15 Interesting Facts about Antarctica

On the southern-most tip of the planet rests one of the world's most massive and mysterious landmasses - the frozen realm of Antarctica.

On the southern-most tip of the planet rests one of the world's most massive and mysterious landmasses - the frozen realm of Antarctica. This icy expanse stretches out to cover more than 14 million square kilometres, making it the fifth largest continent in the world. It is situated almost entirely within the Antarctic Circle, which means that temperatures are consistently below zero throughout a majority of the year.

Such conditions make life relatively sparse compared to other regions in the world, but the Antarctic animals that do occupy this frosty landscape are well adapted to handle the incredibly harsh conditions seen regularly by explorers and scientists stationed there. While the landscape may seem somewhat desolate to the untrained observer, it is actually one of the most interesting places on earth.

Photo: Karsten Bidstrup

15 Interesting facts about Antarctica

1. The Dry Valleys in Antarctica are the driest places on earth. With such low humidity and moisture on this portion of the continent, snow and ice cannot even accumulate, which leaves the valleys as just a dusty expanse of dirt. 

2. Antarctica is, on average, the windiest place on earth. Scientists exploring this southerly landmass have reported wind speeds that have reached up to 200 miles per hour. 

3. The Antarctic Ice Sheet is the single biggest mass of ice in the world and can sometimes be up to four miles thick. The continent as a whole contains about 90 percent of the planet's freshwater ice and around 70 percent of the total fresh water on earth!

4. Scientists claim that if the West Antarctic Ice Sheet were to melt, it would raise global sea levels by about 16 feet. 

5. The Ross Ice Shelf - a floating tongue of ice that extends off the continent's main landmass - encompasses more than 510,000 square kilometres and is the largest ice shelf that has ever been discovered. 

6. While Antarctica is covered in ice, it actually holds one of the world's biggest mountain ranges - the Gamburtsev Mountains - which stretch out more than 1200 kilometres. The highest peaks are estimated to be around 2,800 meters or about one-third the size of earth's tallest mountain: Mount Everest. 

7. Another interesting geographic feature hidden under the ice sheet is Lake Vostok, a freshwater lake buried under 4 kilometres of frozen water. This lake is about the size of Lake Ontario and is one of more than 200 different bodies of water that has been discovered beneath the ice. 

8. While the Grand Canyon is largely considered to be the planets biggest natural rift, scientists discovered another trench on Antarctica that could rival one of America's mightiest natural features. The unnamed canyon was found during a 2010 expedition and extends 100 kilometres, is more than 9 kilometres wide and reaches depths of more than 1,6 kilometres. Scientists speculate that it could be even larger, but further exploration is required to learn the true boundaries of this massive rift. 

Photo: Dan Avila

9. Antarctica is home to Mount Erebus - the southern-most active volcano in the world - as well as the only known "lava lakes," which have held liquid magma for eons despite the continent's frigid conditions. 

10. There are 30 different countries