50 amazing facts about Antarctica


cold places, coolest place

(Image credit: International Falls Chamber of Commerce/Pete Schultz)

The coldest temperature ever recorded on Earth was minus 128.56 degrees Fahrenheit (minus 89.2 degrees Celsius), registered on July 21, 1983, at Antarctica's Vostok station.

It's seriously dry

Antarctica's Dry Valleys

(Image credit: NASA)

The Dry Valleys of Antarctica are the driest place on Earth, with low humidity and almost no snow or ice cover.

There's a lot of wind

Pine Island glacier with snow

(Image credit: NASA/Maria-José Viñas)

On average, Antarctica is the windiest continent. Winds in some places of the continent can reach 200 mph (320 km/h).

It's a big place

Antarctic ocean voyage, conservation voyage to Antarctica, Ross Sea, southern ocean voyage, Antarctica sea life, Antarctica expedition, penguins

(Image credit: © NZ IPY-CAML.)

Antarctica is the fifth largest continent.

There's lots of ice


(Image credit: Robin E. Bell/ Lamont Doherty Earth Observatory.)

The Antarctic Ice Sheet is the largest single mass of ice on Earth.

Antarctica is an icy land

A satellite picture of Antarctica.

(Image credit: NASA)

Ninety-nine percent of Antarctica is covered by ice.

It stores a lot of fresh water

Lake Ellsworth field site

(Image credit: Neil Ross/University of Edinburgh)

Antarctica is home to about 70 percent of the planet's fresh water, and 90 percent of the planet's freshwater ice.

It's melting

Map of Antarctica and annual spatial footprint of the Byrd temperature record.

(Image credit: Julien Nicolas, Ohio State University)

If the West Antarctic Ice Sheet melted entirely, it would raise global average sea levels by 16 feet (5 meters), according to some estimates.

The ice is thick

Thwaites Ice Shelf, antarctica

(Image credit: James Yungel/NASA IceBridge, National Science Foundation.)

The average thickness of Antarctic ice is about 1 mile (1.6 kilometers).

It's bigger than the U.S.

Antarctica, Land mass, square miles, United States

(Image credit: Antarctic Digital Database/Jessica Walker, National Science Foundation.)

Including its islands and attached floating plains of ice, Antarctica has an area of about 5.4 million square miles (14 million square kilometers), about one-and-a-half times the size of the United States.

The Ross Ice Shelf is the largest

Ross ice shelf, antarctica

(Image credit: Image courtesy Jacques Descloitres, MODIS Land Rapid Response Team at NASA GSFC.)

The largest of Antarctica's ice shelves (floating tongues of ice) is the Ross Ice Shelf, which measures some 197,000 square miles (510,680 square kilometers), or 3.7 percent of the total area of Antarctica.

Andrea Thompson
Live Science Contributor

Andrea Thompson is an associate editor at Scientific American, where she covers sustainability, energy and the environment. Prior to that, she was a senior writer covering climate science at Climate Central and a reporter and editor at Live Science, where she primarily covered Earth science and the environment. She holds a graduate degree in science health and environmental reporting from New York University, as well as a bachelor of science and and masters of science in atmospheric chemistry from the Georgia Institute of Technology.