Antarctica was the last
continent in the world to be discovered. Antarctica is a polar environment.
It is the fifth largest continent in the world and also it is the coldest
place on Earth.
Antarctica is very different
from the other polar environment being the Arctic. The Arctic is mostly
sea surrounded on its edges by the northern parts of Asia, Europe and North
America. By contrast the Antarctic is mostly land, covered with permanent
ice and isolated from all other continents by thousands of kilometres.
The nearest land is the tip of South America which is 970km from the Antarctic
Peninsula. Also Antarctica is much colder then the Arctic. This is
due to the very high winds which sometimes get up to 240km per hour. The
highest temperature so far recorded is -10degress C in the mildest region.
Antarctica is approximately
twice the size of Australia. Along the edge are high mountains called
the Transantarctic Mountains which separate East Antarctica from West Antarctica.
The highest mountain is Vinson Massif which is 5,140 metres. There is an
active volcano called Mt. Erebus This is 3,794 metres high and in 1979 an Air New
Zealand plane crashed into Mt. Erebus.
Ice covers nearly all the
continent with an average thickness of 2.2km. This represents 90%
of the world’s ice and the greatest reserve of fresh water on earth. Because
of all the fresh water, the Antarctic Ocean is less salty than other oceans
and also much colder.
Rain NEVER falls in Antarctica.
It only snows. At the South Pole 10-15cm of snow falls each year and by
the coast 30 - 60cm. It often falls as fine, dry snow and when combined
with high winds it is known as a blizzard.
In winter the sea surrounding
the continent freezes for up to 2 metres in thickness. Towards summer the
ice begins to break up forming pack ice that floats, called icebergs.
Scientists believe the ice
gradually moves from certain places near the centre of the continent to
the coast. It takes perhaps 15,000 years for snow falling on the interior
to move and be pushed to reach the sea.
When the ice moves at different
speeds crevasses form. Crevasses are very dangerous because people can
fall into them. Another type of ice movement is a glacier. This is like
a river of ice. It moves more rapidly than the rest of the ice and can
There are only two seasons,
winter and summer. In winter it is almost continuously dark and in summer
it is mostly light. In summer the weather can be calm and clear for
several days. Sometimes there are blizzards that last days and days.
The Antarctic waters support
a huge amount of life. The plankton and algae are very important for these
are the food of the small prawn like fish called krill which in turn is
a major food source for fish, eaten by whales, penguins, albatrosses and
James Cook was the first
to sail into the Antarctic Circle. Huge blocks of ice prevented him from
going further south. He completely circled Antarctica but could not see
land. He reported seeing many seals which encouraged sealers and other
explorers to explore. Macquarie island was discovered in 1810 and Heard
Island in 1833. The first landing on the actual coast was not until 1895
at Cape Adare.
Captain R.F. Scott led the
first British Antarctic Expedition in the ship, "Discovery", in 1901 - 4. He explored
the Ross Ice Shelf. Ernest Shakelton followed in 1907 -9 and he wintered
on Ross Island.
In 1911 there was a race
between Roald Amundsen and Scott to reach the South Pole. The first person
to reach the South Pole was Roald Amundsen a Norwegian on 14th December
1911. Amundsen and 4 companions set off on 19th October 1911 with 4 sleds
and 52 Arctic dogs. Scott used specially trained ponies rather then
dogs for his expedition. The ponies had to be shot leaving Scott and his
men to haul the sledges themselves. They did arrive at the South Pole only
to find Amundsen’s flag and a note. Scott arrived on January 18th, 1912.
Disappointed at missing their goal of being the first to the Pole, they
then set out on the long trek back to base. Weakened by scurvy two died and Scott
and his other two companions were found dead in their tent by a rescue
party. They were only 18kms to an emergency supply depot.
Scott’s diary was found next to him.
Douglas Mawson organised
his first Australian Antarctic Expedition in 1911 - 14. On this expedition
Mawson set off with Xavier Mertz and Belgrave Ninnis to explore Commonwealth
Bay. Tragically Mawson was the only one to survive this adventure.
Mawson then led a second trip in the summers of 1929 and 1931 and he became
a keen supporter of Australia’s role in Antarctica.
There are three in Antarctica.
Australia’s oldest station in Antarctica is named Mawson Station as a
tribute to Sir Douglas Mawson's work. This station was established in 1954
and is the longest continually occupied station of any nation. Davis Station
was established in 1957 and Casey in 1969. During the winter only
a few men and women live on the Australian stations but the number increases
in summer. They study such things as weather, magnetism, gravity, cosmic
radiation, earthquakes, sunspots, animals and oceanography.
The whole in the ozone layer
was first discovered over Antarctica.
Other countries with bases
in Antarctica include United States of America, United Kingdom, New Zealand,
Russia, Japan, Germany, South Africa, France, Argentina, Chile, India and
This is where the two polar
environments are very different. The Arctic has over 400 species of flowering
plants and ferns. In Antarctica there are only 2 plants and about 70 species
of moss and lichens. in the Australian section of Antarctica there are
no flowering plants and very few mosses.