Antarctica is Earth's highest continent (and the 5th largest in area), with an average elevation of 2,300 meters, 7,500 feet. (North America has an average elevation of 720 meters, 2,362 feet.)
The highest point in Antarctica is Vinson Massif, 4,897 meters, 22,481 feet. The lowest is the Bentley Subglacial Trench (named after POLAR-PALOOZA participant Charles Bentley) at 2,555 meters below sea level, -8,383 feet.
The Norwegian explorer Roald Amundsen was the first to reach the South Pole on December 14, 1911, followed a month later by the Englishman, Robert Falcon Scott, who died with four of his men on the return trip. No one else reached the Pole until October 31, 1956 when an American aircraft landed there.
90% of Earth's fresh water is locked up in the Antarctic ice cap, but some parts of the 2% of the continent that are not ice-covered are drier than the Gobi desert.
Earth's record lowest temperature was recorded here, at Russia's Vostok Station: minus 89.6 C (-129.3 F) in 1983. Highest temperature was at Lake Vanda, in the McMurdo Dry Valleys, where it reached 14.6 C (58.3 F) in 1974.
Lake Vostok, close to Russia's research station, is the largest of more than 70 sub-ice lakes in Antarctica. It's believed that Lake Vostok has been sealed off from the surface for more than 35 million years but that, just possibly, microbial life may be found there.
The southernmost land on Earth is the South Pole, at 90 degrees South latitude. So what is the northernmost land on Earth? (Beware, this is a trick question!)
The northernmost land on Earth is Kaffeeklubben Island, East of Greenland, at 83 degrees 40 minutes N, 29 degrees 50 minutes W. The North Pole (90N) isn't land at all, just sea-ice on the Arctic Ocean.
Antarctica is the only continent on Earth dedicated to peaceful scientific cooperation, "for the benefit of all Mankind," by virtue of the Antarctic Treaty, signed in Washington, DC in December 1959. (Great Britain and Argentina continued to discuss cooperation in Antarctica even during the Falklands War.)
Arctic terns (which ARCUS's PolarTREC project uses as a logo) migrate all the way from the Arctic to Antarctica and back, flying more than 30,000 kms.
The first human to spot Antarctica was likely the Russian explorer Thaddeus von Bellingshausen, (left), on January 27, 1820. There's some debate about when someone first stepped ashore. It might have been the American seal-hunter, John Davis, in February 1821, or perhaps the whaler, Henryk Bull in January 1895!
Antarctica is the only continent on Earth with no indigenous population: but during the southern summer season, more than 4,000 scientists and support staff now make the continent their temporary home.
Only one penguin species, the Emperor, is hardy enough to winter over on the Antarctic continent itself. The other five species of Antarctic penguins move farther North. (There are 17 penguin species altogether, all found in the Southern hemisphere.)
Parts of the polar regions have been warming much more rapidly than global averages. Barrow, on the North Slope of Alaska, warmed 4.16 degrees F between 1971 and 2000. Parts of the Antarctic Peninsula have warmed 4.5 degrees F in the last 5 decades. (Meanwhile parts of East Antarctica have not warmed at all.)
Dinosaurs once roamed both the Arctic and Antarctica: a tyrannosaur was found on Bylot Island, north of Baffin Island, dating from some 70 million years ago. In the Antarctic, researchers have found fossil remains of a plant-eating dinosaur from about 200 million years ago.
The largest creature living inland in Antarctica is a wingless midge (small fly, 12mm!) found in the Dry Valleys.
The North Magnetic Pole is currently moving North (at more than 40 km per year!) off Cape Isachsen, Nunavut, and by later this century will come ashore in Siberia.
There are at least four "South Poles." The geographic South Pole (at exactly 90 degrees South latitude), the "ceremonial" South Pole (the shiny ball surrounded by glass), the magnetic South Pole, and the geomagnetic South Pole.
Antarctica is on average colder than the Arctic for two reasons: it's higher in elevation, and its interior climate is "continental", not warmed by proximity to an ocean like that of the Arctic.
Sea-ice in the Arctic has been decreasing in thickness and lessening in extent both in summer and in winter. In winter 2005 and 2006, according to NASA data, winter sea-ice decreased 6% in both years. Summer sea-ice has recently been retreating at 10% per decade.
The Antarctic ice sheet contains about 7.2 million cubic miles of ice, about 58% of all the fresh water on the planet.
Some species of Antarctic fish have evolved natural anti-freeze proteins which allow their blood to remain liquid in sub-freezing temperatures.
Though polar bears appear white, their skin is actually black. Their fur is made up of transparent light-reflecting tubes which make them appear the color they do. Today, polar bears (found only in the Arctic) are the largest land-based predator on Earth.
When light returns to the Southern Ocean, there's a pulse of biological activity which makes them, for that period, more productive than tropical waters close to the Equator.
Penguins are birds that "fly" below water. Up north, puffins can fly both in the air and swim underwater.
Researchers study creatures like Weddell seals and Emperor penguins for clues to how they can hold their breath and dive so deep, hoping to learn ways to protect human infants from SIDS, Sudden Infant Dearth syndrome.
Only two types of flowering plants grow in the Antarctic, grasses found on islands off the Antarctic Peninsula.
Arctic comes from "Arktos", Greek for the constellation of the Great Bear, seen in the sky in Earth's far North. "Antarktikos" means the land opposite the Arctic.
There's good reason penguins have white fronts and black backs. When swimming they're less obvious to predators (like leopard seals) looking down from above. And when predators are swimming underneath them and look up, they're less obvious against the white of the sky, shimmering down through the water.
Approximately 4 (four) million people live in the Arctic (as opposed to about 4,000 seasonal researchers to the Antarctic, and about 25,000 tourists.) Indigenous peoples make up 80% of the population of Greenland, and about 20% in Alaska.
In 2004, European researchers drilled an ice core at Dome C in Antarctica that reached back 740,000 years. In 2006, the ANDRILL project drilled 1,287.87 meters (4,225.3 feet) into ocean sediment close to McMurdo Station, reaching back approximately 12 million years in time.
"Reindeer" and "caribou" are the same species, Arctic deer with large antlers. Reindeer is the term used in Eurasia, and caribou in North America.
The United States bought Alaska from Russia in 1867 for $7.2 million, about 2 cents an acre (approx. $135 million in 2007 dollars), and it became a state in 1959.
Greenland's ice sheet is only about 1/8th the size of Antarctica.
There's a hotel in Sweden that's made entirely out of ice. Not surprisingly, it was used to host a kick-off event for IPY.
"Growlers" aren't baby polar bears but small chunks of floating ice.
Before the invention of sunglasses, indigenous peoples of the North developed snow goggles to prevent becoming blinded by sunlight reflected off the ice.
The "Northern Lights" (the aurora) are also seen in the South, where they're called "Aurora Australis", the Southern Lights.
Emilio Palma was the first baby born in Antarctica, at Argentina's Esperanza Base, in 1978.
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POLAR-PALOOZA and the materials on this website are based upon work supported by the National Science Foundation under Grant No. 0632262. Any opinions, findings and conclusions or recommendations expressed in this material are those of PASSPORT TO KNOWLEDGE/Geoff Haines-Stiles Productions, Inc., and do not necessarily reflect those of the National Science Foundation.