Antarctica – Facts, Figures, Insights
Antarctica is described as the “last great wilderness on earth”. Anyone with a sense of adventure and an active imagination can’t fail to be mesmerised by this enchanting massive largely unspoilt seventh continent.
The South Pole
Antarctica is the continent where the South Pole is located, what is the South Pole?
- In reference to the earth, a pole is defined as either end of an axis around which the planet revolves.
- The South Pole is referred to the pole in the southern hemisphere.
- There are two main types of poles – Geographic and Magnetic.
- Geographic poles are fixed locators at latitudes 90deg North (Arctic North Pole) and 90deg South (Antarctic South Pole)
- Magnetic poles – move daily in an oval under the influence of the solar winds, it is where the earth’s magnetic field is at right angles to the earth’s surface
- Insight – one of my many jobs while working in Antarctica was to measure the strength and movement of the magnetic field on a daily basis. It is quite amazing to see how solar flares and events influence the earth’s magnetic field.
Antarctica – A Huge Continent
The landmass of the Antarctic continent covers around 14 million square kilometres. It is the fifth largest continent in the world. In contrast to the Arctic it is a continent surrounded by ice, where the Arctic is a frozen ocean surrounded by continents.
Antarctica is considerably larger than Europe and twice the size of Australia. It makes up 9% of the worlds landmass. If the ice melted Antarctica would consist of East Antarctica and archipelago of West Antarctica leading northward to the Antarctic Peninsula. It would then be the smallest continent at about half it’s present size.
Antarctica – A Massive Deep Ice Cap
At it’s deepest point, the dome of the polar ice sheet is 4,800 metres thick (4.8 Kilometres) thickness of ice – that’s huge! The South Pole stands on 2.8 kilometres of ice, the average elevation of Antarctica is 2,160 metres. The highest point on top of the Polar ice cap is 4,000 Metres above sea level.
- Insight – While at Casey station we visited Law Dome. This is one of many ice sampling locations in the area. Although there is not a huge amount of precipitation in Antarctica, what does fall in the form of snow in inland Antarctica doesn’t melt, it builds up and compresses into ice. Law dome was chosen as an ice sampling location due to it’s relatively unusual high precipitation rate, the ice builds up at the dome nearly 2 metres a year.
Antarctica – Once a Forest
Around 100 Million years ago Antarctica was a forest and was joined to the other southern hemisphere continents that formed what was known as Gondwanaland. Numerous fossils have been found of Dinosaurs, Confiner Forests, various plant-life and Monotremes including the now living Platypus.
- Insight – Imagine the amount of fossil fuel that would be trapped under all that ice! Lets hope we never have to get it out!
Antarctica – The Worlds Coldest Place
The coldest temperature recorded in Antarctica was -89.2 deg C at the Russian Station Vostok. The average inland temperature during winter are between -40 to -70 deg C.
- Insight – The coldest temperature we experienced while in Antarctica was -39 deg C at Casey Station. One of the things you have to be careful of at those temperatures is your teeth shattering if you breath in through your mouth!
Antarctica – The Worlds Driest Place
As mentioned above Antarctica doesn’t get much precipitation, this is largely due to fact that the moisture in the air is frozen or crystallised as it is too cold to be trapped as water vapour. The snowfall on the Polar Plateau is an average of 50 millimetres per year (2 inches). Antarctica ranks with the Sahara desert as the driest desert in the world. However Antarctica retains what moisture it receives as ice. 75% of the worlds fresh water is stored as ice and Antarctica holds around 90% of that!
- Insight – Even though it is extremely cold in Antarctica, if it is a still day (no wind) the cold doesn’t conduct to your body very efficiently as the moisture in the air is frozen! I recall standing outside on a sunny -25 deg C day with only long trousers and a t-shirt on for about 20 minutes before I started to feel cold.
Antarctica – The Worlds Windiest Place
Antarctica is the windiest place on earth. A variety of different types of winds blow there, from the inversion winds at the pole, katabatic winds from the plateau to violent blizzards whipped up with incredible speed. The winds carve out incredible landscape features in the ice such as wind scours and sastrugi and they are forever shifting the loose snow from place to place. The strongest winds in Antarctica are on the coast where speeds of up to 300 KM per hour have been recorded, that is twice the speed of a Hurricane.
- Insight – Without a doubt, the scariest experience while in Antarctica was getting caught in a Blizzard. Visibility is usually about zero due to the loose snow being picked up and carried by the wind, you lose all sense of direction, the chill factor can give you frostbite on any exposed parts of your body in an instant, the chances of getting hypothermia rise astronomically. I once experienced a Blizzard wind of up to 194 KM per hour, I recall getting thrown around like a rag doll, and once I got my bearings and could see the outline of the building I was heading for, a gust came along and slammed me into the building, I was lucky I did not get knocked out or it could have been fatal!
Antarctica is certainly without doubt a very extreme place, as mentioned above it is “last great wilderness on earth” but it is without little doubt a place to see and experience if you ever get the chance. I have travelled to many places throughout the world but I have never experienced anything close to Antarctica. The isolation and the confrontation of nature at it’s “coldest” rawest form, largely unspoilt and inspiringly awesome. It is out of this world – in this world!
© 2011, Haich. All rights reserved.