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Of all the seven continents of the world, Antarctica is the one place people often forget about. This is of no fault to this desolate land of snow and ice, as its sheer size is quite frankly unmissable.

But amongst the hustle and bustle of modern life, it’s easy to completely forget about this continent with a population of less than 5,000. So it’s high time you learn all the quirky facts about Antarctica that’ll make this mysterious land simply unforgettable.

Who knows, after learning these interesting tidbits, you may even start planning your trip to Antarctica

Antarctic Desert Aerial View

1. Antarctica Is a Polar Desert

The Antarctic Peninsula may lack all the usual characteristics of a desert, such as scorching temperatures and plenty of sand. But that’s not actually what makes a desert a desert.

A desert is mainly characterized by the amount of precipitation it receives or, rather, the lack of it.

With an average of two inches of rain per year, Antarctica takes the crown of the driest continent and the driest place on Earth.

But, within Antarctica, there’s an area called the McMurdo Dry Valleys, which hasn’t seen any precipitation for nearly two million years.

The Valleys’ extreme dryness is the result of nearby high mountains that block seaward-flowing ice from getting in, and partially the result of katabatic winds that blow down the mountains (often at over 100 mph).

It seems kind of crazy that a place surrounded by water and ice is the driest on Earth, but it is.

2. The Antarctic Ice Sheet Holds Most of the World’s Freshwater

It’s a desert land with the most freshwater in the world. How ironic. As a matter of fact, Antarctica’s vast ice sheet has roughly 7.2 million cubic miles of freshwater ice.

To give it in a more digestible form, that means the Antarctic Circle has 70% of the Earth’s fresh water and 90% of the Earth’s ice. The massive ice sheet actually covers so much land that only 1% of Antarctica is ice-free.

And to push the wow factor up even more, some areas of Antarctica don’t freeze. While freshwater freezes at 32ºF (0ºC), the hypersaline water of Deep Lake only freezes at -70ºF (-21ºC). 

Old Explorers in Antarctica

3. There’s an Antarctic Treaty

The Antarctic Treaty System was originally signed by the 12 countries active in Antarctica during the International Geophysical Year of 1957 and 1958. Since then, the members of the Antarctic Treaty have grown to 44 countries. 

The treaty ensures that Antarctica is only used for peaceful purposes such as research. To make this treaty even better, all the research in Antarctica is open source, so everyone can access the findings.

As it’s a neutral continent, this land of ice is the one continent without a country. It’s also a part of the world with a small population that fluctuates based on the season (it’s higher in summer).

4. Antarctica Has the Southernmost Active Volcano in the World

You’ll also find Mount Erebus, the world’s southernmost volcano in Antarctica’s ice-stricken land. Throughout the Antarctic continent, you’ll find 19 volcanoes, of which only two are active, and Mount Erebus is the most unique of them all.

You can find everything from twisted ice statues to lava lakes that continue to boggle scientists. Located on Ross Island, this enigmatic mountain is the melting pot of many scientific tests.

Next Read: There are a few companies that offer an Antarctic expedition cruise to Mount Erebus. Read all about this comparison of G Adventures and Intrepid Travel to help you make the right choice. 

Large Glacier in Antarctica

5. The West Antarctic Ice Sheet is in Jeopardy

There’s no easy way to put this, but if West Antarctica lost its ice sheet, we’d all be in big trouble. This is looking evermore likely as the Antarctic is the fastest-warming area on Earth.

Temperatures have increased by 37.4°F (3°C) Over the last 50 years, which is five times faster than Earth’s average increase. You simply need to look at the not-so-distant past, as in 2000, a 167-mile-long and 24-mile-wide chunk of ice broke off the Ross Ice Shelf.

That’s a lot of ice, and scientists believe that if the entire West Antarctic Ice Sheet were to melt, global sea levels would rise by around 16 feet. This would have huge consequences on the entire planet, so let’s pray it doesn’t happen.

6. It Has a Red Flowing Subglacial Lake

Lake Bonney is possibly the most unique place you can visit in East Antarctica. The blood-red waterfall is hard to miss as it flows over the lily-white ice of the Taylor Glacier.

The source of this mesmerizing sight was puzzling until scientists discovered the cause in 2017. A strong mixture of salt and oxidized iron turns this icy land into an ethereal scene of red and white.

While 379 subglacial lakes have been discovered beneath the icy surface, none are as spectacular as this.

PS: Several Antarctica tour operators travel to this destination, so remember to include a tour in your travel budget.

Icy shore in Antarctica

7. The Ross Ice Shelf Is the Largest Ice Store in the World

Bigger is better, and you don’t get bigger than the Ross Ice Shelf. Extending off the mainland and into the polar ocean, it’s around 180,000 square miles of bone-chilling ice.

To put its size into perspective, it’s roughly the same size as France. It’s pretty crazy, right? That’s not the only mind-boggling fact, as it rises over 160 feet above the water’s surface in some places.

Despite this unthinkable scale, over 90% of the ice shelf is under the southern ocean.

Windy Mountain in the Sunset in Antarctica

8. The Antarctic Mountain Ranges Are One of the Biggest

Although Antarctica is covered in an icy embrace, it hides one of the world’s biggest mountain ranges. If you head to East Antarctica, although you may not see it, the Gamburtsev Mountains stretch for roughly 800 miles.

And when you pair all three of Antarctica’s mountain ranges together, they make up a staggering 2,200 miles.

It may be some way off the mid-ocean ridge at 40,389 miles, but it holds its own against other on-land mountain ranges. The Transantarctic Range is the fourth largest in the world. 

9. You’ll Find Diamond Dust Floating in Antarctica’s Air

It’s crazy to think you can see a million tiny floating diamonds in the sky of Antarctica, but it really does happen. They’re not diamonds per se, but millions of tiny ice crystals that sparkle in the sunlight like dancing diamonds.

At first, it may look like an icy fog. But as these ice crystals hang suspended in the air, and the sun catches in the right spot, they start to create a magical effect. They create what looks like a mini sun or sun dog. 

To make things even better, they also help create the aurora borealis, so it’s a truly magical sight. 

NOAA Station, Antarctica

10. There Are 80 Research Stations in Antarctica

The Geographic South Pole is the melting pot of scientific research, so is it really surprising that it has 80 research stations?

Although a specific country controls each station, thanks to the Antarctic Treaty, there is an open distribution of all scientific developments on the southernmost continent.

This means researchers from different countries can freely visit and assist in any projects at any base.

The most interesting of the lot is the Amundsen-Scott Station, which is right at the point where all time zones meet. So, in other words, there is no Antarctic time zone here. Pretty crazy, hey?   

11. Antarctica Only Has Two Flowerings Plants

If you ever find Antarctica permanently ice-free (which is impossible for the time being), then it’s highly likely you’ll find two flowers in full bloom. Antarctic hair grass and pearlwort are species that burst with color in summer.

This usually only happens in regions without ice, mainly on the South Shetland Islands. Although Antarctica is short on flowers, other forms of life are worth looking out for.

Over 1,000 fungi species spread across this icy land, while around 700 algae and 100 moss species can also be found. It may be cold, but it’s still a land of diversity.

Sliding penguins in Antarctica

12. It’s the Windiest Continent on Earth

Heavy winds are one of the things Chicago is famous for, but it pales in comparison to Commonwealth Bay in Antarctica. Downhill (Katabatic winds) are regularly recorded passing the Earth’s surface at crazy speeds of 150 mph.

And if that’s not enough, it has an annual average wind speed of 50 mph. It’s sure to sweep you off your feet no matter when you go. 

13. Antarctica Was Once a Large Forest

Yes, you read that right. West Antarctica was once a thriving forest of ferns, trees, and dinosaurs some 90 million years ago.

This unique fact was discovered in 2017 when researcher Johan Klage found soil from the Cretaceous period with remnants of pollen, flowers, and dinosaur bones.

It’s pretty bonkers to think the icy expanse of the Antarctic circle was once a lush forest teeming with ankylosaurs, plesiosaurs, and mosasaurs.

As crazy as it seems, it actually makes sense when you consider the climate of the time. Summer got around 66 ºF (20ºC), and the annual temperature was roughly 54ºF (12ºC).

USGS Antarctica Aerial View

14. It Has a Trench That Rivals the Grand Canyon

The Grand Canyon may be home to some of the most impressive skywalks in the world, but wait until you hear about the Trench in Antarctica. As it’s under the Denmar Glacier, you can’t enjoy sweeping vistas like at the Grand Canyon.

That said, it’s possibly even grander than the iconic American landmark. As a matter of fact, it’s identified as the deepest point on continental Earth to this day, reaching as low as 11,500 feet below sea level.

It may be filled with ice, but this 600-mile-long trench is definitely a record breaker.

Penguin in Antarctica

15. It Has Far More Animal Species Than You Might Think

Antarctica is far more than just emperor penguins and whales. You can admire 46 bird species, from the wandering albatross to Wilson’s storm petrel.

Seven beautiful species of penguins form colonies across the arctic ice. And you won’t want to miss the ten different types of whales, from orcas to humpbacks.

Seals are also common, but if you decide to look out for the ocean dwellers, there are about 235 species to look out for. This includes everything from mud-dwelling worms to antarctic fish with antifreeze, such as icefish or Antarctic cod.

Let’s just say Antarctica is one unique place that’s an unforgettable experience calling out your name.

Fifteen Facts About Antarctica That Will Blow Your Mind
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