Thursday, January 17, 2013

All About Anarctica

While working on the online rockhounding adventures and reviewing our planet's geology, I have had the opportunity to see many photos of Antarctica.  I realized that I really don't know very much about this fifth biggest continent.

Antarctica is the southernmost continent.  It surrounds the South Pole and is located almost entirely south of the Antarctic Circle, surrounded by the Southern Ocean.

Here are some awesome facts about this amazing place.

SIZE  Antarctica's landmass is 5.4 million square miles (14 million square km).  This is about half the size of North America,40 percent bigger than the U.S., and twice the size of Australia.  Antarctica comprises 9 percent of the world's landmass.

LAND OF ICE Although 98% of Antarctica is ice, there is land underneath the ice cover, unlike the Arctic where the ice floats on top of the ocean.  The ice averages around a mile in thickness (1.6 km).  At its thickest point the ice sheet is 15,669 feet thick (4,776 m).  Melting Antarctica's ice sheets would raise oceans around the world by 200 to 210 feet (60 to 65 m).

COLDEST The average annual temperature in Antarctica is -560F (-490C). The lowest temperature ever recorded anywhere on Earth was measured on this frozen island at -128.60F (-890C.). Water temperature of the ocean around Antarctica has an annual average temperature 33oF, which is above the 280F required to freeze salt water.  So during parts of the year the ocean off shore is not frozen. If you throw boiling water into the air in Antarctica, it will instantly vaporize. Most of the particles will turn into steam while others are instantly converted to small pieces of ice,

DRIEST Well, it might not be the driest place in the world but there is almost no precipitation, despite the fact that the continent's ice comprises 70 percent of the planet's fresh water and 90 percent of the ice.   Antarctica is considered a desert since the annual precipitation on the coast is only 8 inches (200 mm).  Inland the island only receives an annual precipitation of two inches (50 mm)..

HIGHEST ELEVATION  Antarctica has the highest average elevation of all the  continents: 7,500 feet (2,286 m).   This average elevation is three times that of other continents. The South Pole itself sits on a plateau 10,000 feet above sea level (3,048 m). Antarctica's highest peak is 16,066 feet, just over three miles high (4,897 m).  In comparison, the average elevation of the U.S. is only 2,500 feet above sea level (762 m).

POPULATION There are no permanent human residents, but anywhere from 1,000 to 5,000 people reside throughout the year at the 60 research stations scattered across the continent.

BIOLOGY Despite the cold temperatures and lack of precipitation, there are a few brave organisms that have adapted and survived such as mites. nematodes, penguins, seals, bacteria, fungi, plants, and a few more.   There are no large land animals that inhabit the continent, other than the Emperor penguin that does not live full time on land.  Antarctica has no trees or bushes. Vegetation on the continent is composed of mosses, lichen, and algae.  Finding microbial life in some of the most desolate regions of Antarctica has given scientists hope of finding life on other relatively inhospitable planets.

Lake Vostok, a lake hidden deep beneath the Antarctic surface, may house life. Expeditions from several countries are currently drilling the 13,100 feet (4,000 meters) to reach this hidden gem.

Below is a lava lake on Mt Erebus. Not sure I'd want to hop in that lake! 

Below is a photo of an ice tower that forms when steam escapes from the volcano and melts the snow above the ground. As the steam rises, it freezes instantly creating long winding towers that can be up to 60 feet tall! You can think of these as chimneys that help to release pressure under the volcano. However, these structures are not very sturdy and collapse easily – just to be rebuilt again by the steam!
DISCOVERY  Although there have been stories about this frozen land for thousands of years, the first confirmed sighting of the continent took place in 1820 by a Russian expedition headed by Fabian Gottieb von Bellingshausen and Mikhail Lazarey. No man set foot in Antarctica until 1895 when Henryk Bull, with a party from a whaling ship went ashore. It was 1935 before the first woman, Catherine Mikkelson, set foot there. She was the wife of a Norwegian whaling captain. The South Pole was first reached by a Norwegian named Roald Amundsen in 1911, and shortly after by British explorer Robert Scott.  As part of its effort to claim a portion of Antarctica's history, Argentina sent a pregnant woman to the continent. In January 1979, Emile Marco Palma became the first child born in on the southernmost continent.

OWNERSHIP no one owns Antarctica.  It is protected by the Antarctic Treaty that was signed in 1959 by 12 countries;, with  37 more countries later signing on. The treaty prohibits military activities and mineral mining, prohibits nuclear explosions and nuclear waste disposal, supports scientific research, and protects the continent's ecology.  There are no huskies pulling sleds in Antarctica. As of 1994, no non-native species are allowed to be taken to Antarctica. Motor-powered vehicles are the primary method of transportation across the ice.

WIND  The strong winds of Antarctica are called katabatics, formed by cold, dense air flowing out from the polar plateau of the interior down the steep vertical drops along the coast. It is at the steep edge of Antarctica that the strong katabatic winds form as cold air rushes.

The highest wind speeds recorded in Antarctica were at Dumont d'Urville station in July 1972: 327km/h (199 mph), equal to the strongest wind gust recorded in the world at Mount Washington, New Hampshire (USA) on April 12, 1934, at 199mph (327km/h).

TIME ZONE  There is no time zone in Antarctica since all of the time zones converge at the pole.  Researchers decided to officially operate on New Zealand time.  The area below 60 degrees south enjoys one long day and one long night each year. The sun sets in March and rises in October.  For six months each year the sun shines 24 hours a day at the South Pole.

PLATE TECTONICS  Scientists have found plant and animal fossils and coal beds on Antarctica.  They have determined that this now southern continent was once part of a larger landmass near the equator.  Around 180 million years go the supercontinent Gondwanaland broke up and Antarctica started moving south.

PEACEFUL PLACE  Antarctica has the distinction of being the most peaceful place on Earth. No wars have ever been fought on Antarctica. Since no sovereign country owns the island or any part of the island, tourists and scientists who visit the continent do not need a passport, a visa, or anyone's permission to visit.

I finished segment D of the second adventure yesterday.  One segment to go!  Once I finish the last segment, I want to spend a few days going through the adventures real time as a participant.  I hope to launch the project next week.  I'm not sure how the transfer of files will go on launch.  Plus, I'll have to work with my webmaster to make sure everything is in order on the subdomain pages that will be accessed through  I'll let everyone know how it is going.  I'll also do a full update of the webpage as part of the official launch.  Wish me luck.

Wiki Commons / Bosonic dressing, / NZ IPY-CAML

1 comment:

  1. Very interesting website. I had learn a lot. I wish I can visit some time. Even when it super cold at there it seems very peaceful.