10 fascinating Antarctic features
Antarctica is so different from anywhere else on Earth that it can feel like a foreign planet. Here are some characteristics of Antarctica that make it so incredibly unique:
1. Seriously thick ice
One of the most fascinating things about Antarctica is that it is, in fact, a landmass. Explorers traveling to the north pole were only ever standing on ice and hope - south pole explorers have something more substantial underneath. However, in parts of Antarctica, the land itself is far underneath indeed - some of the ice is more than a mile thick.
2. Abundant resources
Most of the planet's freshwater sits in Antarctica's ice.
This ice-covered continent actually contains the vast majority of Earth's freshwater: about 70 percent. This is one of the many reasons the ice cap is such a precious resource - as that ice melts, it mixes into the saltwater surrounding it. Desalination, or the process of removing freshwater from saltwater, is notoriously tricky to do on a large scale, which means it's vital to keep that freshwater separate and safe.
3. Hidden lake
Antarctica has a secret lake - many secret lakes, in fact. Scientists have drilled far beneath the thick glacial ice atop Antarctica to find liquid lakes below. The most exciting part: These lakes are absolutely teeming with microscopic life. Scientists can use water samples to learn about how these miniscule creatures survive in such a harsh environment. This could even give researchers an idea for how life might survive on other planets, such as below the ice found on Mars.
4. Massive mountains
A huge mountain chain divides the antarctic continent into eastern and western regions. The series of mountains is one of the longest in the world, and extends over 2,000 miles. A good portion of these mountains are buried beneath Antarctica's ice and snow, but many of the peaks are steep enough to be snow-free.
5. Lots of research
Though there are no truly permanent residents in Antarctica, there are people there all year round. The continent's isolation and harsh climate, though difficult to live in, make it perfect for all manner of study. Researches stay in antarctic bases and study the continent's' life, geography and temperature. It's also a prime location for astronomers - the clear conditions and near-permanent darkness in winter make for ideal stargazing.
6. Midnight (or absent) sun
When you travel to Antarctica, you'll get to see one of the most fascinating sights in the world: the midnight sun. South of the Antarctic circle, there is a period of months when the sun never sets. Summers near the south pole are perpetually bright, which means you can sit outside and read at midnight, if you like.
Researchers who stay all year round also experience the opposite - permanent Antarctic darkness. However, tourists can only see this astronomical event in the Arctic circle, as Antarctica's tourist season ends after summer.
Antarctica's geography and climate means it gets a special kind of wind called katabatics. These are winds that are formed when air moves down a slope. In Antarctica, the mountain range paired against large, flat expanses makes for a dramatic wind combination. Some of the highest wind speeds in history have been recorded on the southern continent - in fact, the world record for wind speed is tied between Antarctica's Dumont d'Urville station and Mount Washington, New Hampshire, both of which have experienced winds of 320 kilometres per hour.
8. Volcanic activity
There are plenty of extinct volcanoes in Antarctica, but there are two active ones, as well. One of these is at Deception Island, and it's an incredibly interesting and rare type of volcano. Located far beneath Antarctica's ice, it actually has subglacial eruptions, which means that all of Deception's activity happens below the surface of the ice. Antarctica's other active volcano, Mount Erebus, is picture perfect. It's the continent's most active volcano, and it looks like a science experiment brought to life. Mount Erebus is one of the only volcanoes on earth with a constant molten lava lake in its crater.
Satellite pictures of Antarctica have revealed a fascinating characteristic of the continent's surface, called "megadunes." These are undulating waves in the frozen surface which are low but incredibly long. The result is that, from above, parts of Antarctica seem to have a striped pattern. The interesting thing about these dunes is that they're nearly imperceptible from land - though they take up a huge amount of surface area, the slopes themselves are gentle enough to be missed.
If you've ever wanted to search for a meteorite, Antarctica is the place to do it. The continent has earned a reputation for being perfect for finding fallen space rocks. There are two main characteristics that make Antarctica so great for meteorite enthusiasts: the white expanse and the ice drifts. The monochromatic landscape makes the dark rocks stand out, and the ice drifts tend to drop them all off in the same area. The result is easy-to-find space stuff.