Facts for Antarctica Travel

The most fascinating thing about Antarctica travel is the sometimes superlative facts about conditions on this continent. This short article has basic information about geography, weather, and history.

Geography: 98% of Antarctica’s surface consists of ice and most of this ice sheet is 1 mile (1.6 km) thick. On the coast, 95% consists of ice, including ice shelves, ice walls, and ice streams or glaciers; the remaining 5% consists of rock. Scientists have been able to determine what the continent looks like beneath the ice via the use of technology such as satellite imagery, radar, and remote sensing, and have found subglacial lakes and mountains. Global warming and melting or collapsing of ice shelves has become a concern in recent years.

Antarctica is divided into east and west by the Transantarctic Mountain Range, and the divisions corresponds roughly to the eastern and western hemispheres.  Vinson Massif is the highest mountain in Antarctica, rising to 16,050 feet (4,892 meters) above sea level. Ross Island also contains Mount Erebus, the world’s southernmost active volcano.

One important characteristic is the elevation; much of the continent rises to 2 miles (3,000 m) above sea level. 90% of the world’s ice is in Antarctica, representing 70% of the world’s fresh water. Despite the ice, Antarctica is a desert. Along the coast, only 8 inches of rain fall annually, and further inland, this is much less. It is estimated that the South Pole receives approximately 4 inches of precipitation annually.

Weather: The coldest temperature ever recorded on the planet was in 1983 at Vostok Station: 128.6 F (-89.2 C). In summer, on the coast, temperatures average between 41 F (5 C) and 59 F (15). Higher elevations in East Antarctica result in generally colder temperature.

Human settlement: From the first sightings of the Antarctic continent in the 1820s and 30s, sporadic expeditions have reached the waters off the land mass and until recently only a few people actually set foot. The largest semi-permanent populations were comprised of whalers and sealers from Norway, Britain, and the U.S.

Today, the harsh environment and difficult terrain have been major deterrents for permanent human settlement. However, research stations host a small population of scientists, numbering approximately 1,000 in the winter and 5,000 in the summer.

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