The Southern Pole has always been a popular topic of discussion among scientists and the commoners alike for decades. Whenever we hear someone say “Antarctica,” the first image that engulfs our minds is a thick white sheet of ice spread as far as our mortal eye can see. This is what we have seen on the Internet and other information sources for years. On the contrary, the majestic continent houses much more fascinating features than those ice sheets we have imagined for so long. Here are 12 interesting facts about Antarctica which might few have ever heard of:
1. In the roots of the Greek language, “Arctic” means “the land of bears” and “Antarctic” means “the land without bears.”
The term “Antarctica” literally means the opposite of “Arctic,” hence, it can be called “the land without bears.” However, the word “bears” does not mean the beautiful beasts of the animal kingdom, but the constellations—the Great Bear and the Little Bear. These constellations which are part of the ancient Greek mythology are visible only in the Northern Hemisphere. Hence, Antarctica is named as the “land without bears.” Interestingly, even the great Polar Bears don’t exist in Antarctica! They, too, are found only in the Arctic region! (1, 2)
2. Antarctica is the place where all the longitude lines meet, and hence, the South Pole has no specific time zone of its own.
As all the longitude lines converge at the South Pole, Antarctica holds all of these lines. Hence, any time zone can be used on the continent. Though choosing timezones sounds exciting, it can be quite confusing. Since no one lives in Antarctica permanently, this is not a major problem. For practicality’s sake, time zones on the Antarctic continent are based on the territorial claims. However, the scientists and other researchers who spend time in this part of the Southern Hemisphere can choose the time zone which suits them best. (1, 2)
3. Almost the whole of the Antarctic continent is covered in an ice sheet with a thickness between one mile to 2.96 miles.
Those visions of ice sheets while thinking about Antarctica are actual realities, and the fact that almost the entire Antarctic continent is covered by ice is a testimony to it. But an ice sheet as thick as a mile, or in some cases, almost three miles, is simply unbelievable. This thick coat of ice is what makes the Antarctic region the most difficult place for life to exist. Over 90% of the world’s ice, which is around 29 million cubic kilometers, is frozen in Antarctica. And, if all the ice in Antarctica melts, the level of all the oceans will rise by almost 60 meters! (1, 2)
4. The largest animal of Antarctica, an insect called “Belgica Antarctica,” is one of the smallest animals in the world, just about 2mm long!
Contrary to the popular belief about penguins, seals, and some mysterious land creatures inhabiting Antarctica, the largest terrestrial animal native to Antarctica is an insect which is only two mm in length. This is primarily because the harsh environment of the Antarctic region is impossible to survive in for almost any terrestrial being. Though penguins and seals are spotted at times on the shores, they don’t really live there; they just visit! Even the seabirds we see in the documentaries on television or the Internet are mere visitors and not purely native to Antarctica. The reason why the Belgica Antarctica survives the harsh climate is that it burrows itself one cm under the ice sheet and can survive in it for well over 10 months, and it can survive even if 70% of its body water is lost! (1, 2, 3)
5. There is a volcano in Antarctica named Mt. Erebus, which is the most active one in the South Pole and is covered in crystals that get ejected out of the mountain in the form of glassy, volcanic bombs.
Mt. Erebus is the most active volcano in the southern hemisphere and is the current eruptive zone of the Erebus Hotspot. Though covered with glaciers throughout the year, Mt. Erebus is still pretty hot and holds a lava lake, and it occasionally erupts spitting the crystals grown in the magma for years. Well, if you can collect these crystals and make jewelry out of it, you might earn a lot of money, but be careful as the Mt. Erebus is the most explosive volcano in Antarctica. (1, 2)
6. Antarctica houses one of the saltiest bodies of water on this planet by the name of “The Don Juan Pond,” and this pond maintains its liquid state even in the coldest days of the South Pole.
Although almost everything liquid freezes in Antarctica, the Don Juan Pond manages to maintain its fluidity. Even in winters when the climate in the South Pole drops to a staggering -50° C, the salty lake continues to remain in the liquid state. The lake survives the harsh weather because of its salinity. The Don Juan Pond is the saltiest lake in Antarctica, with a salinity level of over 47%. This lake has the highest amount of dissolved solid substances in the world. Just to compare, the salinity level of this lake is 18 times more than the oceans and 1.3 times more than the Dead Sea. (1, 2)
7. There is a waterfall in Antarctica, known as the “Blood Falls,” that has a high amount of iron and is devoid of oxygen. Its water turns blood red when gets exposed to air while falling down!
Though the Antarctic is considered to be the largest desert in the world, it unusually houses waterfalls too. One of the waterfalls found in the McMurdo Dry Valley region is the Blood Falls which looks like blood flowing from the glaciers. Research conducted by the University of Alaska Fairbanks has shown that the reason for the waterfall turning blood-red is the reaction of the large amounts of iron and sodium present in the water with oxygen when exposed to air. Hence, the red color is due to the oxidized iron, the same way how iron turns crimson red when it rusts. Until recently, it was believed that the algae have caused the discoloring of water. (source)
8. Tinder debuts in the Southern Hemisphere as a male scientist stationed in Antarctica managed to score a date through Tinder with a woman camping just 45 minutes away.
Being a scientist itself makes an individual secluded and being in the Tundra Region make it even worse. Having a good company in the Antarctic region is priceless and mostly impossible! But in an amazing event in 2014, tinder was successful in finding a match for an American scientist stationed on the loneliest place on earth. As near as a 45-minute helicopter ride, the scientist found a woman, another researcher. He swiped right, and almost immediately he was notified that “it’s a match!” For, as strange as it sounds, the company agrees that this might be their first successful match in the Antarctic continent. However, sadly, the woman was scheduled to leave the very next day, and hence, the scientist could not get hooked up! (1, 2)
9. If you wish to stay in Antarctica to experience the winter, you will have to comply with one of the strangest rules: getting your wisdom teeth and appendix removed!
In summers, around 1,000-1,500 people stay in the Antarctic region. Most of them are researchers and others are support staff and expeditioners. Though the summers here are by no means pleasant, winters present a far worse scenario. The majority of the visiting population leaves the place except for a few support personnel and long-term, observational researchers. However, if you choose to stay there in winter, you will have to get your wisdom teeth and your appendix removed. The reason behind this bizarre-sounding requirement is that in a medical emergency, you cannot be evacuated during winters. Even if you are going to work as a doctor in Antarctica, you will have to get your appendix removed prior to your journey. (1, 2)
10. The only ATM center in Antarctica is operated by Wells Fargo Bank. It has two ATM machines, and it takes 10 months to complete a single money-replenishment service!
Though Antarctica is a place where shopping is your last priority, there are situations where money matters a lot in the tundra. And scarily, there is only one ATM center, with two ATM machines. Both of these are run by Wells Fargo Bank and it is one of the toughest destinations for ATM administrators. These two ATMs are installed at the McMurdo’s station which happens to be the largest science hub on God’s green (& white) Earth! To survive the Antarctic weather, you need food and beverages, postal services, or even some chocolates, and all these require money. So, if you have the thought in your mind that you won’t need any money while in Antarctica, kindly update it. (1, 2)
11. There is Chilean village in Antarctica, which houses a school with 15 students and 3 computers, a post office and one banker, and it is called Villa Las Estrellas.
Villa Las Estrellas is one of the only two residential settlements in the entire continent of Antarctica. It is a Chilean settlement and also functions as a tourist destination. The town has a school, a post office, a banker, and a population of around 100 people. This count of people goes down in the winters. Villa Las Estrellas, which means “Town of the Stars” in Spanish, offers ski expeditions and sight-seeing of the majestic South Pole. It is a typical Chilean village and offers a great experience to visitors. There is also a small guest house that can accommodate 20 guests at a time. The town also has facilities like TV reception, a radio station, and Internet access, though Internet usage is strictly limited to the three computers in the school. (source)
12. The Antarctic Treaty of 1961, a part of the Antarctic Treaty System, signed by several countries, recognizes no sovereign claim of Antarctica and prohibits any military activity, but allows scientific research.
The Antarctica Treaty was first signed on the 1st of December, 1959 by twelve countries, and it came into force in 1961. Since there is no native human population on the southern continent, this treaty was signed in order to avoid any clashes between nations over sovereignty. This treaty prohibits any military activity in the region except as aid to peaceful scientific research. Though Argentina has claimed sovereignty over a vast part of Antarctica, the claim is not recognized internationally. Initially, twelve countries had signed the treaty, and currently, 53 have become a party to the treaty by signing it. The treaty had made possible the large scale of scientific research on the land without any political or military disturbance. Countries like the USA, UK, Australia, Argentina, Russia, etc., have set up their respective scientific research stations in different parts of the continent. The headquarters of the Antarctica Treaty System is established in Buenos Aires, Argentina. (1, 2)