50 amazing facts about Antarctica

Male penguins stays on Antarctica through winter

emperor penguins, penguins, antarctic penguins, british antarctic survey penguins

(Image credit: British Antarctic Survey.)

The male Emperor penguin is the only warm-blooded animal that remains on the Antarctic continent through the winter. It stays to nest on the single egg laid by its mate (the female spends nine weeks at sea and returns in time for the egg to hatch).

There's a lack of diversity

Friis Hills

(Image credit: Adam Lewis, NDSU)

The soils of most of the extreme-cold deserts of Antarctica are the least diverse habitats on Earth in terms of fauna, according to the British Antarctic Survey.

It's a barren land

antarctica, mountains

(Image credit: Jeff Scanniello, National Science Foundation)

There are no trees or shrubs on Antarctica, and only two species of flowering plants (found on some of Antarctica's surrounding islands and on the Antarctic Peninsula).

There's a locals-only policy

dog sled team, antarctica

(Image credit: US Navy, National Science Foundation)

As of 1994, no non-native species are allowed to be taken to Antarctica.

It is experiencing unprecedented warming

Antarctic Peninsula in spring.

(Image credit: NASA.)

The Antarctic Peninsula, which juts out into warmer waters north of Antarctica, has warmed 2.5 degrees Celsius (4.5 degrees Fahrenheit) since 1950, according to the U.S. National Snow and Ice Data Center. That's about five times the rate of warming measured for the rest of the world, according to NASA.

Its glaciers are in retreat

Antarctic ice flow speeds derived from satellite data.

(Image credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/UCI )

Eighty-seven percent of the Antarctic Peninsula's glaciers are in retreat, according to the website of the United States' Palmer Station.

Icebergs are breaking away

Iceberg B-15, antarctica

(Image credit: University of Wisconsin - Madison, Space Science and Engineering Center, Antarctic Meteorological Research Center.)

In March 2000, the largest iceberg ever measured broke away from the Ross Ice Shelf. The iceberg, dubbed B-15, was 170 miles (270 kilometers) long and 25 miles (40 km) wide — nearly the size of Connecticut.

The Pine Island Glacier is speeding up

Pine Island Glacier

(Image credit: J. Johnson)

The flow of West Antarctica's Pine Island Glacier has been speeding up over the last few decades, and it contributes 25 percent of Antarctica's ice loss.

There are huge sand dunes

Antarctica's McMurdo dry valleys, antarctica

(Image credit: Peter West, National Science Foundation)

Antarctica's largest sand dune is 230 feet (70 meters) high and more than 650 feet (200 m) wide, and is located in the McMurdo Dry Valleys.

It's windy, windy, windy

Antarctica's Inexpressible Island and the Northern Foothills Mountains, anarctica

(Image credit: NASA/USGS.)

So-called katabatic winds blow off Antarctica's high interior toward the ocean and can reach speeds that qualify as hurricane-strength — up to 200 mph (320 km/h).

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.