27 Unbelievable Facts About Antarctica That Are 100% True

27 Unbelievable Facts About Antarctica That Are 100% True

There is so much that we don’t know yet about our planet, Earth. This is especially true when it comes to places which are remote, hard to reach and where the climate is harsh and uninviting. That makes Antarctica one of the most mysterious places on Earth – it’s an icy, remote, desolate desert with many secrets that are yet to be unraveled. The continent is so large that it may seem that scientists are just beginning to explore its vast territories and hidden treasures.

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#1 An American Scientist Was The First And Only Person To Find A Match On Tinder In Antarctica

An American Scientist Was The First And Only Person To Find A Match On Tinder In Antarctica

One cold and lonely December night, an American scientist, who was conducting research on Antarctica, decided to log on to Tinder just for fun. He wanted to see if there were any women out on the icy, lonely continent. At first, no profiles showed up, but after the scientist expanded the app’s location radius, he actually found someone: another researcher, just a 45-minute helicopter ride away. He swiped right and a few minutes later they matched, making it the first Tinder match on Antarctica.

#2 There Are Places In Antarctica Which Haven’t Received Rain Or Snow In 2 Million Years

There Are Places In Antarctica Which Haven't Received Rain Or Snow In 2 Million Years

In Antarctica around 1% of the continent (4,000 km or 2,500 mi) is permanently ice-free – such areas are called dry valleys or Antarctic oasis. They are thought to be the world’s harshest deserts and it is estimated that these areas haven’t seen rain or snow in almost 2 million years. According to one study led by Australian scientists, due to climate change ice-free areas in Antarctica could expand up to 25% by the end of 21st century. This could drastically change the biodiversity of the continent.

#3 There Is A Waterfall In Antarctica Which Is Called Blood Falls

There Is A Waterfall In Antarctica Which Is Called Blood Falls

Don’t worry – no real blood is running there. 5 million years ago, as sea levels rose, East Antarctica was flooded and a brine lake was formed there. After millions of years, glaciers formed on top of the lake. As they froze, the water below became even saltier. Today, the subglacial lake under Blood Falls is three times saltier than seawater and, therefore, is too salty to freeze. The water beneath Taylor Glacier, which feeds the Blood Fall, contains a lot of iron (picked up from the underlying bedrock) and when iron-rich water comes in contact with air, the iron oxidizes and takes on a red coloring, leaving blood-like stains on the ice.

#4 More Meteorites Are Found In Antarctica Than Anywhere Else In The World

More Meteorites Are Found In Antarctica Than Anywhere Else In The World

According to scientists, meteorites land everywhere with almost equal probability. However, if they fell in a humid jungle climate, moisture and oxygen would corrode them. In Antarctica, where the climate is extremely dry, the likelihood of corrosion is almost non-existent. In addition to this, naturally, the rocks are easier to spot on the white, icy surface of Antarctica. Lastly, sometimes the East Antarctic ice sheet’s path to the sea is clogged by mountains or other obstructions. If the sheet stays in one spot for a long time, strong winds and sunlight can evaporate the top layers and reveal much older ice and large meteorite concentrations within it. This way, more than 20,000 samples of rock from unknown sources were collected since 1976.

#5 70% Percent Of World’s Fresh Water Is In Antarctica

70% Percent Of World's Fresh Water Is In Antarctica

Around 90% of the world’s ice and 70% of the fresh water is in Antarctica. If all of the Antarctic ice melted, sea levels in the world would rise about 200 feet (61 meters).

#6 The Average Ice Sheet Thickness In Antarctica Is 1 Mile

The Average Ice Sheet Thickness In Antarctica Is 1 Mile

Antarctica, the southernmost continent, is almost completely covered in a thick layer of ice (except for dry valleys, which make up around 1% of the area). The thickness of the ice sheet varies depending on the location, with the East Antarctic sheet being much thicker than the one in the West. On average, the ice is more than one mile (1.6 km) thick, but in some sections it can get as thick as almost three miles (4.8 km).

#7 Antarctica Has No Official Time Zone

Antarctica Has No Official Time Zone

As Antarctica is mostly uninhabited, the continent is not officially divided into time zones. However, a number of existing research stations use either the time zone of the country that operates or supplies them, or use the local time of countries located nearby. For example, McMurdo Station observes New Zealand Standard Time (NZST) during standard time and New Zealand Daylight Time (NZDT) during the Daylight Saving Time (DST) period in New Zealand. Palmer Station (an American research station) keeps Chile Summer Time (CLST) as Chile is the closest country to their station.

#8 The Largest Recorded Iceberg Was Bigger Than The Whole Island Of Jamaica

The Largest Recorded Iceberg Was Bigger Than The Whole Island Of Jamaica

The world’s largest recorded iceberg, was Iceberg B-15, which measured around 183 miles (295 km) long and 23 miles (37 km) wide, with a surface area of 4,200 square miles (11,000 sq km) – making it larger than the whole island of Jamaica. In 2000, the Iceberg B-15 broke up into smaller icebergs and later drifted away into the sea.

#9 Emilio Marcos Palma Was The First Person To Be Born In Antarctica

Emilio Marcos Palma Was The First Person To Be Born In Antarctica

In 1978 Emilio Marcos Palma made history by being the first person to be born on Antarctica. His father was the head of the Argentine Army detachment at the Esperanza Research Base. Since then, ten more people have been born on the continent, but Palma’s birthplace still remains the southernmost and has featured in the Guinness Book of Records.

#10 The World’s Oldest Sperm Was Found In Antarctica

The World's Oldest Sperm Was Found In Antarctica

Back in 2015, scientists from Sweden found a 50 million-year-old fossilized clitellate worm cocoon in Antarctica, which contained the world’s oldest sperm. The sperm of this worm is very short-lived and extremely hard to find, however because it became trapped in the jelly-like cocoon before it hardened, it was preserved for millions of years.

#11 There Are Two Civilian Towns In Antarctica

There Are Two Civilian Towns In Antarctica

The larger town out of two that exist in Antarctica, is Villa Las Estrellas (The Stars Town), founded in 1984 by Pinochet, who wanted to reaffirm Chile’s presence in the region. Today, this town is a research station and has a school, hospital, hostel, post office, internet and even TV and mobile phone coverage. The other town is called Esperanza Base and serves as an Argentine research station. It houses 55 inhabitants in winter, including 10 families and 2 school teachers. The town was established in 1953. It became widely-known in 1978 due to the birth of Emilio Marcos Palma, the first person to be born in Antarctica.

#12 Sled Dogs Have Been Banned From Antarctica In 1994

Sled Dogs Have Been Banned From Antarctica In 1994

Back in 1911, sled dogs hauled supplies for Norwegian explorers led by Roald Amundsen. It was the first expedition to reach the South Pole. Afterwards, sled dogs were kept and used in Antarctica for years. However, they were banned from the continent in 1993 due to fear that they might transmit canine distemper to the Antarctic seals or would escape and disturb the local wildlife.

#13 More Than 300 Large Lakes Exist Underneath The Ice Sheet

More Than 300 Large Lakes Exist Underneath The Ice Sheet

As of today, more than 300 large bodies of water have been identified under the continent of Antarctica. They do not freeze because of geothermal heat and pressure or simply put – the warmth of Earth’s core. The lakes are a part of vast hydro-logical network under the thick ice sheet. It is known that some of the lakes are interconnected and exchange water. But some are thought to be completely isolated, which means that the water had to be in one place for thousands of years. Scientists believe that these isolated lakes might be home to microorganisms that are yet to be discovered by the modern science.

#14 The Lowest Surface Temperature On Earth Ever Recorded Is -144 °F (-98 °C)

The Lowest Surface Temperature On Earth Ever Recorded Is -144 °F (-98 °C)

Back in 2013 it was thought that the coldest surface temperature on Earth, recorded in Antarctica, was -135°F (-93°C). However this year the study has been revised and scientists announced that on the coldest site on Earth, temperatures can drop even lower, to -144 °F (-98 °C). They were observed during polar night, in wintertime. This record of -144 °F (-98 °C ) is about as cold as it is possible to get at Earth’s surface, according to the scientists. The conditions under which such low temperature can occur, are dry air and a clear sky, persisting for several days. If they persisted longer, the temperature could drop even lower, but researchers don’t think that it is likely to happen.

#15 Mount Erebus Is One Of The Few Consistently Active Volcanoes On Earth

Mount Erebus Is One Of The Few Consistently Active Volcanoes On Earth

Mount Erebus is one of the few consistently active volcanoes and the southernmost active volcano on Earth. It contains a 1,700 °F (about 927 °C) lava lake, that is thought to be miles deep. Mount Erebus is always alive and bubbling, releasing gas and spitting out chunks of molten rock and feldspar crystals, rich in potassium, sodium and aluminum silicate.

#16 Antarctica, The Arctic And Some Other Remote Islands Are The Only Places In The World Not Colonized By Ants

Antarctica, The Arctic And Some Other Remote Islands Are The Only Places In The World Not Colonized By Ants

Just about every piece of land on Earth harbors at least one native or invasive ant species. However, Antarctica, the Arctic and a handful of remote or inhospitable islands are the only places on Earth which are not colonized by ants.

#17 Antarctica Was Once A Tropical Continent And It Can Become One Again Due To CO2 Emissions

Antarctica Was Once A Tropical Continent And It Can Become One Again Due To CO2 Emissions

It is hard to believe, but once Antarctica was a green, tropical paradise with furry mammals like possums and beavers. Scientists say that it is only in the quite recent geological past it got so cold there. Around 52 million years ago, the concentration of carbon dioxide (CO2 or the greenhouse gas) was more than twice as high compared to today and the climate was much hotter. However, according to scientists, if the current CO2 emissions continue to rise due to burning of fossil fuels, the amount of greenhouse gas in the atmosphere that existed millions of years ago is likely to be achieved within a few hundred years.

#18 Antarctica Is 1.5 The Size Of US

Antarctica Is 1.5 The Size Of US

The surface area of the Antarctica is around 5,400,000 sq mi (14,000,000 sq km). In the winter, Antarctica doubles in size because of the ice building up around the coast of it. The continent is twice the size of Australia, 1.5 times the size of the United States and 50 times the size of United Kingdom.

#19 Antarctica Is The Only Continent Without Reptiles And Snakes

Antarctica Is The Only Continent Without Reptiles And Snakes

However, there is an abundance of other forms of wildlife, such as whales, seals, penguins and other birds. Penguins are the most common birds in the Antarctic. They live in colonies and survive in the harshest conditions. Out of the seventeen existing different species of penguins, two of them are permanent residents on Antarctica – the emperor and Adélie penguins. Others, like the macaroni, gentoo and chinstrap, breed on the northern tip of the Antarctic Peninsula, where the conditions are not that harsh. King penguins only breed on the warmer northern islands.

#20 Due To Climate Change, Antarctica Has Lost 3 Trillion Tons Of Ice In Just 25 Years

Due To Climate Change, Antarctica Has Lost 3 Trillion Tons Of Ice In Just 25 Years

In the past 25 years Antarctica has lost more than 3 trillion tons of ice. Sadly, the ice loss process has accelerated dramatically over the last five years. While analyzing data from multiple satellite surveys from 1992 to 2017, a group of 84 international researchers has found that Antarctica is currently losing ice about three times faster than it did before 2012. Now it is predicted that more than 241 billion tons of ice are lost each year.

#21 Earth’s Gravitational Pull Is Shifting Because Of Climate Change

Earth's Gravitational Pull Is Shifting Because Of Climate Change

Today the effects of climate change are so grave, that gravity itself is changing. According to the European Space Agency (ESA), in only three years, Antarctica has lost so much ice that it caused a shift in the Earth’s gravitational pull. As it was found during one study, the loss of ice from West Antarctica between 2009 and 2012 has actually caused a dip in the gravity field over the region.

#22 Antarctica Has One ATM

Antarctica Has One ATM

The banking conglomerate Wells Fargo installed an ATM back in 1998 at McMurdo Station, the largest science hub on the continent. While it is near New Zealand territory, the ATM only dispenses US dollars.

#23 Winds Can Reach The Speed Of 200 Miles Per Hour

Winds Can Reach The Speed Of 200 Miles Per Hour

Antarctica is one of the windiest places on Earth and is home to unusual katabatic and downslope winds. The strong winds are influenced by cold temperatures and the shape of the continent. The highest recorded wind speed was at a French base back in 1972 – it was blowing at 200 miles per hour (320 km/h). And even though it doesn’t snow there that often, (contrary to what most of us would think), due to strong winds, the snow is picked up from the ground and moved around, which might look like it’s snowing.

#24 The Highest Temperature Ever Recorded On Antarctica Was 63.5 °F (17.5 °C)

The Highest Temperature Ever Recorded On Antarctica Was 63.5 °F (17.5 °C)

The highest temperature ever recorded on the Antarctic continent, was 63.5 °F (17.5 °C). The discovery was made in 2015 at the Argentine Research Base Esperanza, near the northern tip of the Antarctic Peninsula. An even higher temperature of 67.6 °F (19.8 °C) was recorded on Signy island, located on the South Orkney Islands of Antarctica, back in 1982.

#25 Antarctica Is The Coldest, Windiest And Driest Continent

Antarctica Is The Coldest, Windiest And Driest Continent

Despite all its ice, Antarctica is technically a desert, because of the low precipitation levels. The inner regions receive an average of 2 inches (50 millimeters) precipitation (in the form of snow) each year. To compare, the Sahara desert receives twice as much rain each year. The coasts of Antarctica receive more falling moisture, but unlike in other deserts, it doesn’t soak into the ground.

#26 There Are No Polar Bears In Antarctica, Only In The Arctic

There Are No Polar Bears In Antarctica, Only In The Arctic

The Brown bear of North America and Eurasia is the ancestor of the Polar bear. Naturally, Polar bears now live in countries that surround the Arctic Circle: US (Alaska), Norway, Russia, Canada and Greenland. Contrary to the popular belief, Polar bears do not live in Antarctica, but only in the Arctic, as there was no way they could reach the south pole. Bears could not handle the tropical temperatures on the way down there, and there is no mean of getting there by land anyway.

#27 There Are Seven Christian Churches In Antarctica

There Are Seven Christian Churches In Antarctica

Even in one of the harshest climates in the world, people still find time to build places of worship, which are all Christian. Today, there are at least seven Christian churches on the icy continent – Chapel of the Snows, Trinity Chapel, The Ice Cave Catholic Chapel, San Francisco de Asis Chapel, St. Ivan Rilski Chapel, Chilian Chapel of Santa Maria Reina de la Paz and the Catholic Chapel of Santisima Virgen de Lujan.


Antarctica: The Southernmost Continent

Antarctica is the coldest, windiest and driest continent. It contains 90 percent of all of the ice on Earth in an area just under 1.5 times the size of the United States. But the southernmost continent is much more than a big block of ice.

Lying in the Antarctic Circle that rings the southern part of the globe, Antarctica is the fifth largest continent. Its size varies through the seasons, as expanding sea ice along the coast nearly doubles the continent’s size in the winter. Almost all of Antarctica is covered with ice; less than half a percent of the vast wilderness is ice-free.

The continent is divided into two regions, known as East and West Antarctica. East Antarctica makes up two-thirds of the continent, and is about the size of Australia. Ice in this part of the continent averages 1.2 miles (2 kilometers) thick. West Antarctica, on the other hand, is a series of frozen islands stretching toward the southern tip of South America, forming an extension of the Andes Mountains. The two regions are separated by the Transantarctic Mountains, a range that stretches across the continent, and is sometimes completely covered by ice.

The ice of Antarctica is not a smooth sheet but a continuously changing expanse. Glaciers inch across the continent, cracking and breaking the ice. Crevasse fields with cracks hundreds of feet deep span the continent, hidden by only a shallow layer of snow. Icebergs fall along the coast, where shelves and glaciers break off into the sea.

Despite all its ice, Antarctica is classified as a desert because so little moisture falls from the sky. The inner regions of the continent receive an average of 2 inches (50 millimeters) of precipitation — primarily in the form of snow — each year. To put that into perspective, much of the Sahara desert gets twice as much rain each year.  The coastal regions of Antarctica receive more falling moisture, but still average only 8 inches (200 mm) annually. Unlike most desert regions, however, the moisture doesn’t soak into the ground. Instead, the snow piles on top of itself.

Although little moisture falls from the sky, Antarctica is still battered by colossal blizzards. Like sandstorms in the desert, the wind picks snow up from the ground and blows vast white blankets. Winds can reach up to 200 mph (320 km/h).

Because it lies in the Southern Hemisphere, seasons in Antarctica are the opposite of seasons in the north. Summer runs from October to February and winter covers the remainder of the year. Antarctic summers average just above freezing, with the more mountainous East Antarctica colder than its western counterpart. The lowest temperature in the world, minus 89.6 degrees Celsius (minus 129.3 degrees Fahrenheit), was recorded at Vostok Station, a Russian research station in inland Antarctica.

The frozen southern continent wasn’t spotted until 1820. American seal hunter John Davis was the first to claim he landed on Antarctica in 1821, although some historians dispute his claim.

At the beginning of the 20th century, two groups of explorers set out across the desolate Antarctic landscape in a race to walk where no man had walked before. One team was led by Norwegian explorer Roald Amundsen, and the other by English naval officer Robert Scott. The groups spent 99 days racing one another to the South Pole, before Amundsen’s group claimed victory on Dec. 14, 1912. Scott and his crew made it to the pole four weeks later on Jan. 17, 1913, but did not make it back alive. A search party found Scott and his two remaining companions inside their sleeping bags in a small tent  on the ice, 11 miles (17 kilometers) from the nearest cache of food and supplies.

In 1914, the Irish-born British explorer Ernest Shackleton set out to be the first  to achieve an overland crossing of Antarctica through the South Pole — about an 1,800- mile (2,900 km) trek. Shackleton and his crew of 28 men faced incredible challenges and never made it across the continent, although they all eventually made it home alive, according to historical accounts.

The plant life on Antarctica is limited to a smattering of mosses, lichen and algae. Seasonal moss coverage on Antarctica, especially on it’s rapidly warming peninsula, has increased steadily over the last 50 years. Scientists expect the cold continent to become even more green as global temperatures continue to rise.

Despite the lack of lush greenery, and complete absence of amphibians, reptiles and terrestrial mammals, there remains an abundance of wildlife in and around Antarctica.

Large populations of penguins, whales, fish and invertebrates thrive along Antarctica’s coasts and frigid seas, especially in the summer. The male emperor penguin is the only warm-blooded animal to remain on the continent through the freezing winter while nesting on the single egg laid by its mate. (The female spends nine weeks at sea and returns in time for the egg to hatch.)

“You really see a complete spectrum of wildlife that you’ll see nowhere else in the world,” said Chuck Kennicutt, former president of the Scientific Committee on Antarctic Research. “It’s truly a beautiful and awe-inspiring location. A lot of people who go down early in their careers become dedicated to the Antarctic science for the rest of their lives,” Kennicutt said.

There are no indigenous  people on the frozen continent. Today, human habitation exists at a variety of scientific research stations managed by more than 20 countries, including the United States, China, Russia, Japan, France and Germany.

The harsh weather and remote location does little to keep scientists away from the southern continent.

As many as 4,000 visiting scientists, spread out across 70 research stations, inhabit the continent during the summer, according to the Norwegian Polar Institute. The number of people drops to 1,000 during winter.

“There is so much we don’t know about all aspects of Antarctic research that the chance of a significant discovery is great,” said Dr. Alexandra Isern, acting section head of the National Science Foundation’s program director for Antarctic sciences division.

“I think, in part, it is the exploratory nature of Antarctic science that makes it so exciting for students and researchers,” said Isern.

Although Antarctica is largely a hub for climatologists, oceanographers and marine biologists, the frozen desert also attracts astronomers from across the globe. Thanks to its dry climate and the absence of light pollution, Antarctica is one of the best places on Earth to observe space.

A small number of telescopes and stellar observatories, such as the South Pole Telescope and IceCube Neutrino Observatory, sit atop the white continent.

Built in 2010, the IceCube is the first observatory of its kind. The facility houses a detector designed to identify high-energy neutrinos (subatomic particles as small as electrons) that originate within our galaxy and beyond. This ultra-sensitive device, which is buried about a mile into the Antarctic ice sheet, is the first gigaton neutrino detector ever built.

In recent decades, scientists using radar and satellite technology have discovered a system of rivers and lakes beneath Antarctica’s thick ice sheets. Studying these subglacial lakes, some of which are as large as North America’s Great Lakes, will help scientists refine their predictions of future, long-term ice sheet changes, according to a press release published by the National Science Foundation in 2016.

The vast, mostly vegetation-free expanse makes an excellent place to search for meteorites; the dark rocks stand out easily against the white backdrop, with few growing plants to obscure them. In 2013, a team of Belgian and Japanese scientists found a 40-pound (18 kilogram) meteorite on the East Antarctic plateau.

Antarctica’s freezing weather also makes it an ideal location to study how plants and animals adapt to extreme environmental conditions. For example, in 2013, scientists discovered that emperor penguins keep their feet from freezing using a handy adaptation known as countercurrent heat exchange. The blood vessels in their webbed, unprotected feet are wrapped around one another to minimize the amount of heat that is lost to the ground. Penguins also have the ability to adjust blood flow to their feet in response to changes in foot temperature — allowing just enough warm blood in to keep their feet from freezing.

Finding microbial life in some of the most desolate regions of Antarctica has given scientists hope of finding life on relatively inhospitable planets. In 2014, scientists identified Antarctic microbes capable of sustaining themselves on air alone.

In 1959, 12 countries with scientists stationed in and around Antarctica signed a agreement that “Antarctica shall continue forever to be used exclusively for peaceful purposes and shall not become the scene or object of international discord.” Since then, more than 38 countries have signed what is now known as the Antarctic Treaty.

Catherine Mikkelson, the wife of a Norwegian whaling captain, became the first woman to visit Antarctica in 1935.

As part of its effort to claim a portion of Antarctica, Argentina sent a pregnant woman to the continent. In January 1979, Emile Marco Palma became the first child born  on the southernmost continent.

The area of Antarctica is approximately 5.4 million square miles (14 million square km). The continental U.S. is 3.6 million square miles (9.36 million square km).

There are no huskies pulling sleds in Antarctica. As of 1994, no non-native species may be taken to Antarctica. Motor vehicles are the primary method of transportation across the ice.

There at least two active volcanoes in Antarctica. The highest, Mount Erebus (12,448 feet; 3,794 meters), boasts a permanent lake. The other lies on Deception Island, off the Antarctic Peninsula. Although eruptions in 1967 and 1969 damaged science stations there, the island remains  popular with tourists, who can bathe in the water warmed by the volcano while surrounded by ice.

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.

Millions of years ago, Antarctica had a much warmer climate and boasted evergreen forests and a variety of animals. Fossils from this earlier period provide scientists with clues about life before Antarctica became a vast icy shelf.

Melting Antarctica’s ice sheets would raise oceans around the world by 200 feet to 210 feet (60 to 65 m).

In 2000, the largest recorded icebergs broke free from the Ross Ice Shelf, a region the size of Texas. With a surface area of 4,250 square miles (11,000 square km) above water and 10 times the size beneath, the iceberg was approximately as large as Connecticut.

Additional reporting by Traci Pedersen, Live Science contributor. This article was updated on Sept. 21, 2018, by Live Science contributor Annie Roth.

Thanks to: Nola Taylor Redd, Live Science Contributor 


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