Antarctica is a continent almost completely covered in ice. Read on to learn about the climate, animals, and science of the largest desert in the world.
Climate of Antarctic
Antarctica is the coldest, windiest, and driest continent in the world sounds like an excellent place to live! But, unfortunately, it gets very little rain each year and suffers from the fastest wind speeds in the world. There have even been wind speeds of more than 350 kilometers per hour.
The continent of Antarctica also has another, less known, title. It is the largest desert in the world! Unfortunately, most people don’t picture snowy mountains when they think of a desert. For scientists, any place where the climate has hardly any rain is called a desert because all the water that reaches the largest desert in the world arrives as snow, not liquid water.
Even though Antarctica is the largest desert in the world, it is freezing. The lowest temperature recorded there was in 1983; it was -89.2°C. The average temperature is slightly warmer but still cold at -10°C along the coastline.
The whole continent is completely covered in ice and snow. The conditions are so cold and dry that NASA has used areas of Antarctica to test equipment and rovers for missions to Mars and deep space.
Geography of Antarctica
Although Antarctica is a vast continent (twice the size of Australia), it is still only the fifth-largest continent. The coastline comprises an ice sheet covering more than five million square miles.
Antarctica is also home to the southernmost active volcano in the world, Mount Erebus. Again, most people don’t imagine icy cold places like Antarctica to have things like volcanoes, but swirling inside the crater of Mount Erebus are the world’s only molten lava lakes.
Antarctica earned its name from being ‘opposite’ to the North Pole. Its name comes from the Greek term ‘antarktike,’ which means ‘opposite to the Arctic. The Antarctic is very different from the Arctic, even though they are covered in ice and snow. If you take out a shovel and start digging in the Arctic, you’ll find more and more ice. Likewise, you’ll find Earth, rock, and soil if you dig in the Antarctic.
The weight of the ice pushing on the earth beneath Antarctica is moving it into the Earth! If the ice were to melt, the land would rise by around 500 meters; this would happen very slowly, likely over 10 000 years or more. This process is still happening in Scotland and Scandinavia following the last ice age.
Animals and Plants in Antarctica
The number of animal types in Antarctica is relatively low; most animals cannot handle the intense cold and wind of the continent. However, the animals there have adapted over millennia to control the climate.
Whales and seals can often be spotted in the ocean surrounding Antarctica, but Emperor penguins are one of the few species that live and breed in Antarctica all year round. They make up for the lack of predators on the continent, as there are almost five million penguins!
Along with the whales and seals in the water are a range of fish that the penguins like to feed on. These fish have a unique adaptation; they have ‘anti-freeze’ in their blood, which stops them from freezing solid in the water.
Antarctica’s climate means there aren’t many plants, either. That’s because there isn’t much sun, and the soil isn’t excellent for growing plants- oh, it’s freezing.
There’s one strange kind of fish in Antarctica called the ice fish. They don’t have any hemoglobin in their blood to carry oxygen around. But because the temperature is so low, oxygen dissolves better, and they have more evident blood; this makes them a ghostly white (spooky).
Who lives in Antarctica?
Antarctica is the least populated continent ever because no one lives there permanently. Instead, researchers and scientists from different countries make up a significant number of the population of Antarctica. They travel to the icy continent to study Earth’s animals, climate, and history.
Thousands of tourists travel there yearly to see the amazing animals and more. But researchers only tend to be based there for one year, and no one lives there all the time.
Since any country does not own Antarctica, there’s a treaty that says that Antarctica is only allowed to be used for peaceful purposes such as scientific research. The Antarctic Treaty of 1961 is now signed by 53 countries and states that ‘the area is to be used for peaceful purposes only.
Eighteen countries regularly send groups of scientists to Antarctica to study the continent. These include the USA, Russia, Chile, Argentina, and Australia, holding the largest stations. The most significant research station is McMurdo Station, where more than 1,000 scientists work there during the summer.
Antarctica is a good place for scientists to study meteorites. Because of the white snow and ice, they can be relatively easy to find, and the ice keeps them in place.