Even before the first humans set foot on the 7th continent -- in fact, before we could even confirm its existence -- Antarctica had the power to intrigue and captivate our interest.
See if you know these 10 fun and fascinating facts about Antarctica, then join us on an authentic Antarctic expedition in virtual reality with our inspiring 360° VR Antarctic Experience series of immersive videos .
- You probably know it’s the coldest continent on the planet, but did you know Antarctica is also the driest? On average, the 7th continent sees just 200 mm (8 in) of precipitation a year, the majority of it along the coast. The Dry Valleys region, where it hasn’t rained in thousands of years, is so frigid and dry the conditions are about what you’d expect to experience on a visit to Mars.
- There are fewer than 140 permanent residents on the entire continent, but in 2016, thousands of people will temporarily work at Antarctic research stations.
- Antarctica was discovered relatively late in human history, in 1820 by the Russian expedition of Fabian Gottlieb von Bellingshausen and Mikhail Lazarev.
- Antarctica is governed by the Antarctic Treaty system, which suspends all territorial claims. First signed by 12 nations in 1959, the Treaty now has 53 supporting nations, 29 of which are considered “Consultative Parties” and are actively involved in decision-making.
- It was Scottish cartographer John George Bartholomew who first used “Antarctica” as the continent’s name in modern society, in the 1980s. However, the term meaning “opposite the poles” appeared as early as 350 B.C. in Aristotle’s Meteorology. Despite the lack of solid evidence of its existence until the 19th century, humans have long believed there was a large land mass at the bottom of the world to balance out the other continents.
- The Antarctic Ice Sheet covers approximately 98% of the continent. Experts estimate that 90% of the world’s ice and 70% of our fresh water is frozen in Antarctica!
- Captain James Cook and his crew are believed to have been the first to cross into the Antarctic Circle. His ships, HMS Resolution and Adventure, entered the circle on January 1773, in December 1773, and again in January 1774. Before he reached the Antarctic Peninsula on his first attempt, thick ice forced him to turn back.
- Penguins, blue whales, orcas, leopard seals and fur seals are among Antarctic sea life inhabiting the region. Most sea life in the region depend either directly or indirectly on krill for their survival. A fully grown blue whale can eat up to 4 million krill a day!
- One of the more controversial Antarctic facts among historians is who first set foot on the continent. Many believe it was sealer John Davis in February, 1821. However, the first documented and confirmed landing was by a whaling and sealing Antarctic expedition in January, 1895. A crew led by Norwegian Leonard Kristensen landed a small boat with six men aboard from their ship - aptly named Antarctic - at Cape Adare.
- Crew aboard Sir Ernest Shackleton's Nimbus Antarctic exploration in 1907 were the first to reach the magnetic South Pole. Led by Edgeworth David, they were also the first to climb Mount Erebus. The first group to reach the geographic South Pole was led by explorer Roald Amundsen from the Fram expedition in 1911.
Inspired? Explore Antarctica now in VR! With Quark Expeditions’ 360° Virtual Reality Antarctic Experience, you will be transported on a virtual journey to one of the world’s wildest and most remote destinations, from your mobile device or computer. For best results, download the YouTube App first.
Go aboard the ship to see breathtaking views and the onboard comforts that await you, or paddle a kayak in one of the most pristine, unspoiled environments on the planet. Cruise on Zodiac landing craft, explore the 7th continent and get up close and personal with the region’s unique and curious inhabitants! Throughout the journey, you’ll interact with and learn about history and wildlife from Quark’s Expedition staff.