Everyone knows that Antarctica is the 7th continent, a frozen tundra, and home to penguins. But did you know that Antarctica is a desert? Or how about that meteorites are found on the continent or that only 10 people have been born on the continent? These are just a few facts about Antarctica that we learned when we traveled there. Honestly, it’s such an interesting continent, I could probably create a list of 1000 Antarctica facts!
However, we all know that would start to get old after a while, so instead, we have narrowed it down to some of the most interesting facts about Antarctica to help you learn about this beautiful place.
Facts About Antarctica To Know!
1. The Antarctic Continent is a Fairly Recent Discovery
There were suspicions that there could be another landmass to the south, but no one actually saw it with their own eyes until 1819. Antarctica was the last of the seven continents to be discovered.
2. What’s in a Name
Although Antarctica is a recent discovery, the word itself, which means “opposite the poles” was used as far back as 350 B.C. Although there was no evidence to support the theory, many people believed that there was a giant land mass at the bottom of the earth long before it was discovered.
3. Antarctica is quite Large
Although small compared to other continents, Antarctica is actually quite large at 14 million square kilometers.
4. Winters are Long and Dark
As if Antarctic winters aren’t bad enough, imagine a long, bitterly cold winter without any sun. During winter, the sun does not rise which means Antarctica is plunged into months of total darkness.
5. But you have the Long Bright Summer to Look Forward to!
Summer in Antarctica is the complete opposite of winter when it comes to the sun; it rises and doesn’t set for the entire season which means you get several months of sunshine 24 hours a day!
6. Seasonal Changes
Antarctica’s size changes depending on what season it is. In winter, when the sea ice expands, the continent nearly doubles in size!
7. A Treaty to End Tensions
Like any other new lands discovered by humans, tensions run high when several different nations feel that they have ownership of it. Since Antarctica is the only continent to have never been settled and to have no indigenous population, many countries vied for ownership at the same time.
To quell these tensions, a Treaty was introduced in 1959 and it was an agreement to share the continent and reserve it for science and unity between the nations.
8. A Desert Wasteland
Something that will likely be shocking to you is the fact that Antarctica is mostly desert. If you’re like most people, the words hot, dry, and vast come to mind. Well, Antarctica is definitely vast and dry but it’s definitely not hot!
But a desert doesn’t need to be hot to be classified as a desert. It just needs to be very dry and Antarctica, particularly its valleys, is the driest place on the planet with only two inches of rain per rain.
9. A Very Important Current
The Circumpolar Current is a very well-known wind-driven current that moves clockwise around the continent. It moves air, salt, nutrients, and marine species to keep things flowing as they should.
10. Meteorites are often Found in Antarctica
It’s easy to spot things that are out of place in Antarctica because the landscape is not all that varied. This is why the meteorites that land here are so easy to find.
So many are found here that it makes it seem like meteorites fall here all the time but, in fact, they don’t fall on Antarctica any more than they do anywhere else. To date, over 10,000 meteorites have been found here.
11. An Abundance of Life
If you thought Antarctica was a barren, dead land, think again! There are over 9,000 animal species thriving on the continent, some large, some small and some live on land while others live in the waters surrounding it. This is one of the coolest facts about Antarctica yet!
12. Fire and Ice
Active volcanoes might not be something you thought were present in Antarctica, but there are actually at least two active ones on the continent and there could be more yet to be discovered. Mount Erebus is the most southerly active volcano on the planet and also the highest on the continent.
13. Someone Skied Across Antarctica
This is one of the most incredible facts about Antarctica! Professionally, Felicity Aston is a meteorologist, but she is mostly known for the adventurous endeavor she undertook in 2011. She skied 1,744 kilometers across Antarctica in just 59 days!
14. Antarctica was Once a Tropical Paradise
It’s hard to picture, but Antarctica was once a lush landscape with tropical weather according to 50-million-year-old fossils that have been discovered there. Even dinosaurs were able to thrive in Antarctica millions of years ago!
15. A Land for Everyone, Everywhere
Despite many countries attempting to claim ownership of Antarctica, currently no one person or country owns it.
It is currently under a treaty with 48 countries having signed the agreement that designates it a peaceful place removed from conflict and a natural reserve dedicated to science and exploration.
16. A Big Chunk of Ice
At nearly four miles thick, the Antarctic Ice Sheet is the biggest mass of ice on earth.
17. Home to the Largest Ice Shelf
At over 510,000 square kilometers, Antarctica’s Ross Ice Shelf is the biggest ice shelf ever found.
18. Taking the Plunge
While only advisable if you’re healthy and have sought advice from your doctor first, it is possible to go for a little swim in Antarctic waters. If you dare, of course! This organized dips take place throughout the tourist season and is usually organized through the tour operator or expedition ship guests booked with.
19. Mountains Galore
Stretching more than 1,200 kilometers and with peaks as high as 2,800 meters, the Gamburstev Mountain Range is one of the largest mountain ranges on the planet.
20. A Rival to the Mighty Grand Canyon
Only discovered in 2010, a trench thought to be one of the biggest ones on the planet can be found in Antarctica. At 100 kilometers long, nine kilometers wide and almost two kilometers deep, it just might be bigger than the Grand Canyon. Only further exploration will tell!
21. A Unique Birth Rite
Only ten people have ever been born in Antarctica but it’s Emilio Marco Palma who holds the title of the first person ever born on the continent.
22. When Ice Breaks Away
Sometimes ice chunks break away from the Ross Ice Shelf and the one that broke away in March of 2000 was quite large at 270 kilometers long and 40 kilometers wide!
23. A Deep and Salty Lake
There’s a lake in Antarctica that is so salty it never freezes despite the frigid air temperatures!
Don Juan Pond contains a dense, syrupy brine that is exceptionally rich in calcium chloride, making it one of the saltiest bodies of water on Earth. The remarkable feature of this pond is that it can remain liquid at temperatures as low as minus 50 degrees Celsius, which is well below the freezing point of regular water.
24. An Abundance of Fresh Water
Antarctica’s ice holds around 90% of Earth’s freshwater ice and 70% of the freshwater on the entire planet! Now, if we could only tap into that water and solve the shortage that many places around the world are facing!
25. A Warming Continent
There’s no doubt that the earth is warming but did you know that Antarctica is warming quicker than anywhere else on the planet? Not quite one of those fun facts about Antarctica. Over the last five decades, the average temperature rose by 3°C which is five times faster than anywhere else.
26. You can only go North!
Think about it; you’re in the most southerly place on the planet. What other way can you go but North?
27. Where Blood-red Water Flows
Explorers noticed something strange back in 1911 when they stumbled upon the Taylor Glacier; red water was flowing from somewhere deep inside the glacier.
It wasn’t until 1917 that researchers discovered the source; it was coming from a lake deep within the glacier. The lake’s waters have high levels of salt and iron which cause the water to turn red when it makes contact with the air.
28. Diamond Dust Falls from the Sky
Antarctica is the only place on earth where diamond dust floats through the air. It’s not really diamonds though, it just looks that way. It’s very small ice crystals that sparkle when the sun hits them so they look like diamonds.
29. Plants are Rare
There are no trees or shrubs anywhere in Antarctica. When it comes to plant life, Antarctic hair grass and Antarctic Pearlwort are the only two flowering plants on the continent.
30. The Things that Lie Beneath the Ice Shelf
Picture Lake Michigan. It’s huge. Now picture a lake that size hiding four kilometers under the Antarctic ice sheet. This is Lake Vostok, and it’s just one of more than 200 bodies of water that lie beneath the ice.
32. There’s such a thing as Anti-freezing Fish in Antarctica
Despite the fact that the saltwater temperatures in Antarctica can drop to a very cold -1.8°C before freezing over, there are a number of living things thriving in this water! How do they survive in such cold?
Well, there are several fish species that live in these waters that have an anti-freeze-like substance in their blood that prevents them from freezing.
33. There are Very Few Permanent Residents in Antarctica
Only 140 people live in Antarctica all year round but at certain times, there could be thousands of people living and working there temporarily. These people aren’t there for leisure; they are there to explore the vast landscape, study the animals and plant life and discover the unique natural phenomena that occurs in this fascinating place.
A handful of tourists also explore the continent, mostly during the summer months but their excursions are only limited to certain areas and only last a short time.
34. A Daring Adventure
It’s widely believed that James Cook and his crew were the first to cross the Antarctic Circle in the early 1770s.
35. A Threat to Sea Levels
The West Antarctic Ice Sheet is so big that if it melted, sea levels around the world could rise about 16 feet.
36. First to Walk on the Continent
As far as we know based on the first documentation, the first people to land on Antarctica and walk on the continent were the crew of a whaling and sealing expedition back in 1895.
37. That’s some Thick Ice!
The ice around Antarctica is very thick. In some places, the average thickness is up to 1.6 kilometers!
38. Tiny but Abundant
The most common land creature in Antarctica is not the penguin as many people think. It’s a tiny worm known as the nematode worm.
39. It’s Very Windy!
Hurricane-force winds along the Atlantic Coast don’t even compare to Antarctica’s winds! These winds often reach 320 kilometers per hour making it the windiest place on the planet.
40. Would you expect to see Sand Dunes in Antarctica?
Believe it or not, there are giant sand dunes in Antarctica. The tallest one rises 230 feet and is over 650 feet wide and can be found in the McMurdo Dry Valleys.
41. It Surely does get Cold!
I’m sure this is one of those facts about Antarctica that comes as no surprise. Antarctica recorded the coldest temperature ever on earth. That temperature was -93.2°C and it was measured on the East Antarctic Plateau.
42. Another First
In 1907, the crew of the Nimrod Antarctic Exploration were the first people to reach the magnetic South Pole. In 1911, An expedition led by Roald Amundsen reached the geographic south pole first.
43. Time Stands Still
As a place with no time zones, no one really knows what time it is at any given moment in Antarctica. Researchers staying on the continent for any length of time usually just go by the time zone they know best, the one at home! When we traveled to Antarctica we operated on Ushuaia time, which was where we departed from.
44. A Continent United
Scientists from 30 countries work out of 80 research stations situated around Antarctica. Summer is the busiest time of year when about 4,000 people man these stations. Only 1,000 people are brave enough to endure the long, hard Antarctic winters!
45. There’s a Post Office in Antarctica!
You read that right, and this one of our favorite Antarctica facts! There is a post office in Antarctica, and tourists can send letters home from there.
Port Lockroy is one of the most popular tourist destinations in Antarctica, attracting thousands of visitors every year as almost every cruise ship to Antarctica makes a stop here. It’s not just a post office though, this site features historic buildings, including a museum that showcases the history of the area and the research conducted by the British Antarctic Survey.
Visitors can also visit a gift shop to buy Antarctic goodies, with proceeds going back to the Antarctic Heritage Trust. Pick up some stamps at the post office and kiss your letters goodbye! Postcards can take anywhere from 2 weeks to 2 years to reach home (mine took 6 weeks to make it back to the United States). In case you’re wondering about currency, the post office accepts USD, Euro, and British Pounds.
46. A Big Continent
Antarctica is the fifth largest continent in the world, with a surface area of 14.0 million square kilometers (5.4 million square miles).
Antarctica was once a part of the supercontinent Gondwana, which also included South America, Africa, Australia, India, and Antarctica, but began separating from the other landmasses around 160 million years ago!
47. That’s Quite Cold
Probably not one of the most surprising facts about Antarctica. Antarctica is the coldest continent on Earth, with temperatures reaching as low as minus 128.6 degrees Fahrenheit (minus 89.2 degrees Celsius) in the winter!
48. Real Life Happy Feet
The Emperor penguin, which is the largest penguin species, is found only in Antarctica. They can withstand temperatures as low as minus 40 degrees Celsius (minus 40 degrees Fahrenheit). Though if you’re traveling to Antarctica it’s unlikely you’ll see them, they l Iive in some of the hardest to reach parts of the continent.
49. Iceberg Right Ahead
The icebergs that break off from Antarctica can be massive in size. In 2017, an iceberg known as A-68 broke off from the Larsen C ice shelf and was twice the size of Luxembourg, and larger than the state of Delaware!
50. No Northern Lights, But…
The southern lights, or Aurora Australis, can be seen from Antarctica during the winter months. Meaning that dedicated scientist and researchers get to enjoy them, as tourists can’t travel to Antarctica in the winter. This natural light display is caused by charged particles from the sun interacting with the Earth’s magnetic field.