Facts | How Cold Is It? | How
Dry Is It? | Tell Me About the Ice
How Dark Is It? | How Windy
Is it? | Recycling | Supplies
| Why Are We Here?
Polar Bears | Orcas
I have been coming to Antarctica 11 times out of the last 12 years and I
still don’t know all the facts. But here are a few based on a
perspective from McMurdo Station, which is about 800 miles North of the
South Pole on longitude, 166 east. Or to put it simply, 2600 miles due
south of Christchurch, New Zealand. If you know your geography, New
Zealand is mostly two islands forming their own country located about
1500 miles east of Australia.
Antarctica is the coldest, darkest, driest, highest, and windiest
continent on earth.
The lowest temperature ever recorded on earth was a little more than –
128 degrees Fahrenheit recorded at a Russian site, Vostok, Antarctica
(about 200 miles from the South Pole towards Australia). People are
stationed there all year round as well as the South Pole and McMurdo
Station. The temperature at McMurdo Station varies by the season. In the
winter the temperature may be as low as – 65 degrees. In the summer,
the temperature around Christmas (don’t forget, our summer is the same
time as your winter) will be around + 30 degrees F. This year a record
was set for warm weather, + 51 degrees. This may have something to do
with Global Warming.
The sun sets on April 20th every year and it stays dark until
"sunrise", August 20. From August 20 till October first there
is a period where there are normal sunrises and sunsets. Then, the sun
begins to stay up all 24 hours. This continues till about the 20th
of February. At this time another period begins where there are normal
sunrises and sunsets. This continues till "sunset" on the 20th
of April. So it is dark as the inside of a closet with the door shut
till the next "sunrise", August 20th.
All the moisture in the air freezes, so the humidity in Antarctica is
almost zero. Therefore, it is drier than a desert.
The ice on Antarctica varies from one mile thick on the edges to 2 miles
thick at the South Pole. As for size, Antarctica is larger than the
lower United States and Mexico combined. So, that is a lot of ice. It is
enough ice to be 70 percent of the world’s fresh water, and 90 percent
of the world’s ice. There are huge mountains in the Transantarctic
Mountain range that go as high as 13, 500 feet. There is an active
volcano just 20 miles from McMurdo and it is 13,000 feet tall (Mount
Winds are formed at the earth’s equator and go straight up coming back
to earth at the South Pole. Here they head for the sea in all northbound
directions. The winds (called Katabatic winds) are cooled and begin to
pick up velocity, sometimes reaching 100 miles per hour by the time they
reach the sea headed back north where they came from. Another wind is
generated that blows on-shore around Antarctica headed south. These
winds collide at around the McMurdo latitude and go upwards to form an
upper atmosphere wind. The wind seldom stops because there are no trees
or plants to slow it down.
The United States Antarctic Program requires that everything brought
into Antarctica must be taken out. Or the remains of what is used up
must be taken out. Therefore, 75 percent of everything we use is
recycled back to the US. As a comparison, only 15 to 20 percent of used
up items in the US are recycled.
Everything that is brought in to Antarctica is either flown in with huge
airplanes or is brought in on ships. Every year, the US Coast Guard
sends an Ice Breaker to open a channel from the open sea to McMurdo.
They begin breaking ice about two weeks before Christmas and usually
arrive at an ice pier in McMurdo a few days after Christmas. The
re-supply vessel comes in about the first week in February and the Oil
Tanker about the same time or maybe a little earlier. Those are the only
supply ships that come to Antarctica and they are only once a year.
Why are we here?
The National Science Foundation (a US government organization) provides
grants (money) to Universities and they in turn provide a lot of
scientists to study such things as volcanoes, glaciers, rocks and rock
formations, meteorites, and numerous other things in very harsh
conditions. So, everything we do down here is in support of the
and Other Animals
The four most obvious animals here are the Orcas, seals, Skuas, and of
course everybody's favorite, a million penguins. But...NO POLAR BEARS.
That's a question I am always asked
when I talk to kids.
That's it, all the other animals are krill (a shrimp like delicacy the
penguins love), Antarctic Cod (a big
real slow fish that all the animals love), and numerous other marine
animals that live under the sea.
One of the most outstanding things about Antarctica is the Orcas, or
Killer Whale. These guys come in every year after the Coast Guard plows
a channel from the open sea to
McMurdo to look for seals.
These guys weigh about 10,000 pounds and a seal weighs only 1000 pounds.
On the ice a seal cannot move very fast, more like a big snail.
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