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Antarctica: Land of Ice and Snow

Updated on May 6, 2011

Antarctica is the world's most southern continent. It covers about 5 million square miles. Of that five million miles, only about 100,000 miles is ice free. It's the fifth largest continent; and virtually uninhabitable for humans. The official human population is ZERO people, in all that five million miles of ice and snow.

There is life there, however:

  • Penguins
  • seals
  • nematodes
  • tardigrades
  • mites
  • many kinds of algae
  • mosses and other tundra vegetation.

The water also thrives with unexpected life. Weird water spiders; all kinds of beautiful and unexpected forms of unique life thrive in the pure,cold water of the Southern Ocean.

There are a few people in temporary residences who are research scientists, studying the last unpolluted environment on earth. With about 98% of the continent covered by ice at least one mile thick, there are NO indigenous peoples on this continent.

Antarctica is governed, if you want to call it that, by the Antarctica Treaty System. It was initiated in 1959; signed by 46 countries to date, and is the essential agreement prohibiting exploitation of Antarctica's natural resources and protection of its ecosystem. The treaty also prohibits military activities on this continent and promotes research.

Though Antarctica has the natural resources of coal and iron, and offshore oil, exploitation of these reserves ifs banned until 2048.

Antarctica is the worst place in the world for humans to live: it's the coldest, driest, windiest place, and very inimical to mankind. It has the highest average elevation of all the continents: Antarctica air is the purest, most rarefied air on earth.

Antarctica is also very beautiful, because it is so pure, so unspoiled. The scenery is so awesome. There are even cruise tours available for those hardy souls who want to seep themselves in this awesome beauty and are not bothered too much by the cold.

How cold is it? The coldest natural temperature ever recorded on Earth was about -90 degrees Celsius; -129 degrees Fahrenheit, on July 21, 1983, at the Russian Vostok Station in Antarctica. The warmest it ever gets is about 60 degrees Fahrenheit, or 15 degrees Celsius, near the coastline in the summertime.

The South Pole in Antarctica has black winters: the sun never shines. It has light summers: 24 hours of sunlight.

Antarctica contains about 70% of the world's fresh water, in the form of ice. Should all the ice on Antarctica melt, it would raise the sea level by about 200 feet.

Antarctic waters teeming with life

James Clark Ross sailed along a huge wall of ice in Antarctica that was later named the Ross Ice Shelf. It is one of the most awesome sights in the world.

Melting of floating ice shelves does NOT raise the sea level: that isn't the problem. Think of it this way: if you have a glass of water with ice in it, and the ice melts, it does not raise the level of liquid in the glass, because the ice displaces as much water volume as the melted ice in the form of water.

It is the outflow of glacial ice from land to form ice shelves on water that raises the sea level. And with the collapse of existing ice shelves, there is nothing to hold back the glacial ice from forming new ice shelves.

There is some concern that recent decades, seeing the collapse of previously stable large ice shelves, may increase the outflow of ice from landbound glaciers, thus raising the sea level significantly and contributing to global warming. A study showed a net loss of about 50 gigatonnes per year between 1992 and 2006: in subsequent years, this figure doubled, from the acceleration of outflow from glaciers in the Amundsen Sea Embayment.

It gets to a certain point, then the domino effect makes the results an exponential increase in both sea levels and release of potent greenhouse gasses, such as methane, from the melting ice; the global warming situation then becomes irreversible.

In 2002, the Antarctic Larsen-B ice shelf collapsed. In 2008, about 220 square miles of ice from the Wilkins Ice Shelf collapsed into the ocean, putting the remaining 5800 square miles of ice shelf at risk for imminent collapse. It held on by a thread until April, 2009, when the rest of the ice shelf collapsed into the ocean. In 2005, an area of ice roughly comparable to the State of California melted into the ocean. It did refreeze, fortunately, before migrating north into a more temperate zone.

Eroding Ice Shelf in Antarctica

NASA satellites recorded an 11.5 million mile hole in the ozone layer over Antarctica, in the year 2000. It has now shrunk to an 8.5 million mile hole, because of the ban of chlorofluorocarbons (CFC's). It may heal itself completely by the middle of this century.

But, in the meantime, the damage is done. This hole in the ozone layer over Antarctica has already caused some significant climate changes.

The ozone layer protects the Earth from ultraviolet radiation. The hole in the ozone layer exposed Antarctica and the surrounding ocean to extreme ultraviolet radiation from the sun, which increased polar wind speeds dramatically.

This had the effect of encapsulating the coldest temperatures to the South Pole; in the meantime, the coastal areas of Antarctica warmed. There was a dramatic increase in ice-shelf melt; it wasn't offset completely by snow to increase glacial formations. The net is a negative--a loss of ice from Antarctica.

This lack of shielding from ultraviolet radiation also showed in an increase in wind speed all throughout the southern hemispere and much greater storm intensity.


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    • Au fait profile image

      C E Clark 4 years ago from North Texas

      Antarctica is so fascinating! Excellent hub and I really enjoyed reading it. Wiki Answers says in the summer time there are about 4,000 scientists living in Antarctica. Quite a few, and from several different countries.

    • Paradise7 profile image

      Paradise7 5 years ago from Upstate New York

      Thank you very much for the comment, and the compliment!

    • unvrso profile image

      Jose Juan Gutierrez 5 years ago from Mexico City

      Antarctica is a very fascinating place! I have read survival stories that occurred in this continent, and I have been really impressed by the resistance of the people who have endured extreme winds and temperatures in this inhospitable place of the world.

      Voted interesting!

    • Paradise7 profile image

      Paradise7 6 years ago from Upstate New York

      Thanks for the comment and I'm glad you enjoyed this article.

    • profile image

      goku 6 years ago

      thnx paradise great comments by the way :) youre friend goku

    • Jo_Goldsmith11 profile image

      Jo_Goldsmith11 6 years ago

      What great info and detailed hub. You have touched on a very important topic here. I really enjoyed the photos and your amazing writing talent! :-) take care

    • Paradise7 profile image

      Paradise7 6 years ago from Upstate New York

      Thank you both, DreamCar and Jo, for those wonderful comments.

    • profile image

      DreamCar 6 years ago

      I have a craving inside my heart to go there once.

      And the beautiful photos that you have shared here, have increased my lust of seeing this heaven at least once in my lifetime.

    • Jo_Goldsmith11 profile image

      Jo_Goldsmith11 6 years ago

      This is a great topic to write a hub about. We sure need to take heart in the excellent information you shared.

    • Paradise7 profile image

      Paradise7 6 years ago from Upstate New York

      Thank you, sofs and Eiddwen, for your gracious comments.

    • Eiddwen profile image

      Eiddwen 6 years ago from Wales

      A great hub and the pictures really did add that element of cold but awesone.

      I now look forward to reading many more of your hubs.

      Take care


    • sofs profile image

      sofs 6 years ago

      Makes me shiver, informative and useful hub. I am pressing the tabs.

    • Paradise7 profile image

      Paradise7 6 years ago from Upstate New York


    • akirchner profile image

      Audrey Kirchner 6 years ago from Washington

      Fascinating and one of my favorite places to go virtually!

    • Paradise7 profile image

      Paradise7 6 years ago from Upstate New York

      Hey Epi! I also thought I lived in the frozen north, compared to my Florida relatives, until I researched this hub! Minus 129 degrees F!

    • epigramman profile image

      epigramman 6 years ago

      ...well I thought I was looking at my Lake Erie a couple of months ago here where I live in Ontario, Canada - lol and then I realized - no, Colin , it's just another world class hub by someone who knows how to do it so very well - Paradise 7.

    • Paradise7 profile image

      Paradise7 6 years ago from Upstate New York

      Thanks for the comment, Doug. I love those penguins, they look like they're having so much fun!

    • profile image

      Doug Turner Jr. 6 years ago

      This gave me the chills, but in an I'm-interested-and-boy-does-this-place-look-cold fashion. Good stats on the ozone hole -- I'd heard about it plenty, but not seen the raw facts in a while.

      P.S. Cool pic of diving penguins!

    • Paradise7 profile image

      Paradise7 6 years ago from Upstate New York

      Shaaiz: I approved your comment anyway, even though I think you are promoting something and that was your sole reason to comment.

    • profile image

      shaaiz 6 years ago

      very nice site... you will be amazed to see pics.....

      unbelievable will get prizes on clicks...lets try once...

      work from home minimum 20000 pm.. registration free, no credit card required…

      amazing on link and see the magic...

    • Paradise7 profile image

      Paradise7 6 years ago from Upstate New York

      Thank you, Chatkath and Prasetio, for your kind comments.

    • prasetio30 profile image

      prasetio30 6 years ago from malang-indonesia

      Like your name. This place looks like a paradise. I know it was very cold. But, I believe I want touch all snows over there. Well done, my friend. Rated up!


    • Chatkath profile image

      Kathy 6 years ago from California

      I think I would visit just to see the penguins, I love them!

      Great Hub - good job. Thanks for sharing.

    • Paradise7 profile image

      Paradise7 6 years ago from Upstate New York

      Thank you all for the comments. I, too, would like someday to see these sights with my own eyes. It's soooo cooooollllldddd there, though.

    • Green Lotus profile image

      Hillary 6 years ago from Atlanta, GA

      Beautiful photos and interesting info Paradise. I would like to take a cruise there one day. I believe some of them that travel around the southern tip of south america get there, although I can't imagine getting off the ship :)

    • Radioguy profile image

      Radioguy 6 years ago from Maine

      Great location for a gothic novel...let's see... seven explores and two are women. One lady, a photographer, sees in her lens the ghosts of other explores who seem to be warning her of some danger...

      Great photos!

      Voted up!

    • PETER LUMETTA profile image

      PETER LUMETTA 6 years ago from KENAI, ALAKSA

      Good info 7 i lived at the other end in Alaska. not quite as cold and a lot more dirt but similar. The real Arctic and Antarctic are beautiful beyond your imagination, hope we never lose that. Maybe we can help by informing people of its magic. I write about my old hame a lot. Visit my HUBs if you get a chance.

    • profile image

      Rosemary 6 years ago

      Very interesting hub, and the photo are really very beautiful. All the best

    • Sun Pen 50 profile image

      Sun Pen 50 6 years ago from Srilanka

      Great. lot of new information and interesting facts.(photos and the video too.) Thank you for sharing.

    • Paradise7 profile image

      Paradise7 6 years ago from Upstate New York

      Thanks for the comment, scarytaff. I'm really impressed that you know someone who went there!! And you're right--better him than us. It's way too cold outside, baby!

    • scarytaff profile image

      Derek James 6 years ago from South Wales

      Great hub No.7. It's a very inhospitable place but I know of one of my friends who went there with the regular expedition team as a radio engineer, and he loved it. He always said he wanted to go back there.Rather him than me.