Do you know that Antarctica was once the part of Gondwana super-continent which consisted of modern-day Africa, Australia, South Africa, South America, and the Indian Subcontinent? That’s right, the Antarctica we see today is a result of a continental breakup that started taking place about 160 million years ago.
It was an extremely slow process in which large chunks of continental masses were separated one by one from the Gondwana land leading to the isolation of Antarctica. The first permanent ice sheets started appearing 33-34 million years ago during the Paleogene Period.
Antarctica, in general, is the coldest, windiest and driest region on Earth. It is also distinct from the North Pole or the Arctic because of the presence of permanent Antarctic Ice shelf. Below, are some of the most interesting facts about Antarctica that you should know.
Table of Contents
25. Why it’s called Antarctica?
The name Antarctica is derived from a Greek word (Romanized) ‘antarktike’, meaning ‘opposite to the Arctic or North.’
The word ‘Arctic’ also have a Greek origin which means ‘near the bear.’ Here ‘bear’ denotes either to the constellation of Ursa Major (Great Bear) or Ursa Minor (Little Bear).
24. The Last World Region to be Discovered
Antarctica Image Courtesy: NASA
Because of its extreme location, Antarctica happens to be the last major region on Earth to be discovered. The continent remained out-of-sight until 1820 when two Russian Navy ships spotted the Fimbul ice shelf during an expedition. The first landing on Antarctica, however, was organized by a team of Norwegian researchers in 1895.
23. The Name “Antarctica” Has a Long History
The continent was formally named “Antarctica” by a British cartographer John G. Bartholomew in 1890. But it was not the first time that anyone has used the name, especially in the same context.
Sometime around 350 B.C, in his book titled Meteorology, Aristotle did not only speculated about the existence of an undiscovered land in the southern high latitude region but also named it Antarctica.
22. The Continent is Huge
The entire continent of Antarctica extends over 14 million square kilometers (5.4 million square miles), making it the fifth-largest continent on Earth. To put it into a perspective, that’s approximately the size of the United States and Mexico combined and about 1.3 times the size of Europe.
21. It Holds About 70% of The World’s Fresh Water
The six continents along the Arctic accounts for only 10% of the total ice present on Earth, the rest is concentrated in the Antarctic ice sheet. It’s perhaps the largest single mass of ice on the planet which carries about 70% of the world’s fresh water.
If all of the Antarctic ice sheets were melted at once, the global sea level would catastrophically rise more than 60 meters. But Antarctica’s freezing temperatures all year round make sure that such a scenario doesn’t take place.
20. Antarctica Has A No Non-Native Spices Policy In Place
After the Protocol on Environment Protection of the Antarctic Treaty or simply Environmental Protocol was put into action in the 1980s, all non-native animals were removed and banned from the continent. A major concern was that these ‘foreign’ species could carry infectious diseases causing a wildlife crisis.
However, dogs were removed from the continent only after April 1994. During the early stages of Antarctic explorations, dogs were widely used as a mode of transportation (sled dogs). Norwegian explorer Roald Amundsen was the first person to successfully use and reach the south pole in 1911.
19. Here, Meteorites Are Found In Abundance
Martian Meteorite ALH84001
Meteorites that had fallen into the Antarctica thousands of years ago have remained intact due to the accumulated snowfalls and ice sheets above them. Now due to wind erosion, these meteorites are emerging to the surface.
Many meteorites that are found here are most likely from asteroids but some, like Martian Meteorite ALH84001, is known to have originated from other planets in the solar system.
These space rocks allow researchers to better study about comets, asteroids and even early history of the solar system. The very first meteorite on the continent was found by Francis Bickerton during an Australasian Antarctic Expedition in 1912.
18. The Only Continent Without Any Native Population
Omond House, built by the Scottish National Antarctic Expedition in 1903
Antarctica is the only continent on Earth without any native human population. But ever since the late 1980s, it has been populated by a host of researchers and scientists on a permanent basis.
There are about thirty sovereign countries that operate about 70 research stations around the continent many of which are manned permanently throughout the year.
The continent has been one of the most important and productive research sites on Earth since most of the experiments conducted here cannot be performed anywhere else on Earth.
17. Ozone Depletion Was First Discovered Here
Researches from almost every scientific field including biology, physics, oceanography, meteorology, and astronomy have a keen interest in Antarctica. Before the 1970s, studies conducted on the continent were mostly concerning plate tectonics, its atypical wildlife, and glacier formations.
However, after the 70s, the general focus turned towards understanding the effects of global warming on the ozone layer. The most significant breakthrough came in 1985 when a team of British geophysicists discovered a hole in the ozone above Antarctica.
Back in 2006, NASA along with NOAA (National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration) reported that the ozone hole over Antarctica extends over 2,750,000 km2 (1,060,000 sq mi) and is the largest ever recorded.
16. Antarctica is Gaining More Ice Than It’s Losing, For Now
The warming trend in Antarctica from 1957 to 2006 Image Courtesy: NASA
A report published by the Norwegian Polar Institute in 2009 indicated that the extent of Antarctic ice has actually increased over the past few decades in contrast to the remarkable loss of sea-ice at the North pole.
This surprising discovery was supported by a more recent study conducted by NASA which concluded that a major section of the continent is adding more ice than it’s losing overall due to global warming.
Researchers found out that the Antarctic ice sheet has gained roughly 112 billion tons of ice every year from 1992 to 2001. Between 2003 and 2008 this amount was bought down to 82 billion tons of ice a year.
However, the study also pointed out that if Antarctica continues to lose ice even at the current rate, most probably it will not take much time to reverse this long-term gain.
Some Quick Facts
15. At 4,892 meters (16,050 ft), Mount Vision is the highest point in Antarctica.
14. Penguins are an important part of Antarctic sea life. While there are many species of penguins that can be found on the continent, only the Emperor penguins remain and breed during the Antarctic winter.
A group of Emperor Penguins Image Courtesy: Christopher Michel/Flickr
13. Emilio Marcos Palma became the first person to born in Antarctica at Esperanza research base. He was later granted Argentine citizenship since both of his parents were Argentine citizens. After Emilio, ten other individuals were born here.
12. The Ross Ice Shelf is a few hundred meters thick, floating ice shelf that extends off the main Antarctic land mass. The total area over which it’s spread is 500,809 square kilometers (193,363 sq mi) roughly about the size of Spain.
11. The largest research station in the continent, McMurdo Station can house more than 1,200 residents including researchers and visitors at a time.
10. Antarctica’s Vostok Station, a Soviet-era research facility, registered the coldest ever natural temperature on Earth (about −89.2 degree Celsius or −128.6 degrees Fahrenheit) on July 21, 1983.
9. A giant rift, possibly as massive as the Grand Canyon, was discovered in 2010 buried underneath Antarctic ice. At the time of its discovery, researchers estimated that the rife (still unnamed) is more than 9 km (6 miles) wide and stretched over 100 km. Its actual extent, however, can easily be much larger.
8. The Dry Valley region of Antarctica, also known as McMurdo Dry Valley is perhaps the driest spot on earth. This region is characterized by exceptionally low humidity and no ice cover. The valley also features Don Juan Pond, a hypersaline pond with salinity levels much greater than that of Lake Assal or the Dead Sea.
Landsat 7 view of McMurdo Dry Valleys Image Courtesy: NASA
7. Lake Vida, one of the twelve known hyper-saline lakes in the McMurdo Dry Valley region, gained worldwide media traction after at least 2,800 years old frozen microbes were discovered in its depths in 2002. It was a remarkable find since researchers were able to retrieve DNA of the microbes which were preserved due to the freezing temperatures.
6. The Gamburtsev Mountains located in East Africa are a series of lofty peaks completely buried under a thick layer of ice. They are believed to be about 2,700 m (9,000 feet) high and spread across more than a thousand kilometers.
5. According to research published in 2012, West Antarctica is one of the fastest-warming regions of the world. The study revealed that the annual temperature in this region has increased by 2.4±1.2 °C from 1958 to 2010.
4. Also hidden beneath the Antarctic ice are a number of subglacial lakes, largest of them being the Lake Vostok. It was discovered in 1996 directly below the Russian Vostok Station and is buried under nearly 3-kilometer of thick ice. Precise measurements of its total area and volume make it one of the largest lakes in the world.
3. Antarctica is known to have more than one active volcano. One of them, and perhaps the most famous is Mount Erebus located on Ross Island. It’s the southernmost active volcano on Earth.
This image of Mount Erebus was taken from USS Wyandot in 1955 Image Courtesy: U.S Navy
Another active but relatively lesser known volcano is located in the Deception Island. Its sudden eruption in 1967 and 1969 caused serious damages to multiple nearby research stations.
2. While conducting an underwater study, a team of North American researchers discovered an active underwater volcano back in 2004.
1. The U.S operated Amundsen-Scott South Pole Station in Antarctica hosts one of the largest and advanced neutrino observatory on Earth; the IceCube Neutrino Observatory.
In 2013, the observatory reported a small neutrino burst coming from a source located about 3.7 billion light-years away from Earth and has been identified as quasar TXS 0506+056.