Antarctica is the most inhospitable place on earth, and largely devoid of life – which makes exploration of the continent extremely perilous. 

Antarctica is the most inhospitable place on the planet. It is a continent surrounded by the Southern Ocean, whereas the Arctic is an ocean surrounded by land (Alaska, Canada, Finland, Greenland, Iceland, Norway, Russia and Sweden). This means that Antarctic conditions are much more extreme – the lowest recorded temperature is -89.2 °C (household freezer boxes are about -10 to -15 °C).

It is also the highest place on Earth. Once you are on the southern polar plateau, the ice cap is up to 4km thick – so explorers are likely to suffer from altitude sickness as much as frostbite.

The perils of Antarctic exploration

Antarctica is huge – about 14 million sq km – and devoid of life, apart from around the coast, where there are penguins and seals. Once you reach the interior, you have to depend on whatever you are carrying. Only in recent times has the use of aircraft given Antarctic explorers an alternative means of supply.

Antarctica is also the windiest continent on Earth. ‘Katabic’ (descending) winds pour off the Antarctic plateau in gales that can reach 100 miles an hour.

Antarctica is considered a desert (though a cold one), with only 150 mm of snowfall a year around the South Pole, so Antarctic blizzards really consist of ice crystals being whipped up by the wind. They are sometimes so fine that they can get between the slits of your closed eyes.

Captain Scott’s Terra Nova Expedition

There is a theory that the extreme conditions that fatefully marooned Captain Robert Falcon Scott and his party in their tent on the Terra Nova Expedition were part of an extremely cold snap that affected Antarctica in 1912. That season, temperatures reached -50°C, conditions that exhausted, exposed and starving men cannot survive.

Norwegian explorer Roald Amundsen had returned from the South Pole much earlier in the season, without suffering such extreme weather.

Interesting Antarctica facts

  • Antarctica is the coldest, driest, highest and windiest continent on earth.
  • Antarctica is nearly 14 million sq km, slightly larger than Europe.
  • Ice covers 99% of Antarctica, and is up to 4km thick.
  • Antarctica is a cold desert with an average snowfall of only 150mm.
  • The coldest recorded temperature in Antarctica is -89.2°, the lowest on earth.
  • Antarctica is an isolated continent surrounded by the Southern Ocean.
  • In winter, over half the Southern Ocean freezes, doubling the size of Antarctica.
  • Antarctica has been covered with ice for 15 million years.
  • Dinosaurs inhabited Antarctica before it became cold.
  • There is no life in Antarctica, except on the coast.
  • Antarctica is over 1000 km from the nearest continent, South America
  • South America and Australia were once connected to Antarctica