Antarctica is a fascinating continent, the fifth largest on the planet, and home to a wide variety of wildlife, plants, and a unique climate and terrain. Because the harsh conditions on Antarctica make it difficult to live there, many explorers have traveled there to study the land, its inhabitants and the climate.
The following is a look at what it is like in Antarctica:
Location and Size
Located at 66Â° 30′ south latitude, right over the South Pole, Antarctica is closest to South America, roughly 600 miles away.
The total surface area of Antarctica is about 5.5 million square miles in the summer. To give you an idea, this is about twice the size of Australia and about half the size of the USA. Maps are often misleading about the size of Antarctica, leading many people to believe it is bigger than it actually is. In the winter, the sea ice that forms around the coasts of Antarctica causes it to double in size.
Antarctica has the coldest and windiest climate in the world. The extreme temperatures, combined with the harsh winds, make it impossible to develop the land commercially for dwelling. The coldest temperature ever recorded on earth was on Antarctica, at -128.6 degrees Farenheit. The interior of Antarctica is the coldest and it warms up towards the coastal areas. The Antarctic Peninsula is the warmest climate with occasional above-freezing temperatures.
Winds in Antarctica are also strong, reaching up to 200 miles per hour. In fact, calm, windless periods in Antarctica are fairly rare and only last for a few hours.
Despite its extreme temperatures, Antarctica is actually considered a desert, since a desert is defined as any geographic region that receives less than 10 inches of rain or snowfall. Antarctica is covered with snow, even though it only receives about 8 inches a year, because of the little amount of evaporation, it never melts. The thick ice sheets and icebergs surrounding Antarctica are the result of hundreds of thousands of years of small amounts of snow that have never gone away.
The landscape of Antarctica is more than 99 percent ice sheets. These ice sheets actually contain about 70 percent of the world’s fresh water. In addition, Antarctica has the highest elevation of all the continents (an average of 7500 feet) as a result of these thick ice sheets. The highest point on Antarctica is an astounding 16,066 feet.
Antarctica also has two active volcanoes. One of these, located on the much milder Antarctic Peninsula, is a popular spot for tourists.
The Transantarctic Mountains is a range of mountains that stretches over the entire continent. A lot of this range, however, is buried by the ice.
The harsh climates in Antarctica, as well as little vegetation, make the continent sparse in terms of wildlife. There are no trees or bushes or similar types of vegetation at all. Most of the living species on Antarctica are mosses, lichens and algae. As far as wildlife goes, there are no land-based mammals. Other sea life that depends on the sea for food leaves for the winter. Many whales feed on the krill located in the waters of Antarctica.
Penguins also reside on Antarctica’s ice and in the oceans, breeding along the coast and on islands where it is not quite as cold.
This is just a glimpse at what it is like on the coldest continent in the world.
Learn more with these Antarctica websites.