1. It was found fairly recently
No one set eyes on Antarctica until 1819; it was the last continent to be discovered. Before then, no one knew for sure that it existed. Buta belief in the existence of a large southern landmass was commonly held as far back asthe ancient Greeks. The idea became even more convincing after the discovery of Tierra del Fuego in the 16th century.
2. No one owns Antarctica
Various countries have attempted to stake a claim to Antarctica over the centuries. But in 1959, the Antarctic Treaty was signed by 48 countries, designating the continent “a natural reserve, devoted to peace and science.”
3. Antarctica is far bigger and more important than you think
At over 5.4 million square miles (14 million km2), it’s almost twice the size of the United States. Another fun fact about Antarctica is that it holds 90% of all the ice on the planet. This is extremely important to climate change given that if it all melted, the oceans would rise by a huge amount—200 to 210 ft. (60 to 65m).
4. Its size changes according to the seasons
Expanding sea ice along the coast means Antarctica nearly doubles in size in the winter months. It means that cruise ship tours to Antarctica can only be taken in the summer.
5. It doesn’t have a time zone
Yup, that’s not a mistake. There is no time zone in Antarctica. You can practically pick your own. Fun fact: most scientists who live for periods on the continent choose to go by the time zone of their home country.
6. It rains less in Antarctica than in the Sahara Desert
Another surprising fact about Antarctica is that it’s actually classified as a desert. Only 2 inches of rain (50mm) fall on average per year, so it’s dryer than the Sahara Desert.
7. Meteorite showers
Meteorites don’t crash here more regularly than anywhere else, but it’s easy to spot a meteorite against the bleak Antarctic landscape. Since the 1970s, more than 10,000 meteorites have been discovered in Antarctica, some of which date from 700,000 years ago.
8. The winds are legendary
While the Drake Passage and Cape Horn further north might be feared for their tumultuous winds, Antarctica endures gales that regularly reach up to 200 mph (320 kph).
9. Antarctica has volcanoes
Antarctica is home to at least two active volcanoes. There are likely more, but they have yet to breach the ice. The highest volcano is Mount Erebus, located on the Ross Ice Shelf in East Antarctica.
The other is close to Deception Island, a spot on cruise ship itineraries to Antarctica. Passengers can stop to swim at Deception Island thanks to the slightly warmer waters caused by nearby volcanic activity.
10. Antarctica was once lush and tropical
Scientists have uncovered fossils indicating that 50 million years ago, forests and complex ecosystems of animals and birds once covered this frigid, windy desert.
Antarctica remains an important place for scientific research. There are many more amazing facts about Antarctica yet to be discovered, but research into the continent continues to inform us of the incredible changes our planet has experienced through the epochs.