1. Antarctica was only discovered in 1820
Despite being the fifth-largest continent on Earth, explorers only found Antarctica in 1820. In fact, several different expeditions claimed to spot an ice shelf on the edge of the continent. The Russian crew was led by Fabian Gottlien von Bellingshausen and Mikhail Lazarev, while a separate British crew was led by Edward Bransfield.
American sealer John Davis actually set foot on the continent about a year later, but the pole itself remained elusive for nearly a century. Roald Amundsen reached it in December of 1911, racing Robert Falcon Scott for the glory.
Source: Antartica Online
2. It is the coldest place on Earth
While you might not be surprised to hear that the Antarctic is one of the coldest places on Earth, you might not know that it set the record for the coldest place on the planet. In 2010, NASA satellite data revealed a record low temperature of -136°F (-93°C). NASA only announced the discovery in 2013.
That temperature isn’t a fluke, either. The Antarctic holds an average temperature of -127°F (-83°C), so the coldest recorded temperature doesn’t represent a huge fluctuation compared to the year-round norm.
Source: National Geographic
3. Antarctic winds reach hurricane speeds
Antarctica has been known for strong winds since Sir Douglas Mawson published The Home of the Blizzard in 1915. Wind speeds reach up to 200 miles per hour, or 320 kilometres per hour.
According to the National Hurricane Center, a “major” hurricane wind speed is no less than 157 miles per hour (252 kilometres per hour). It categorizes wind speeds of that class to be “catastrophic.”
The wind gets that fast because the cold and dense air flows down the steep slopes on the edge of the continent, gaining kinetic energy as it builds momentum. The phenomenon is called a katabatic wind (or fall wind), which is associated with glaciers.
4. Antarctica has no time zones
Since we created time zones based on longitude, how do you create a time zone where all of the zones meet? That’s why there is no official time zone for the Antarctic. Researchers there use the time zone of their home country, as a result. You might as well keep your body clock close to your friends and family back home, right?
Daylight Savings Time also carries no meaning in the Antarctic. The continent gets 24 hours of light in the summer and 24 hours of darkness in the winter. You aren’t getting any extra daylight no matter how you slice it.
Source: Time and Date
5. 40 million years ago, the continent was warm and wet
Antarctica wasn’t always frozen—in fact, it used to have a climate closer to South America’s heat and humidity. Some scientists think that it might have even resembled California’s climate as late as 50 million years ago.
Researchers from Yale University discovered CO2 levels in sediment—trapped for tens of millions of years—that correspond to tropical climates. Oh, and it used to be home to penguins that were taller than the average human.
Source: Tech Times
If you want to learn more about the carbon dating process, check out the explanation from NASA.
6. It’s the world’s largest desert
How can the coldest place on Earth also be a desert? We usually refer to non-polar deserts like the Sahara, but here’s the rub: deserts don’t need to be hot. In fact, The Antarctic only gets 2 inches (5cm) of precipitation per year.
Deserts are dry and desolate by definition, and Antarctica is just that. At 5.5 million square miles, the Antarctic desert beats out the Sahara in size by a full two million square miles of space.
The Arctic Desert (at the North Pole) comes in a close second place with 5.4 million square miles of desert.
Source: World Atlas
7. Dinosaurs roamed Antarctica 70 million years ago
Antarctica used to be connected with Australia between 145 and 100 million years ago, during the Early Cretaceous Period. Together they formed the former continent East Gondwana, and the climate was fit for dinosaurs. The fossils discovered there prove it.
Many of the fossils came from prehistoric birds and marine dinosaurs, but fossils belonging to land reptiles were also discovered. It’s consistent with the continent’s former muggy climate.
In fact, the climate was so unlike anything we recognize today that even the plants living in East Gondwana at that time no longer exist anywhere in the world.
Source: Daily Mail
8. Antarctica is mostly ice… today
99% of Antarctica is covered in an ice sheet 1 mile (1.6km) thick, across 5.4 million square miles of land. Think about that number.
The fictitious Wall in Game of Thrones stands at 700 feet tall, and might not stand up to real-world physics. But 700 feet is equivalent just 0.13 miles. In other words, the Antarctic ice sheet is 7.5 times taller than The Wall—and it’s real.
9. It has 70% of the planet’s fresh water, and 90% of the world’s ice
The United States Geological Survey estimates that 96% of the world’s frozen fresh water can be found in the north and south poles—namely the Arctic and Antarctic. The rest of the world contains the remaining 4% in glaciers and ice caps.
Antarctica has 30,109,800 cubic kilometers of frozen fresh water. North America contains just 90,000, by comparison. The Antarctic’s location makes that inaccessible for human consumption at present, but that’s quite a bit of fresh water. Imagine if we could use that for consumption.
10. If all that ice melted, sea levels around the world would rise 200ft (60m)
Imagine having to climb 200 feet up a skyscraper to see the sky. That’s what would happen in coastal cities like New York if the Antarctic’s ice melted. The global sea level would rise 216 feet, submerging some of the most heavily populated cities in the world—to say nothing of how important they are to trade on every level.
Cities on major rivers would also become flooded, at least partially—Cairo, Montreal, London, and Calcutta would not look the same.
Source: National Geographic
Antarctica defines our world, even though most of us never get to experience it (that might be a good thing). It’s the world’s harshest environment, contains the largest amount of fresh water we can fathom, and it eats hurricane wind speeds for breakfast. And we’ve only known about it for around 200 years.
Do you know some facts about Antarctica that should be in here? Let us know!
If you liked this post, sign up for the Weekly Memo, a handpicked selection of the most Interesting Shit delivered to your inbox every Saturday. Or join our 350,000+ followers by liking us on Facebook, or follow us on Twitter or Instagram.