Amazing facts about Antarctica

February 2, 2011

Antarctica, being a barren wasteland of snow and ice, might seem uninteresting, but nothing could be further from the truth. Here are a few amazing and true Antarctic facts:

  • Antarctica is large — though not so large as it appears on a Mercator projection. It has an area greater than Europe. In addition, it is surrounded by enormous ice shelves that grow and shrink with the seasons. The Ross Ice Shelf alone is as large as France.
  • About 98% of the land is perpetually covered with snow and ice. The average thickness of the snow is 1.6 km (1 mile).
  • There is no wildlife in the interior of the continent. Seals, whales, and birds live around the perimeter.
  • Because of its low average precipitation, Antarctica is considered to be a desert.
  • Antarctica contains about 70% of the world’s fresh water.
  • There are several large mountain ranges on the continent, including active volcanoes.
  • The coldest temperature ever recorded was in Antarctica. It was a chilly –89.2°C (–129°F) .

17 Responses to “Amazing facts about Antarctica”

  1. Mac Says:

    You’ll want to watch movies like TheEndurance.

    I had a really embarrassing moment some years ago that involved a Mercator projection. I shared an office and I had a Mercator world map on my wall. One morning my officemate and I were chatting about travel or something that had us looking at the map, and one of us (honest, I can’t remember which) said “You know, I never noticed that Greenland is so big. And we proceeded to have a conversation of several minutes about how very big Greenland is, and how probably not many people realize just how very big it is, etc., before the light dawned.

  2. cburrell Says:

    Heh! I am sure most people don’t realize how the Mercator projection distorts surface area. The world is flat, right? (Or cylindrical.)

    I have watched a couple of movies lately about Antarctic exploration, but The Endurance is new to me. Thanks for the suggestion.

  3. Janet Says:

    Does that mean we could mine it for fresh water?


  4. cburrell Says:

    Certainly, but only if you’re willing to carry it home.

  5. Moshtoq Says:

    does that mean that we could just take a cup with us put it in the sea and be able to drink it?

  6. cburrell Says:

    No, the fresh water is frozen into ice and snow, and would have to be melted before one could drink it. The water surrounding Antarctica is salty, just like the other oceans.

    By the way, does anyone know why or how the salt is leached out of the water as it freezes? I think I read somewhere that it takes a few years for the the ice made from salt water to taste fresh. I was surprised that it freshened at all.

    • godescalc Says:

      It’s related to freezing-point depression: – solutes usually disrupt the regular crystal structure of a solid because they don’t fit inside it very well; whereas the liquid state has no regular structure to disrupt. The result of this is (a) that the liquid state is a better solvent than the solid state, so given a chance, solutes will migrate from the solid to the liquid, and (b) that solutes depress the freezing point by destabilising the solid solution relative to the liquid solution (hence, salting roads to melt the ice).

      A related effect is that if you attempt to freeze a solution but cannot get low enough temperatures, sometimes the result is relatively fresh ice bobbing in a more concentrated solution. This is called freeze distillation – – you can use this to concentrate alcoholic drinks using a normal freezer.

      • cburrell Says:

        First, it is good to hear from you again. Second, thank you for that explanation; chemistry was never my strong suit, but I must admit that sometimes it can be quite interesting. Third, I wonder if you have ever put that last bit to practical use?

      • godescalc Says:

        Thanks – I still read regularly, although haven’t had much to say for a while. I’ve never actually used freeze distillation, as I prefer beer to hard alcohol, and have little interest in beer over 6%. I’ve never lived anywhere that made it hard to get spirits, in any case – it certainly isn’t here in eastern europe. (I went to an SVD house a few weeks back and had to watch my glass because a helpful priest was refilling it with borovička every so often – from a bottle with a dead snake inside, which I thought pretty awesome, although some of the women kept covering the bottle with a napkin.) (The snake was a souvenir from ministry in Taiwan, where it’s slightly more normal to have a dead snake in your booze.)

  7. krill Says:


  8. penguin Says:


  9. Anonymous Says:

    Totally helped me with my project at school

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