Can’t get enough geography? We’re right there with you. The world is a big, beautiful, fascinating place. Here are a few interesting geography facts related to Antarctica.
1. Antarctica, on average, is the coldest, driest, and windiest continent on Earth.
Antarctica is mostly a polar desert, getting less than 8 inches (20 cm) of precipitation a year in coastal regions–and even less as you move inland. This makes the Antarctic desert one of the driest in the world.
Antarctica is also one of the coldest places on Earth. In fact, the coldest natural temperature ever recorded on Earth was at the Russian Vostok Station in Antarctica on July 21, 1983. That day, temperatures dropped to -128.6°F (-89.2°C)!
And if the cold and dryness wasn’t enough–wind speeds regularly top 100 mph (160 kph) on the continent.
2. And it has a lot of ice!
About 98% of Antarctica is covered in ice. This ice averages about 1.2 miles (1.9 km) in thickness. The continent contains about 90% off all the world’s ice, and thereby, about 70% of all the world’s fresh water. If this ice were to melt away, sea levels would rise about 200 feet (60 m). The largest ice shelf of Antarctica is the Ross Ice Shelf, which is roughly the size of France.
3. Under that ice, Antarctica has many hidden lakes.
Antarctica has many rivers and lakes, but the vast majority of these are buried under ice. Lake Vostok is by far the largest of Antarctica’s almost 400 known subglacial lakes. It’s estimated to be the sixth largest lake in the world by volume. And because it’s thought to have been sealed off by ice for millions of years, some scientists believe the conditions of Lake Vostok could resemble those of ice-covered oceans hypothesized to exist on Jupiter’s moon Europa and Saturn’s moon Enceladus.
4. And one lake that never freezes.
Deep Lake in East Antarctica is one of the continent’s many remarkable geographic features. Water in Deep Lake is 10 times saltier than the ocean, even rivaling the Dead Sea. This high salinity keeps the lake liquid, even though water temperatures can reach -4°F (-20ºC) at its deepest point. Because of these conditions, Deep Lake is one of the least productive ecosystems on the planet.
5. But not all of the continent is covered in snow and ice.
The McMurdo Dry Valleys are a row of predominantly snow-free areas in Antarctica. They are so named because of their low humidity and lack of snow or ice cover. And they are dry because the surrounding mountains are high enough to block seaward flowing ice. These unique conditions are also caused in part by the katabatic winds. These winds occur when cold, dense air is pulled downhill. They can reach speeds of 200 mph (320 kph), warming as they move downward, and evaporating water, ice, and snow along the way.
6. Without ice, Antarctica would look a little different.
We know if Antarctic ice melted, we’d see a massive rise in global sea levels–but it would also make the continent look a little different. Without any ice, Antarctica would be a single large landmass about the size of Australia. We call this region Greater Antarctica. Attached to it we’d see a giant peninsula and archipelago of mountainous islands–Lesser Antarctica. Both of these regions have different geologic histories. In fact, Lesser Antarctica is sometimes considered part of the Ring of Fire.
7. Antarctica has the highest average elevation of any continent.
Antarctica is a place with many mountains, and the average elevation of the continent is 8,200 feet (2,500 m) above sea level. At the geographic South Pole, the elevation is 9,300 feet (2,835 m). Mount Vinson is the highest peak in Antarctica, at 16,050 feet (4,892 m).
8. Not all of Antarctica’s mountains are visible though.
Sometimes called Antarctica’s “Ghost” mountains, the Gamburtsev Mountain Range are subglacial mountains located in East Antarctica. Stretching about 750 miles (1,200 km), the mountains are believed to be about 8,900 feet (2,700 m) high–about the same size as the European Alps–but it’s hard to tell since they are also buried under 2,000 feet (600 m) of ice and snow. It’s unknown how these mountains were formed, though scientists believe they might be anywhere between 34 million and 500 million years old.
9. Mount Erebus is the southernmost active volcano on Earth.
With a summit elevation of 12,448 feet (3,794 m), Mount Erebus is the second-highest volcano in Antarctica after Mount Sidley, and the southernmost active volcano on Earth. Scientists believe the volcano became active some 1.3 million years ago. Today, it is the site of the Mount Erebus Volcano Observatory, which is run by the New Mexico Institute of Mining and Technology.
10. There are no towns, cities, or permanent residents on Antarctica.
Antarctica was the last major region on Earth to be discovered, going unseen until 1820. Even after its discovery, Antarctica remained largely unexplored, due to its hostile environment, lack of easily accessible resources, and isolation.
Today, the continent has no towns, cities, or permanent residents. However, several governments maintain permanent manned research stations in Antarctica. The population of researchers on the continent varies throughout the year, with some 1,000 people in the winter and around 5,000 in the summer months.
Interestingly, there are at least 11 children that were born on the continent.