Antarctic

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The Antarctic is the area around the South Pole. The area is made up of the ocean around the land, the Antarctic Ocean. The actual continent is named Antarctica and is almost one and a half times as big as Europe.

Almost the whole continent is covered with ice. That’s how the Antarctic is the biggest desert in the world. While the Antarctic is the southernmost area in the world, the Arctic is the northernmost part of the world. The southern Polar Circle, the area around the South Pole, is on the Antarctic continent.

How did we learn about the Antarctic?

The Antarctic in a satellite image

Already in antiquity and in the Middle Ages, scientists suspected that there was land in the far south of the world. But they didn’t know what it looked like. They thought that if there was land in the north, there should be land in the south to balance the world out.  

Only after sailors had already circumnavigated Africa, America and Australia, did Europeans dare to travel very far to the south. In the year 1820 they saw the cost of the Antarctic. In 1911, the group of Roald Amundsen was the first to reach the South Pole. Around 15 years later, people started to explore the Antarctic with an airplane.  

Now there are almost 100 stations where scientists work and live. Half of these stations are only used in the not so cold season. When it’s summer in the Antarctic, it’s winter in the northern part of the world. When it’s summer, its dark during daytime in the Antarctic.

What does it look like in the Antarctic?

It’s very cold in the Antarctic. In the middle of the continent people measured the temperature and it was 90 degrees below freezing. On average, the temperature is minus 55 degrees. Along the coast, the average temperature in the winter is minus 18 degrees, and in the summer around 0 degrees. Because it’s so cold in the winter, almost the whole land and part of the ocean is covered with ice. On average, the ice is 2000 meters thick. Only on the coast, there are some areas that is not covered in ice. There are a lot of snowstorms in the middle of the continent.

Do animals live in the Antarctic?

There aren’t many animals in the Antarctic. They only have very few plants to live off of. Other than a few seaweeds and moss, not many plant species are known. Above all, the interior of the continent is a desert in which only very small animals can survive. On the coast and the islands you can often see birds. The best known are the penguins, who can swim but can’t fly. They come ashore to hatch their eggs. There are also seals on the coast. These include the leopard seal and the sea elephant. More life can be found in the sea: many fish, but also whales.

What is the Antarctic Ocean like?

The Antarctic Ocean is the sea around the Antarctic land. The border runs where the cold water meets the warmer waters of the Atlantic, the Pacific, and the Indian Ocean. This limit shifts depending on the season and lies between the 40th and the 60th latitude. The Antarctic ocean has different names: the southern ocean, the Antarctic ocean, or the southern ice sea.

In the winter many things freeze. This ice is called "pack ice". The sea is very deep, 5805 meters. In the sea there is less and less salt, because a lot of ice melts and this fresh water gets into the sea. In addition to the mainland, there are several larger and smaller islands. The Antarctic Ocean does a lot to stop climate change. It traps a lot of heat that brings the current to the mainland. It also traps a lot of CO2: the plankton come to get the CO2. When the plankton die they sink to the sea floor. The bacteria turn them in to dirt but the CO2 stays at the bottom of the sea. The most important creatures are tiny shrimp called krill. They eat plankton. Many animals eat krill like wales. In the Antarctic Ocean there is already pollution even though pretty much no one lives there: in the Ocean there is micro-plastic. The current takes the microplastic to the beaches. That hurts plants and animals a lot. The scientists thought until now that the Antarctic ocean would not be polluted.