10 Cool Facts about Antarctica

Photo: Christoph Hoebenreich, Ultima Antarctic Expeditions

With two decades of experience, Ultima Antarctic Expeditions has navigated the icy wilderness of Antarctica, combining adventure with a commitment to preserving its pristine beauty.

From its imposing ice sheets to its rich marine life – here are ten rather astonishing facts about this frozen wonderland worth exploring. Each shines a light on the most remote, enigmatic continent on earth.

1. Antarctica’s Immense Scale

The Antarctic covers approximately 20 percent of the Southern Hemisphere, making it the fifth-largest continent in terms of total area. It is almost three times the size of Australia. 

2. Antarctica’s Unique Inhabitants

Antarctica is a unique continent that does not have a native human population. The region is a busy outpost for a variety of research scientists. The number of scientists conducting research varies throughout the year, from about 1,000 in winter to around 5,000 in summer.

Scottish cartographer John George Bartholomew first used “Antarctica” as the continent’s name, meaning “opposite the poles”. Photo| Ultima Antarctic Expeditions

3. Land Beyond Claims: The Antarctic Treaty’s Peaceful Governance

No one owns Antarctica. It is governed by the Antarctic Treaty supported by 53 countries. It established that the region will remain politically neutral. No nation or group of people can claim any part of the Antarctic as territory and countries cannot use the region for military purposes or to dispose of radioactive waste. Research can only be done for peaceful purposes. 

4. The Colossal Antarctic Ice Sheet

The Antarctic Ice Sheet dominates the region. It is the largest single piece of ice on Earth. The ice surface dramatically grows in size from about three million square kilometers (1.2 million square miles) at the end of summer to about 19 million square kilometers (7.3 million square miles) by winter. Experts estimate that 90% of the world’s ice and 70% of Earth’s freshwater is frozen in Antarctica. 

5. Antarctica, the Ultimate Desert

Antarctica is a desert with an extremely cold, dry climate. It is the driest continent on earth and one of the driest deserts in the world.

6. Summits of Solitude: Antarctica’s Towering Peaks

Antarctica has a number of mountain summits. A few of these summits reach altitudes of more than 4,500 meters  (14,764 feet). The elevation of the Antarctic Ice Sheet itself is about 2,000 meters (6,562 feet) and reaches 4,000 meters (13,123 feet) above sea level near the center of the continent.

Explore the extreme landscapes of Antarctica.  Photo| Ultima Antarctic Expeditions

7. Antarctica’s Extreme Temperatures

Winter temperatures along Antarctica’s coast generally range from -10° to -30°C (14° to -22°F). During the summer, coastal areas hover around 0°C (32°F) but can reach temperatures as high as 9°C (48°F). Most of the area experiences 24 hours of sunlight during the summertime and 24 hours of night during the winter.

8. The Unique Timekeeping of Antarctica

Time zones work differently in Antarctica. Both the north and south poles of the Earth are outside the boundaries of an official time zone, and as such, they are considered to be in all time zones. This is because the longitude lines that are used to separate the individual time zones converge at the two poles. To keep track of time, most scientists stationed in Antarctica choose to observe the zone where they actually live. 

9. Vital Waters: The Crucial Role of Antarctic Currents

The waters surrounding Antarctica are a key part of the “ocean conveyor belt,” a global system in which water circulates around the globe based on density and currents. Without the aid of the oceans around Antarctica, Earth’s waters would not circulate in a balanced and efficient manner.

10. Marine Metropolis: The Rich Biodiversity Beneath Antarctic Waters

The waters surrounding Antarctica are among the most diverse on the planet. Upwelling allows phytoplankton and algae to flourish. Thousands of species, such as krill, feed on the plankton. Fish and a large variety of marine mammals thrive in the cold Antarctic water, depending on krill for their survival.