A few years back speculations were ripe that Antarctica was known as the Southern Island (“Terra Australis”). However, a Russian expedition first sighted the continent only in 1820.
Antarctica is the fifth-largest continent that covers an approximate area of 5.4 million square miles. Situated inside the Arctic circle, the mean temperature of the continent is about -49° C. The population is scarce. Flora and fauna are acclimatised to the harsh conditions of the largest desert.
The continent has about 300 sub-glacial lakes buried inside the surface. The lakes are kept from freezing by the warmth of the core. One such iron-rich source of saltwater emerges out of the tongue of Taylor Glacier and flows into the McMurdo Dry Valleys of East Antarctica. Rich in iron content, the waterfall is crimson red, giving it the name “Blood Waterfall.”
Shift in Gravity
Antarctica is an enormous mass of ice that accounts for 90 % of the freshwater on Earth. If the ice melts, the sea level will rise by 60-65 meters. Due to increased global warming, the ice in this region is continuously shedding water at the rate of about 55 trillion litres every year.
No Time Zone
We calculate time zones according to the longitude that passes through the region. The continent of Antarctica is in the south of our planet. Hence, the 0° longitude passes through the middle of the continent. Logically, therefore, the continent lies in a multitude of time zones.
However, the scarce population living here has matched their timings with the countries from which they hail. Theoretically, no dedicated time zone is available for the continent.
Flora and Fauna
The continent does not have much vegetation. Among the other living creatures, ice fish is the most peculiar. Devoid of haemoglobin, this species of fish survive by taking in a large volume of oxygen directly into their bloodstream. The oxygen easily dissolves at such low temperatures giving a large amount of fresh blood.
Krills and Whales
Whales hibernate when the winter edges near. Before their hibernation kicks in a full-grown whale can gulp up to 3600 kg of krills every day. Still, the population of krill is estimated at 10 million tonnes.
No Insects or Reptiles
It is the only continent that has no reptiles and insects. The only animal that resembles an insect is Belgica Antarctica. It is wingless and hops like fleas in penguin colonies.
The creatures here are adapted to live in temperatures between +2°C and -2°C. The antifreeze pigment present in their blood probably helps them in sustaining such low temperatures.
The population of fish present on this side of the continent have never crossed over to the other side for the past 20 million years.
The most massive iceberg that separated from the main landmass was 11000 sq kilometres. It broke from the Ross Ice Shelf, Antarctica, in 2000. The landmass grows at an alarming rate of 40,000 square miles per day when the winter sets in. However, the snow which falls on the land takes 100 thousand years to form the iceberg.
Antarctica is a solid ground for experiments. The scientists drill in large chunks of cylindrical ice stands that can date back to the time of their formation. It also gives details about the properties of the ice and the climatic conditions of the Earth in ancient times.
Most of the meteorites that strike Earth are readily available for study in this continent. This happens because we can easily spot them against the vast expanse of white ice and sparse vegetation.
It is no doubt that the continent is the coldest on Earth. However, it is also the windiest and driest place on Earth. Winds reach a speed of 320 km per hour at some locations. The continent also has an active volcano. It goes by the name Mount Erebus and spews ice crystals near the United States Research station.
Almost 30 countries have established their 80 research stations around the continent. Chile has built an entire civilian town called Villa Las Estrellas in the continent. It consists of all the amenities of mobile phone coverage, hospital, school, internet, and post office.
Australia has the most significant piece of land under its possession in the continent, i.e., about 5.8 million sq. kilometres.
Well, these were a few facts about Antarctica. Containing the geographic south pole of our planet, Antarctica is a place full of surprises.