Antarctica is the home of the southernmost point of the planet. Not only is this continent made of ice and downright cold, but did you know that this landmass also plays a role in keeping our planet livable? For those looking to learn more about this polar place, we've chiseled away some incredibly fun facts about Antarctica for kids!
Quick Facts About Antartica
Let's first look at some fast factoids about this cold continent!
- Antarctica comes from the Greek word antarktiké, which means "opposite to the Arctic" and "opposite to the north".
- Antartica is the fifth largest continent. It is 5.4 million square miles and is larger than Europe and the continental United States.
- It has no countries.
- Seven nations have territorial claims on different parts of this continent.
- These include Argentina, Australia, Chile, France, New Zealand, Norway, and the United Kingdom.
- Antartica is home to the largest piece of unclaimed land in the world. It is called Marie Byrd Land.
- There is no native population and no permanent residents or citizens in Antartica.
- However, there are up to 5,000 scientists and researchers that live on the continent at the peak of summer (October through April).
- Approximately 45,000 people also come to visit this continent every year with expedition cruise ships.
- Antartica is in constant daylight in the summer and constant darkness in the winter.
- Therefore, it is best to visit the continent in the austral summer (October through April).
- The Antarctic Ice Sheet contains 70% of the Earth's freshwater.
- 90% of the world's ice is also in Antarctica.
- Antartica is the highest continent on the planet with an average elevation of 8,200 feet.
- South America is Antartica's closest neighboring continent. The southern tips of Argentina and Chile are the closest countries.
Astounding Atmospheric Facts About Antarctica
Antarctica is the coldest, driest, and windiest place on Earth! Check out these bewildering weather facts about Antarctica.
Antartica Is the Coldest Place on the Planet
The world's lowest temperature ever recorded was -128.6°F (-89.2°C). This occurred on July 21st, 1983 in Vostok, Antarctica. While not quite as cold, the average temperatures are also unbearably chilly.
- -18°F (-28°C) in the austral summer
- -76°F (-60°C) in the austral winter
Antartica Is the Windiest Place on the Planet
Average wind speeds normally stay below 15 mph, but they can and have reached up to 199 mph! This occurred at the Dumont d'Urville station in Antarctica in July 1972.
Antartica's Air Is Filled With Diamond Dust
No, it isn't made of real diamonds, but it sure shimmers like them! Diamond dust is a meteorological term that refers to tiny ice crystals that become suspended in the air. Similar to freezing fog, these crystals form close to the ground, so when the sunlight reflects off of them, it creates a spectacularly sparkly spectacle!
Antartica Is a Desert
The continent gets less than two inches of precipitation every year and the relative humidity can drop below less than half of a percent! This classifies Antartica as a polar desert.
Scientists Compare Parts of Antartica to Mars
Now that you know that this icy plane is a desert, it shouldn't be too surprising that there are small sections of this continent that do not have ice or snow! These areas are called dry valleys, and they are located within Victoria Land west of McMurdo Sound.
Antarctica Serves as the Planet's Thermostat
That giant expanse of bright, white ice helps to reflect much of the sun's UV radiation back into space. This helps to cool our planet. Unfortunately, as portions of the Antarctic ice sheet melt, it causes the Earth's albedo, the amount of radiation that is reflected by the Eath's surface, to decrease. This leads to global warming. Thus, the preservation of Antarctic ice is key to keeping our planet liveable.
Fantastically Fun Facts About Antartica for Kids
Now that we have the basics out of the way, it's time to knock your ice caps off with some surprising facts about Antartica!
Antartica Has Two Active Volcanoes
Yes, you read that right! The coldest place on earth has volcanoes! Not only does this icy continent have two active volcanoes, but it also has 17 inactive Holocene volcanoes.
The two active sites are Mount Erebus and Deception Island. What is even more interesting is that Erebus "is one of the few volcanoes in the world with a persistent lava lake in its summit crater."
Antartica Has Plant Life
Antartica is home to "around 100 species of mosses, 25 species of liverworts, 300 to 400 species of lichens and 20-odd species of macro-fungi." You can also find two types of flowering plants - Antarctic hair grass and Antarctic pearlwort. These are located on "the South Orkney Islands, the South Shetland Islands and along the western Antarctic Peninsula."
While not the most vibrant vegetation, these impressive plants can survive extreme temperatures and dehydration, which is how they thrive in this harsh environment.
Antartica Is the Best Spot to See the Southern Lights
Antartica is the "quintessential spot" to see Aurora australis. Since this phenomenon is best seen in the dark, this makes the austral winter the best time for a viewing (March through September). However, cruise ships only visit this part of the globe from November to March, so the ideal time to see the Southern Lights is in March.
Antarctica Is Home to the 4th Longest Mountain Range
Landing behind the Andes in South America, the Southern Great Escarpment in Africa, and the Rocky Mountains in North America, the Trans-Antarctic Mountains span an impressive 2,200 miles and reach a max elevation of 14,856 feet. This closely compares to the Great Dividing Range in Australia that also measures around 2,200 miles in length.
Antartica Has a Blood-Colored Waterfall
It is called Blood Falls for good reason. This startling display features a blood-red liquid cascading down the side of a glacier. It is also five stories tall.
Why does this scary site occur? It is because briny, iron oxide-rich water falls from this geographic feature. When the water comes in contact with the air, it rusts, resulting in this red color.
Antartica Is Also Home to the Saltiest Body of Water on Earth
Don Juan Pond is saltier than the Dead Sea. It won't freeze unless temperatures reach below -58 degrees Fahrenheit and it has an extremely high concentration of calcium chloride (a type of salt). This makes it different from normal salt water. Scientists are still trying to figure out why this small water feature is so salty!
Amazing Facts About the Animals of Antartica
Contrary to popular belief, polar bears cannot be found in Antartica! However, there are some familiar faces that call this land their home. Check out these interesting facts about Antartica's wildlife.
Antartica Is Home to 20 Million Penguins
While there is no permanent human population on the continent, approximately 20 million penguins find this chilly spot the perfect place to live (for at least a portion of their lives)! They stay warm thanks to the combination of a thick layer of fat on their bodies and an outer layer of oily feathers that block the icy cold waters from reaching their skin.
Antartica Is the Only Continent to Have No Land Animals
Terrestrial animals are creatures that predominantly live on land. While penguins, seals, and albatross all spend time on the continent, they also spend time at sea and on other land masses in the Southern Hemisphere.
60% of the World's Seals Call Antartica Home
Antarctica is home to six species of seal, which include leopard, Ross, Weddell, elephant, crabeater, and fur seals. This comprises 60% of the world's seal population!
Leopard Seals Are One of Antartica's Apex Predators
Leopard seals are aggressive creatures that have taken the title of the apex predator of the ice. They measure over nine feet long and weigh an average of 700 pounds. Their only threat is killer whales, which can be found in the icy waters surrounding this continent.
Antartica Is the Only Continent Without Reptiles
Due to the extremely cold temperatures, cold-blooded creatures cannot survive in Antarctica's frigid climate.
Mythical Sea Monsters Exist in Antarctic Waters
Colossal squids, giant sea spiders, narwhals, and headless chicken monsters? Okay, the last one has a ridiculous name and looks terrifying, but it is actually just a sea cucumber. However, that colossal squid is really the stuff of nightmares! They can grow to 45 feet long - just under the height of a five story building! Makes you think twice about doing a polar plunge!
Scientists Are Constantly Searching for New Facts About Antarctica
"Science on Antarctica has global significance for the future of our planet." This part of our world is virtually untouched, and that allows scientists to study the Earth's environment in a controlled setting. It also allows space scientists to study a climate that is like ones found in space! This makes it an exceptionally cool place to learn about.