This article was originally published on Travlerz
Antarctica has always had an air of mystery around it. While the other six continents are relatively easy to travel to, this large southern one is not a typical tourist destination. That might be because the harsh environment and difficult weather conditions make it extremely hard to visit. But trust us when we say that doesn't mean it's not worth it. There's so much you didn't know about this giant, frozen land, and the next photos will prove it.
Blood Falls Looks Like Something Out Of A Horror Film
There are a lot of colorful bodies of water in the world, like pink lakes and bright turquoise lagoons, but there is only one blood-red waterfall in Antarctica. While it might look like something straight out of a zombie movie, the red color of the water found in "Blood Falls" is actually due to an inorganic compound called ferrous hydroxide. Since not all of us are up to date on our high school chemistry, we'll make it easy.
Ferrous hydroxide is basically salt with high iron content. The watery sludge which flows over Blood Falls is red because of this dissolved iron-containing salt. But knowing that doesn't make it any less impressive to us.
Researchers Actually Get Organs Removed Before Going
Since a rotating community of researchers primarily inhabits Antarctica, there has never been a need for robust health infrastructure like you would find in cities. To avoid any medical emergencies, researchers and support staff must have their appendixes and wisdom teeth removed before moving to one of the research stations. This might seem like a big deal, but it is way better to have them removed before going rather than the alternative.
Better to have those parts out than risk a situation where you need them removed while in Antarctica, and they can't be. Medical evacuations are not always possible on Antarctica, and there aren't flights or ships leaving for South America on a daily basis.
The Mysterious Hidden Mountains
There are not very many undiscovered places on the Earth. Satellite technology has made it easier than ever to map the planet's surface, but there are still a few hidden treasures waiting for scientists to stumble across. One of those hidden treasures in Antarctica is the Gamburtsev Mountains, which were buried deep under the ice on the snowy continent. These mountains were discovered in 1958 in a pretty incredible way.
Some scientists were out on a research mission when they realized that they were walking on thin ice. That ice covered the underground mountain range, which stretches for 750 miles.
There Is An Erupting Volcano That Shoots Crystals Instead of Lava
Volcanos are supposed to erupt and spew lava, not crystals, right? Naturally, Antarctica has a volcano unlike any other. Mount Erebus has puzzled the scientific community for decades, and that is because it spews crystals that are made of feldspar. The crystals have a scientific name, and they are called anorthoclase. The crystals were first noted in the early 1970s, and they have continued to raise questions that remain unanswered.
Despite all of the curiosity over the volcano, the United States Antarctic Program maintains that the scientific community does not have very many answers when it comes to why Mount Erebus does this.
A Possible Ancient Statue Hiding Under The Snow
Conspiracy theorists love to look at Google Earth images and see if they can find things that scientists haven't. One of the most recent finds was what appears to be the face of an ancient statue hidden underneath the snow on Antarctica. The finders of this mysterious face thought that an ancient race might have once lived on the continent, and the world has been trying to cover it up.
We're not sure what is hiding under the snow, but the scientists down on Antarctica must be looking into it, and it could just be some rocks underneath. Or maybe there's much more to it than that.
The Largest Land Animal Is Terrifying
Harsh climates tend to be pretty inhospitable places for both humans and animals to live in. Antarctica is no different, and due to the extreme cold, only one insect has managed to thrive on the continent. The insect's Latin name is Belgica Antarctica, and it is a type of fly. You may notice that this fly doesn't have wings, and that's because it is a flightless one. Interestingly enough, it is the largest land-dwelling animal.
Another fun fact about this creepy crawler and why it has survived in the ice is that in the larva stage, all of its fluids freeze, which doesn't impact its development.
Something Else Might Be Hiding Under The Surface
Another Google Earth enthusiast was looking at images when they found one they could not help but zoom in on. These weird black marks form a semi-circle, and people have wondered if there is a hidden base underneath the snow. Naturally, this has been unconfirmed, but people are still curious to know what made these perfectly spaced black marks. There has even been some chatter from the groups that look for UFOs.
The jury is still out on what this is, but we hope that the scientific community looks into it and provides some answers for those interested. Otherwise, we'll just have to let our imaginations run free.
Cash Is Hard to Come by
Thinking about hard cash in a digital cash economy is a bit of a funny concept. With lots of different weather patterns hitting Antarctica, though, hard cash is very important because you never know when the internet will go down. McMurdo Station is the main research station on the continent, and it is home to not one but two ATMs from Wells Fargo. There is one little problem, though.
One ATM is always broken, which means they both never function at the same time. The scientists at this station are crafty, though, and have the know-how to repair the ATMs when they break.
Metallica's Special Freezing Cold Concert
We all know where Antarctica is on a map, and it's common knowledge that the continent is primarily inhabited by researchers from around the globe. Most of the time, the research stations get overlooked by rock bands going on tour, but Metallica decided to do a special concert in 2013. This was not a regular concert and had to be held in a unique dome to protect the surrounding environment.
The dome blocked some of the noise pollution from the instruments and speakers. Only 120 people attended the concert, but as it was the first concert ever to be held in Antarctica, it was an event to remember.
The First Baby Ever Born In Antarctica
Antarctica might not seem like something that countries would want to lay claim to nowadays, but in 1978 Argentina tried to use a baby to do just that. The idea was that if someone were born on the tip that Argentina wanted to claim, that would help the claim as they were a 'natural born' citizen of Antarctica. The baby born was Emilio Marcos Palma, and his father was in charge of Esperanza Base.
Esperanza Base was a military base at the time, and that is where baby Emilio was born. Argentina was not successful in its claim, and since then, there have been other kids born in Antarctica.
The Longest Dry Spell Ever
At this point, we know that Antarctica is a cold or polar desert, but just how long has it been since parts of the continent got some rainfall? Some of the valleys found on the continent look like they haven't gotten any rain, or in this case, snow, in quite some time. According to scientists, these valleys haven't had any precipitation in a whopping 2 million years. Now that is a long time.
As there is next to no vegetation in some of these valleys, there is nothing that really needs water to live, and even if there were water, it would be frozen!
Do Not Even Think About Bringing A Husky To Antarctica
When you think about cold places and dogs, one of the first breeds that come to mind is a husky. This fluffy snow-loving, dog-sled pulling pups seem like a natural fit for Antarctica, and from 1898 to 1994, they were. Dog sleds were one of the main forms of transportation around the continent, and researchers would head out on them all through that time period. However, the concept of ecological purity was introduced in 1994, which put an end to huskies in Antarctica.
The scientific community collectively decided that as huskies did not originate from the continent, they no longer belonged there. Huskies could introduce new viruses to other animal populations, as they are not native species.
They Like to Drink There Too
Scientists might seem like they only care about their research, but even they know how to sit back and enjoy a nice cold beer. At Vernadsky Base, researchers and other staff living on the continent can head over to the pub that has been established there. It is decorated like an old British Pub and serves pints and homemade vodka. It makes sense that scientists would also learn how to make their own alcohol when supplies are limited.
But, we must warn you, the word is still out on how delectable the homemade spirits are. But maybe that is all part of the charm of visiting this place.
Do Not Try Swimming In The Lake Full Of Bleach
Okay, there is not an actual lake full of bleach in Antarctica, but the lake water does have similar content to that found in manufactured bleach products. This lake is called Lake Untersee, and it definitely falls under the strange bodies of water category. The lake tends to be frozen year-round, but samples of the lake ice have shown that it is composed of high-alkaline water akin to bleach.
On top of that, the lake's sediments also emit more methane gas than any other lake in the world. Trust us when we say you might want to look at this lake from afar.
The Man Who Walked Across Antarctica And Lived To Tell The Tale
Many people like to fantasize about trekking coast to coast in Antarctica, but few actually make the journey, let alone finish the trek. In 1996, one Norwegian man managed to complete the whole trek, and his name is Børge Ousland. Over the course of 82 days, Ousland walked across Antarctica, and during that time, he refused to have any support or assistance as he followed the path he had set.
He walked a grand total of 1,864 miles which is pretty incredible. It must have been a long hard journey, but hiking in Norway definitely helped prepare him for it.
Well Preserved Meteors
Meteors are one of those things that most humans just kind of forget about. For scientists, though, meteorites can hold some very interesting information, such as new elements and other little things stuck inside of them. Most meteorites break up as they enter the Earth's atmosphere, but sometimes a few chunks end up landing in the oceans or on land. For meteorites that land on the soil of Antarctica, they tend to be in the ideal location for preservation.
The cold and dry climate of the continent is the perfect place for meteorites to be preserved until a scientist can chance upon it and run some tests. Other environments are not as fitting to this, and most meteorites just disintegrate over time.
The Ice Marathon
Antarctica might not be the most accessible of places, but it does have events that draw adventurous runners to it. Every year, the Ice Marathon is held, and marathon runners from around the world can make their way to the continent to compete in the race. The race is held in the month of November, when fewer weather events occur, as the strong winds can sometimes affect the running trail.
If you are looking for a marathon to remember, then this one would be the perfect item to put on a bucket list. But keep in mind, the training will be tough.
The Golden Visitor's Book
You would think that the coldest place on Earth would be in the North Pole, but it is actually right here in Antarctica, also known as the South Pole. Adventurers who manage to land on the shores of the continent always want to leave their mark, and one of the ways to do this is by finding and signing the elusive golden visitor's book in the coldest place on Earth.
The book is not always easy to find, as it tends to get buried underneath snow and ice. There is also a bust of Lenin and an old Soviet research station close to where the book is buried.
It's Unlikely to Get Caught Walking On Thin Ice
As an icy continent, anyone that steps foot on its shores gets to walk along some of the famous ice that covers it. This isn't a thin layer of ice the way you see on the road in an urban center, though. The average ice thickness is about 1.6 kilometers. To put that into perspective, it takes about 20 minutes to walk 2 kilometers. This isn't going to be ice that is easy to melt or crack.
Nobody needs to worry about falling through thin ice and into the water on this continent. That is one less thing to be worried about when navigating this cold, cold land.
Antarctica Was Not Always A Cold And Desolate Place
Many parts of the world that are now cold used to be tropical rainforests millions of years ago. Antarctica is one of the places that used to be covered in foliage and likely full of animals that were cousins to marsupials. To put it in perspective, scientists believe that Antarctica was a rainforest 45 million years ago. The reason scientists believe this is because of two very special shells that were found.
The shells belonged to two turtles, and turtles cannot live in cold climates like the one Antarctica has now. Instead, they must have been alive when it was a rainforest.
Is Antarctica Considered Dry Or Wet?
There are a lot of common misconceptions when it comes to this wintery continent. One of these is that it is a wet place because it is covered in ice and snow. In reality, it is the driest place on the planet. The proper classification for Antarctica is actually that of 'cold desert.' Deserts can exist in wintery climates, did you know that? We did not! What exactly does this mean, though?
A cold desert is a place that experiences extremely cold temperatures but does not get a lot of snow. A more apt name might be 'polar desert.' And Antarctica is one example of this phenomenon.
Ride A Bike To The South Pole
While we wouldn't recommend going for a leisurely bike ride to the South Pole from the Antarctica coast, one American man did decide to do it. Daniel Burton arrived in Antarctica in December of 2013 and rode his bike for almost two months to reach the South Pole. This might seem like a weird thing to do, but if you know who his ancestor is, it should not come as a shock.
Burton's fifth-great-grandfather is none other than the great outdoorsman and frontiersman Daniel Boone. If he was alive, we are sure he would have joined Burton for the adventure of a lifetime.
Polar Bears And Penguins Do Not Live In Perfect Harmony
It is time for a bit of trivia when it comes to polar bears and penguins. Have you ever seen a photo of a polar bear in Antarctica? The answer better be no because zero polar bears live in the South Pole. Polar bears live in the North Pole, and penguins live in the South Pole or Antarctica. Anyone who says differently must not have visited either of them.
In Antarctica, there are no mammals that live on land. If you have a burning desire to see a polar bear, consider going North rather than South. Otherwise, you'll be disappointed.
Military Activity Is Surprisingly Limited
There are very few places on Earth that have not been militarized at some point, and Antarctica is not one of them. There are military bases from various countries, but there's a catch: they are only there to support the researchers who rotate onto the continent. In 1959, a treaty was signed with 48 countries that prohibits "international discord" in Antarctica, something that is often brought on by military endeavors.
This might just make it one of the most politically stable places in the world. Due to this treaty, any kind of nuclear testing is also banned, which is excellent for the flora and fauna in the area.
All Mining Activities Are Prohibited for This Reason
In addition to no military actions on the continent, there is also no mining allowed. The Madrid Protocol was put into place in 1991, and it was done to protect the continent and the peace of the place. As it is one of the most untouched places globally, it is important to watch how it evolves, and scientists respect the fact that they should not be trying to make permanent towns or cities there.
Antarctica is truly a pure place that remains untouched by much of what is happening in the world today. Because of that, it can provide data unlike anywhere else in the world.
Covid Has Made Its Way To Antarctica
At the beginning of the ongoing global pandemic, many of the researchers and support staff living on the bases and stations thought they would be untouched by the virus. But in December of 2020, 36 people at the Bernardo O'Higgins research station tested positive for the coronavirus. Now that the virus is in Antarctica, researchers have had to pivot and look at how it could affect both the people and the animals living there.
It is still unknown how the virus will affect the animal populations in Antarctica, and researchers hope that it will not affect the fragile ecosystem too severely. We're crossing our fingers for this beautiful place.
These Animals Might Be Affected By The Pandemic Too
Scientists have continued to run tests to see which animals might be susceptible to the novel coronavirus. It has been found that cetaceans (whales, dolphins, and porpoises) may be more susceptible to the virus than others. Seals and penguins have been shown to be less sensitive, which is good for them. Research is still ongoing, though, as it would be best not to have the animals of Antarctica exposed at all.
Every person who comes into contact with an animal can transmit a virus or other microbes that could carry infections, which is why researchers and tourists must be careful when they see animals in Antarctica.
How To Keep The Animal's Of Antarctica Safe Right Now
As the pandemic continues, tourism has largely been halted to the research stations and many of Antarctica's points of interest. The researchers who are still in Antarctica continuously examine the rules in place and the mechanisms that are needed to keep this unique ecosystem flourishing. The first thing that needs to happen is stopping the human-to-human spread, as humans will be the ones that carry new viruses to the animals they study.
Because of the pandemic, anyone who wishes to conduct scientific research with animals is now expected to mask up and wear proper personal protective equipment. It's crucial to keep the animals safe.
Ships Do This Peculiar Thing Around It
It's pretty gross to imagine this, but many of the ships that frequent the Southern Ocean dump raw sewage into the water. When they are on long sea voyages, it can be difficult to find a port to pump out the sewage, but all of the sewage is damaging the ocean ecosystem. On top of that, the sewage can also spread viruses to the animals that live and eat in the ocean.
This could have tremendous effects on Antarctica's environment. Some researchers advocate for new measures in place that recognize microbes from sewage as an invasive species that can harm the ecosystem.
Antarctica Was the World's Late Bloomer
Much of the world was discovered in the 1500s, but not Antarctica. At least, that is what the common belief is. Antarctica was largely considered to be inhospitable by early explorers who came upon it in the 1820s. Around the time it was first discovered, ships from Russia, the United States, and Britain were seen in the surrounding ocean. Nobody from those original ships stepped onto Antarctica's landmass until 1895.
Around seven decades after it was spotted, the first people to step foot on Antarctica were the crew of a Norwegian whaling ship called the "Antarctic." This groundbreaking group landed at Cape Adare.
The First Explorer To Set Foot On Antarctica
There are not many people that get to claim they were the first to set foot in the South Pole, but Norwegian explorer Roald Amundsen got to have that honor in 1911. He was the first to make it to the Pole, but it was actually a race. British explorer Robert Falcon Scott had attempted to beat him to it but missed out. When he arrived, the Norwegian flag was flying.
Lucky for us, we can now all explore Antarctica if we have the resources and time to do it. There are many cruises and expeditions that take tourists there during regular times.
The Wind Will Literally Blow You Away
There are many places on Earth that are considered to be windy; just take a look at Chicago, also known as the "Windy City." None of them compare to Antarctica, though. This continent is considered the windiest place on Earth, another title that should be in the "Guinness World Book of Records." While gusting winds are normal, there are some extreme winds that can be felt in certain areas.
On bad days, the winds can blow up to 320 km/h, which is pretty impressive. For anyone who sails or flies, you know these are not winds you want to be caught in.
Antarctica's Theme Song Should Be Ice, Ice Baby
When you ask someone what kind of vacation they want, most people will choose a beach or a mountain. That lets you know if someone likes hot weather or cold weather. For the cold weather lovers, Antarctica might just be the place for you. The continent, which covers most of the southern part of the globe, is made up of 99 percent ice. In a way, this might be the largest ice rink in the world.
If you don't enjoy gusting winds, ice, and freezing water, then this might not be the travel destination on the top of your list. We can't imagine hating the cold and paying a visit to Antarctica.
Looking For Fresh Water?
For the most part, mammals need fresh water to live, as do plants. Without it, anything land-dwelling would basically cease to exist. Some places, like North America, have more freshwater than others, leading to some countries developing methods to desalinate saltwater. Antarctica doesn't lack freshwater, though; it just happens to be in the form of ice until someone decides to heat it up. In fact, Antarctica has the most fresh water in the world.
That's right - roughly 70% of the planet's fresh water can be found on this continent. If there were more native plants here and the temperature was warmer, they would thrive.
What if It Melts?
The planet is slowly starting to warm, and global warming is affecting Antarctica. The continent is beginning to melt, and scientists have made a projection showing what will happen if the whole continent melts. The West Antarctica Ice Sheet is where a lot of the freshwater is concentrated, and if it were all to melt, the world would be in for a very serious problem that nobody wants to experience.
Since Antarctica has so much of the world's fresh water, the sea level would rise five meters if the ice sheet melted completely. This would be quite the situation for humans to handle.
Size Does Matter
Comprehending just how big continents and countries are is difficult to do. Most world maps just show Antarctica as a thin landmass at the bottom of the map. In reality, the continent is a large island that covers the base of the globe. The United States is pretty big, but it is small compared to Antarctica when it is superimposed over the actual continent. Just take a look at this map to see the difference.
In reality, the United States is about a third of the size of Antarctica, despite what it might look like on maps. And it has hundreds of millions of more people living on it.
The Biggest Ice Shelf Is Enormous
Ice shelves are pretty unique. Instead of giant ice blocks just hanging out on land, these are more like floating shelves. The Ross Ice Shelf covers about 3.7 percent of the entire continent, which sounds small, but the continent is huge. The shelf itself is about 510,680 square kilometers. Now that is what we call a big ice shelf. These shelves are important, though, because they contain special data.
When scientists collect ice core samples, they are able to look back at the ice formed millions of years ago and what it contains. These studies give a peek into history.
The Hidden Lake
Antarctica may be covered in ice, but it also has more than 200 lakes buried deep underneath the ice that are in liquid form. One of the hidden lakes that is buried under 3.7 kilometers of ice is Vostok Lake. If you have seen Lake Ontario, just imagine that Lake Vostok is the same size. It's not something that is easy to visualize because you can't actually see the lake.
This map shows all of the waterways and lakes on the continent. Now all scientists need to do is study them some more to find out about this magnificent place.
That's Some View
Vinson Massif is the highest mountain on Antarctica, and over the years, many ascended it to get a breathtaking view of the continent. The highest peak is a whopping 4,987 meters tall. The first ascent was made in 1963 by members of the American Alpine Club. They had to get granted special permission for the climbing expedition from National Science Foundation. Since then, there have been other ascents attempted by intrepid climbers.
For anyone who wants to climb this mountain, you should train extensively and be ready to shell out about $30,000 for the whole mission. No, we're not joking, and that wasn't a typo.
Not Just Crystals
Mount Erebus is an active volcano on Antarctica, and while it does spew feldspar crystals, it also has some rather unique 'lakes' of its own. There are a series of lava lakes around the volcano, which are amazing. Exploring the volcano has been difficult, and in 1992 a robot was used to explore the top and some of the inside of the volcano. The robot's name was Dante which is very fitting if you have read "Inferno."
Dante had a malfunction and never managed to make it to the bottom of the volcano's crater, which meant no significant data could be collected. Maybe it is time for another mission!