(ORDO NEWS) — Antarctica is the coldest, windiest and driest continent on Earth. It contains 90% of the planet’s ice in an area barely 1.5 times the size of the United States. We tell you what is happening on the southernmost continent of our Earth – believe me, this is not just a huge block of ice.
Climate of Antarctica
Antarctica is the fifth largest continent, but its size can change with the seasons – in winter, there is more ice along the coast, due to which Antarctica becomes almost twice as large.
The continent is divided into two regions: Eastern (2/3 of the continent) and Western (1/3 of the continent) Antarctica.
The thickness of the ice in the eastern part is on average 2 kilometers, but the landscape in the west is a little more interesting – there are whole mountain systems. By the way, West and East Antarctica are also separated by mountains – the Transantarctic Range.
Despite the fact that Antarctica is covered with ice, it is considered a desert because of the low rainfall. In some regions, on average, only 50 millimeters of precipitation falls annually – mostly in the form of snow. But despite the lack of precipitation, snow blizzards often occur on the continent – the wind can rise up to 320 km / h.
Since Antarctica is located in the Southern Hemisphere, the seasons in this region are different from the rest of the world: summer lasts from October to February, while winter covers the rest of the year. In summer, the average temperature on the continent rises to zero degrees, but in winter it can drop to minus 89 ° C.
Life in Antarctica
Plant life in Antarctica is limited to a small number of mosses, lichens and algae. But over the past 50 years, the amount of Antarctic moss has been increasing due to global warming and the warming of the continent.
Despite the lack of lush greenery and the complete absence of amphibians and reptiles, Antarctica is home to many other creatures adapted to harsh conditions. So fish, whales and emperor penguins live along the coast.
There are no indigenous peoples on the icy continent, and people appear in these territories only as part of research expeditions.
How research is done in Antarctica
Antarctica is a “science center” and source of data for climatologists, oceanographers, marine biologists and astronomers from all over the world.
With its dry climate and lack of light pollution, the continent is an ideal place for observing space it houses the ten meter South Pole Telescope, as well as the IceCube neutrino observatory, which is equipped with a detector to identify high-energy neutrinos (subatomic particles the size of electrons) that move in our galaxy and beyond.
In addition, the vast and unvegetated area is an excellent place to look for meteorites – dark fragments stand out well against the white snow. Thanks to this, in 2013 a team of Belgian and Japanese scientists found an 18-kilogram meteorite on the East Antarctic Plateau.
In recent decades, scientists have also been able to discover a system of rivers and lakes under the thick layer of Antarctic ice. To do this, they used radar and satellite technology. Thanks to such discoveries, researchers will be able to predict what changes await the ice of Antarctica in the near future.
The cold climate of Antarctica also plays into the hands of scientists, which allows them to study how plants and animals adapt to extreme environmental conditions.
For example, in 2013, researchers drew attention to an interesting feature of emperor penguins – despite the fact that they stand on ice all the time, their paws do not freeze.
But why is that? As a result, they found that this is due to a special heat exchange system – the blood vessels in the paws are very thin and at the same time pass very close to each other, so the limbs do not heat up as much as the rest of the body. Popular Mechanics talked about this evolutionary adaptation in more detail here.
The study of Antarctica can help people in space research. So in 2014, Antarctic microbes were discovered that only air is enough to live. Further searches for atypical life forms give researchers hope for the search for living organisms on other planets, including relatively inhospitable ones.
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