Cold, hard facts about the cold, hard continent. (This article was first published in Uncle John’s Triumphant 20th Anniversary Bathroom Reader.)
Antarctica isn’t completely covered in ice—98% of the continent is. The ice averages 1.34 miles thick, and is 3 miles at its thickest.
At 5.5 million square miles, Antarctica is the fifth largest continent (only Europe and Australia are smaller).
Antarctica is the driest continent. One region has received no precipitation for the last two million years.
The Bentley Subglacial Trench is 8,383 feet below sea level—the lowest dry location on Earth.
If Antarctica’s ice sheets melted, the world’s oceans would rise about 200 feet.
There are 145 liquid lakes (and counting) beneath the Antarctic ice. One, Lake Vostok, is under 2.5 miles of ice and is about the size of Lake Ontario.
The lowest temperature ever recorded on Earth was in 1983 at Russia’s Vostok Station: –128.6°F.
Cold, dense air being pulled by gravity down Antarctic mountains creates the most extreme katabatic (Greek for “go down”) winds on the planet. They have been clocked at 200 mph.
Antarctic ice accounts for 70% of the world’s fresh water.
The largest non-migratory land animal in Antarctica is the belgica, a wingless midge (gnat) less than half an inch long. They don’t fly (the winds would blow them away); they hop like fleas and live in penguin colonies.
The Antarctic Treaty, drawn up in 1959, reserves the continent for exploration and scientific research and prohibits its use for military purposes. To date, 45 countries have signed the charter, technically the first arms-reduction treaty of the Cold War.