50 Incredible Facts You Didn’t Know About Antarctica

Written By Wise Healthy n Wealthy
Destinations don’t get more intriguing or mysterious than Antarctica. Tucked away at the Earth’s southernmost point, this frozen realm has captured the imaginations of adventurers for centuries. Today, I’m going to share some fun facts about Antarctica that hopefully shed some light on it. From geography trivia to insights on famous Antarctic expeditions, there should be something to pique your interest! Let’s dive in…

Geographical Facts About Antarctica

1. Antarctica wasn’t officially named on a map until the 1890s.

John George Batholomew, a Scottish cartographer, was the first to use the word “Antarctica” as the continent’s name on a map. However, the word did appear as early as 350 B.C. in Aristotle’s writings.

2. Antarctica is the fifth-largest continent in the world.

It spans 13,661,000 square kilometers (8,500,000 square miles) and covers approximately 20% of the Southern Hemisphere. That makes Antarctica almost 1½ times bigger than the United States.

3. At its thickest, the ice sheet in Antarctica is more than 4 km (2.5 miles) deep.

This ice sheet contains approximately 60% of the world’s fresh water. Underneath lies a hidden world of mountains, plains, and valleys.

4. Sea levels would rise by 61.1 meters (200 feet) if Antarctica’s ice melted.

If the ice in Antarctica melted, the consequences would be disastrous. The oceans would cover every coastal city, and the land area would shrink considerably.

5. Antarctica is the highest continent in the world.

The average elevation across the continent is 8,200ft (2,500m). The highest mountain in Antarctica is Mount Vinson, at 16,050ft (4,892m).

6. Antarctica is also the coldest place on Earth.

The lowest temperature ever recorded was at the Vostok Station in the Australian Antarctic Territory, where researchers observed temperatures of -128.6F (-89.2°C).

7. The Antarctic continent also happens to be the driest and windiest place on Earth.

As little as 0.8 inches (20mm) of moisture can fall annually, less than the world’s hottest deserts. In the past, winds have reached record speeds of 327 kilometers per hour (204 mph) in Antarctica.

8. Snowfall formed the Antarctic ice sheet.

Over thousands of years, the snow has accumulated and compressed into ice. The ice tends to flow from the center of the continent towards the surrounding coast as enormous glaciers.
Antarctica midnight sun
The internet is full of fun Antarctica facts. Here’s another about one of its famous icebergs… Photo Credit: Deposit Photos.

9. Antarctica’s Iceberg B-15 was the most enormous iceberg in the world.

Iceberg B-15 was discovered in 2000, with a surface area of approximately 295 km (183 miles). For context, that made it larger than Jamaica!

10. The Southern tip of South America is Antarctica’s closest neighbor.

Ushuaia, Argentina’s southernmost city, is 1,238 kilometers (774 miles) from Antarctica’s Vice Comodoro Marambio station in the Antarctic Peninsula.

11. Antarctica was part of a supercontinent called Gondwana.

Consisting of Antarctica, Africa, peninsular India, and South America, Gondwana existed more than 180 million years ago, and it was the largest continent during the Palaeozoic Era.

12. The East Antarctica Ice Shield covers over 10 million square kilometers (3,938,242 square miles)

This vast ice shield is almost entirely buried by the East Antarctic Ice Sheet, but that doesn’t stop it from covering over 73% of Antarctica. Some of the rocks found here are more than 4 billion years old!

13. Antarctica’s ice surface more than triples in size

The ice surface in Antarctica dramatically increases from about 3 million square kilometers (1.2 million square miles) at the end of summer to a whopping 19 million square kilometers (7.3 million square miles) by winter. This growth occurs mainly along coastal ice shelves, the Ross and Ronne ice shelves being fine examples.

14. Antarctica is a ‘natural reserve, devoted to peace and science.’

In 1959, 12 countries signed the Antarctic Treaty to fully protect Antarctica’s environment and to prioritize science. In summer alone, up to 10,000 scientists and their support staff visit the continent to monitor its effect on the Earth’s climate and ocean systems.

15. Antarctica doesn’t belong to a single country.

As set out by the Antarctic Treaty, no nation owns Antarctica. Furthermore, the Treaty suspends all territorial claims. The Treaty now has more than 50 supporting countries that have sworn to act in the best interests of the continent.

16. A meteorite from Mars was found in Antarctica.

Astrobiologists, studying the possibility of life outside Earth, found the meteorite in 1984. If the meteorite, millions of years old, contains bacteria from out of space, it could be the only evidence we have of extraterrestrial life.

17. Climate change has caused more ice to form in Antarctica.

NASA scientists believe that Polar vortex winds lower temperatures, in turn producing more ice. However, this is not seen across the entire continent, and parts of Antarctica are experiencing melting.

18. The Antarctic Circumpolar Current is the largest in the world.

Found in the Southern Ocean, which surrounds Antarctica, this current moves from west to east and connects the Pacific, Atlantic, and Indian Oceans. It is approximately 110 – 150 times larger than all the water that flows in Earth’s rivers.

19. Antarctica is the only continent with no native humans.

Unsurprisingly, this icy continent has never been home to humans. However, there are permanent settlements where scientists live on a rota basis for large parts of the year. Incredibly, though, 11 children have been born in Antarctica, so one could argue that they are Antarctic natives.

Antarctica Wildlife Facts

20. There are more than 5 million penguins in Antarctica.

It’s fair to say that penguins rule the Antarctic region. There are more than 20 million breeding pairs of penguins in the Antarctic, and 5 million of them are found in Antarctica. This includes 18 different species, of which the Emperor Penguin is one – the largest species of penguin in the world. They can grow to be 130cm (4 feet) tall and weigh 23kg (50lbs).

21. Scientists use satellite data to track penguins in Antarctica.

Scientists use images from space to identify locations where penguin colonies gather. They look out for reddish-brown marks on the ice (penguin poo). Also known as penguin guano, there are so many penguins in Antarctica that their poop can literally be seen from space!

22. Dinosaurs once roamed Antarctica’s forests.

Before penguins ruled Antarctica’s icy realm, dinosaurs ruled the then-forested continent. They migrated from Australia and other areas connected by land to Antarctica at the time. Archaeologists have already found several Antarctic dinosaur fossils, including an ankylosaur.

23. Orcas are at the top of the Antarctica food chain.

Also known as killer whales, orcas are the largest carnivores on Earth, reaching lengths of 10 meters (32 feet). Up to 100,000 orcas live in Antarctica, and their diet consists mainly of seals. However, they’re also partial to a penguin now and then!

24. There are six species of seal in Antarctica.

The species of seals that inhabit Antarctica are Leopard Seals, Southern Elephant Seals, Fur Seals, Ross Seals, Weddell Seals, and Crabeater Seals. The largest species is the elephant seal, which can weigh up to 5,000kg (11,023lbs).

25. Antarctica doesn’t have any terrestrial mammals.

Terrestrial mammals are warm-blooded animals that inhabit land. The harsh weather conditions and lack of fauna make it impossible for terrestrial mammals to survive on the continent.

26. Eight different whale species inhabit the waters around Antarctica.

Blue whales, Sperm whales, Killer whales, Minke whales, Humpback whales, Southern right whales, Fin whales, and Sei whales use Antarctic waters to rest, mate, and feed. Most whale species feed on krill and plankton, but some also feed on fish, octopuses, seals, and penguins.

27. Phytoplankton are one of the biggest producers in Antarctica.

Phytoplankton are tiny organisms that get their energy from sunlight. They are mainly consumed by krill, which are, in turn, eaten by other species like birds, penguins, and even seals. This makes phytoplankton extremely important to the Antarctica ecosystem.

28. Krill populations in Antarctica have dropped by 80%.

Krill populations continue to drop across Antarctica due to the dramatic decline in sea ice, which is a vital feeding ground for the species. This decline could threaten other creatures, such as penguins, because their diet relies heavily on the krill.

29. Orcas use the ice to trap seals.

Pods of orcas are known to isolate, trap, and knock seals off the ice in Antarctica. They lean on the ice in an attempt to knock their prey into the water or create waves using their tails.
Paradise Bay, Antarctica
Next up: some amazing facts about Antarctica’s weather! Photo Credit: Deposit Photos.

Facts About Antarctica’s Weather

30. Antarctica only has two seasons.

Due to its location at the South Pole, Antarctica only experiences summer and winter. Antarctica’s summer is from October to January, with January being the warmest month (average of 0°C).

31. Antarctica experiences a phenomenon called the Midnight Sun.

At the height of summer, the sun doesn’t set in Antarctica. This is the only place in the Southern Hemisphere where this happens.

32. Whiteouts aren’t uncommon in Antarctica.

This is an optical phenomenon that causes uniform light conditions. A whiteout can make distinguishing shadows, the horizon, and landmarks impossible. This tends to happen when the sky is overcast and the snow is unbroken.

33. Scientists get stuck in Antarctica in winter.

Once the weather in Antarctica takes a turn for the worse, anyone left on the continent has to stay there until the summer. However, this isn’t necessarily a bad thing, as the darkness is perfect for astronomers.

34. You can get sunburnt eyes in Antarctica.

Well, no. Technically, you can’t, but snow blindness is very similar, and it’s a massive risk in Antarctica. To avoid snow blindness, visitors wear eye protection (sunglasses, side shields, or goggles).

35. Antarctica’s coast is warmer than the highest parts of the continent.

The average annual temperature along Antarctica’s coast is 14°F (-10°C), while the average at the highest parts of the continent is -76°F (-60°C). In summer, temperatures along the coast can also exceed 50°F (10°C), while they still only rise to -22°F (-30°C) in the elevated inland.

36. Visibility in Antarctica can be less than 100m (328 feet).

During blizzards, winds reach gale force, temperatures drop, and visibility reduces. These conditions are very disruptive and dangerous, and they can last for days.

37. The wind can pick up and carry loose snow.

Drifting and blowing snow is a common occurrence in Antarctica. When the snow is above eye level, it is referred to as blowing snow. When it’s below eye level, it’s called drifting snow. Blowing snow can make it very hard to see.

38. Antarctica used to be warm.

Millions of years ago, Antarctica was just as warm as those sun-kissed California beaches we love. However, ice has covered the continent for at least 6 million years.

39. The highest temperature ever recorded in Antarctica was 67.6°F (19.8°C)

It was Recorded at Signy Research Station on Signy Island on January 30th, 1982. The highest temperature recorded on mainland Antarctica was 64.9°F (18.3°C) at the Esperanza Base.
Antarctic Expeditions
Here are some facts about Antarctic expeditions and famous explorers you may have never heard of before! Photo Credit: Deposit Photos.

Facts About Antarctic Expeditions

40. The Ancient Greeks knew about Antarctica.

He could never prove it, but Aristotle was one of the first people to believe Antarctica existed. He argued that there had to be a large landmass in the far South to balance the land in the Northern Hemisphere.

41. The first recorded sighting of Antarctica was in 1820.

During a Russian expedition, Capt. Thaddeus von Bellingshausen noted seeing “an ice shore of extreme height.” The Royal Museums Greenwich in London believes his sighting matches what the continent looked like at the time.

42. A Polynesian Voyage Might Have Seen Antarctica First.

Western expeditions are better known, but Polynesians may have discovered Antarctica 1,000 years before them. Based on oral histories, descriptions, artwork, and historical reports, Polynesian explorer Hui Te Rangiora may have seen Antarctica in the early 600s.

43. People first landed in Antarctica in 1895.

Accounts from the 1895 Antarctic expedition put either Norwegian explorer Carsten Borchgrevink or expedition captain Leonard Kristensen as the first person to set foot on Antarctica. The pair were part of a seven-man team and journeyed on a whaling and sealing ship called Antarctic.

44. Roald Amundsen was the first to reach the South Pole.

The Norwegian was a famous explorer who specialized in polar region exploration. In 1911, he reached the South Pole just five weeks ahead of Captain Scott.

45. Captain Scott is buried in Antarctica.

Captain Robert Falcon Scott was a famous British Navy officer and explorer. He led two expeditions to Antarctica and the geographical South Pole. After reaching the pole, he passed away on his return. A search party found his body in 1912 and buried him in his tent under the snow.

46. George Wilkins became the first man to fly over Antarctica in 1928.

The Australian was the first to fly a plane in Antarctica, but his achievement was quickly outshone when American Richard Byrd flew over the South Pole in the same month.

47. Caroline Mikkelsen was the first female to set foot in Antarctica.

In 1935, the Danish-Norwegian explorer landed in Antarctica on an expedition with her husband, Klarius Mikkelsen. She landed at Tryne Islands and has a small coastal mountain named after her.

48. Britain was the first nation to establish a base in Antarctica.

In 1944, Britain set up a permanent base in Antarctica for military purposes. The first scientific base on the continent wasn’t set up until 1954 by Australia.
Fun Facts About Antarctica
Discover the world’s least visited continent: Antarctica! Photo Credit: Deposit Photos.

49. Antarctica is the least visited continent

To this day, only 40,000 visitors land in Antarctica every year. This is primarily because of the continent’s harsh weather conditions and remote nature. As expected, the trip to Antarctica is too pricey for most travelers anyway!

50. U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry is the highest-ranking U.S. official to have visited Antarctica.

Antarctica is so remote that even some of the biggest names in the world haven’t visited. John Kerry visited the continent in 2016, and he took to the skies above the ice on a helicopter tour.

Remember These Fun Facts About Antarctica

There you have it, then: 50 fun facts about Antarctica. Hopefully, whether you’re fascinated by this frozen world or researching for a school project, you’ll have learned something useful! Got any questions? Drop a comment below, and I’ll try to help. In the meantime, you might also like this post about the coldest countries on earth.   This post first appeared on whatsdannydoing.com. Sources:
  1. American Museum Of Natural History – Antarctic Hazards
  2. Antarctic Logistics – Antarctic Environment
  3. Antarctica Guide – Antarctica Wildlife
  4. Australia Antarctica Program – Antarctica Weather
  5. BBC – Frozen Planet II
  6. British Antarctic Survey – Penguins
  7. Discovering Antarctica – Impacts Of Climate Change
  8. Earth Sky – Iceberg B-15
  9. Guinness World Records – Highest Temperature Recorded In Antarctica
  10. Hurtigruten Expeditions – Weather And Seasons In Antarctica
  11. International Antarctic Centre – World Record Baby
  12. John Batholomew Heritage – Antarctica
  13. Live Science – 8 Famous Antarctic Expeditions
  14. Local Histories – A Brief History Of Antarctica
  15. National Geographic Education – Antarctica
  16. Royal Museums Greenwich – Captain Robert Falcon Scott
  17. Science – Giant Dino Lived In Antarctica
  18. Science Learning Hub – Measuring The World’s Largest Current
  19. University Of Alberta – Nobody Owns Antarctica
  20. https://scied.ucar.edu/learning-zone/climate-change-impacts/rising-sea-level

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