarctic Treaty was enacted in 1961 by twelve countries who were actively pursuing scientific research there at the time. One of the most important parts of the Treaty was to agree that 'Antarctica shall be used for peaceful purposes only' (Art. I). Currently there are 53 countries who have signed the Treaty. 

Making decisions 

Whilst there is no Antarctica government as we know it, there is a 'AntarcticTreaty Consultive Meeting' each year, in which the countries who are part of the Antarctic treaty discuss and make decisions relating to the continent.

Antarctic military

Military activity is banned in Antarctica. The major military players such as America, Russia, and China have all ratified the Treaty. Any research station or base can be inspected at any time by any country.

However, the ban on military aircrafts and personal entering Antarctica is widely flouted. Chile and Argentina for example both have a permanent army presence here.

Mining options

The Treaty also bans any country from prospecting in Antarctica. This is good news as many scientists believe there is more oil in Antarctica than Kuwait or Abu Dhabi put together! 

Claims on land

Although the Antarctic Treaty means that no country can lay claim to Antarctica, there are still grey areas. 7 countries have claimed certain parts of Antarctica, including Australia, Britain, Chile, Argentina, New Zealand, France and Norway. In fact, Britain, Chile, and Argentina have all laid claim to the same section! You can get a passport stamp from all three countries if you wish.  

Covert operations

Because of its remoteness, the Antarctic sky and airwave are remarkably clear. This makes it great for both deep-space research and satellite tracking. Countries are becoming more and more concerned that bases are bing used for 'dual-use' purposes - i.e., research and military surveillance operations. 

Future threats

Up until now, the running of Antarctica has been fairly smooth. However, if global warming continues to melt the ice sheets and oil and minerals become potentially easier to extract, then there could be problems on the horizon. 

So who lives here?

There are no permanent residents, but there are researchers and scientists who can sometimes stay several years. There are also plenty of staff who have to maintain the research bases. On average, there are around 4-5,000 living in Antarctica at any given time. 

Born to the ice

At least 10 people have been born in Antarctica. The first was Emilio Marcos Palma on the 7th of January, 1978. He was born in Hope Bay to Argentinian parents.

The Argentinian government had actually sent the pregnant mother to Antarctica to strengthen their claim to the land when the child was born. 

Send a postcard

Port Lockroy is home to the world's most southerly post office. You can send a postcard or buy some souvenirs. 

Anyone for a holiday?

Antarctica, thanks to its remarkable landscape and varies wildlife, is becoming one of the top expedition cruise destinations on earth! Last year over 35,000 people took cruise here. It's expensive though with knot cruises averaging $8-10,000 per person.  

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Antarctica Wildlife Facts

Antarctica facts - wildlife

The worm

The tiny nematode worm is actually Antarctica's most abundant mammal. You thought penguin right? Actually, the nematode worm is one of the most abundant creatures on Earth, but in a realm where almost nothing survives, the worm is king! It's cool trick is that it can survive being frozen... very handy in Antarctica! 

The visitors

When most people think of Antarctica, they think of penguins. However, with the exception of the emperor penguin, all penguins in Antarctica are classed as 'visitors' due to the fact that they spend most of the year at sea. 

There is a lot of penguins

Penguins are by far the most common bird in Antarctica. According to research, their numbers rival that of some major cities! Some colonies easily extend above a million!

Still discovering 

In 2018 a mega colony of 1.5 million Adélie penguins were discovered on a a tiny archipelago off the coast of western Antarctica. Although it was know that penguins lived there, it was assumed to be a small amount. 

Good dad

The male emperor penguins are the only warm-blooded creatures to endure Antarctica through the winter. They stay with their single egg through the winter, sitting on it to keep it warm. The female hunts at sea for 9 weeks before returning for the egg to hatch. 

Long flyers

Albatross spend at least 80% of their life at sea. They only return to land during the breeding period. Because their wingspan is so large, they generally take a run-up when taking off! Many albatross will spend weeks in the air without ever landing.  

Deep divers

Most penguins can dive below 250 meters! The deepest recorded dive is by a female emperor penguin who went to a depth of 535 meters! Despite this, most penguins stay within about 10 meters of the surface on most dives.

Seals on the other hand have been known to dive below 600 meters and stay underwater for over 80 minutes! The Weddell seal is particularly good at this.  

Fast swimmers

Out of all the penguin species that reside in Antarctica, the gentoo is the fastest. They have been recorded swimming at 35 kmh (22 miles). 

Salty seafood

Because penguins eat so much seafood, they actually have a gland above their eyes that filters self from the blood stream! It's called a supraorbital gland and penguins excrete the salt through their bill or by sneezing it out. 

The long flight 

The Arctic tern, which lives in Antarctica during the summer, actually breeds in the Arctic. This amazing bird migrates further than any other bird on earth - 40,000 km (25,000 miles)! 

Big birds

According to scientists and fossil records, a penguin species used to live in Antarctica that as bigger than the emperor penguins. Known as the Anthopornis nordenskjoldi, this species would have stood at 170cm in height!

This is not the only penguin species to have become extinct in Antarctica. According the fossil records, there used to be over 25 species of penguin here! Now there are only 5 on the mainland. 

Old birds

Penguins generally live longer than seals. Emperor penguins can live to 50 years, whilst their smaller cousins live around 15 years. 

Ferocious hunters

Leopard seals are the most ferocious of the 6 species of Antarctic seals. The only known human death from a seal has come from a leopard seal. Even when they'e not hungry, leopard seals often like to go in search of penguins and other smaller seals to play 'cat and mouse' with. 

What a squid!

The heaviest squid in the world actually lives in Antarctica! Called the colossal squid, they can grown up to 14m (46 ft.), making them the world’s largest invertebrate. 

What an octopus!

 Growing up to 1 metre (3 ft.), the giant Antarctic octopus is one of the biggest octopus species in the world! The octopus also has a neat trick - its special venom does not freeze at sub-zero temperatures, making it ideal for hunting in the icy waters. 

Killer whales

Killer whales or orca, have developed a unique seal hunting strategy in Antarctica. When a pod spots a seal on an ice-float, they will all swim together at speed under the ice flat, creating a wave that topples the seal from the ice-float. 

Anti-freeze

The Antarctic toothfish is one amazing creature. To deal with living in such cold conditions, the toothfish has developed a natural anti-freeze protein in its body to keep it from freezing!

So much krill

Although tiny, Krill are one of the most important species in the Antarctic food chain. Blue whales eat up to 4 tons of krill each day for 6 months. Krill is found in huge quantities throughout the Southern Ocean and the species total biomass is thought to be more than that of any other species on earth!

The midge

Although the wingless Antarctic Midge is only 6mm long, it is the biggest creature that lives on Antarctica all year-round. It also the only insect to be found on mainland Antarctica! 

Antarctica Records

Antarctica facts - records

A lonely journey

In December, 2016, Johanna Davidsson (Sweden) became the fastest female to reach the South Pole unsupported and unassisted. She did it in just under 39 days.

The male record is held by 35-year-old Christian Eide (Norway) who did trek in just over 24 days in 2011. 

A young and old one

The youngest person ever to trek to the South Pole was Lewis Clarke of Great Britain. He was aged 16 years and 61 days.

The oldest person to reach the South pole is Major Will Lacy. He was 84 when he reached the Pole in 1994. Both Lewis and Major Will were assisted.  

A long way

In 1997, Børge Ousland (Norway), became the first and fastest person to cross Antarctica solo and unsupported. The Norwegian trekked 2,690 km (1,675 mile) over 65 days! 

A good gig

In 2013, the band Metallica, became the first person to perform a gig on every continent! They played at the Carlini Station to 120 scientists and competition winners! 

A marathon!

Since 2006, the world's most southerly marathon has occurred on Antarctica at King George Island! The marathon begins and ends at the Russian Bellingshausen Station base.  

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About the Author Expedition Cruise

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