50 amazing facts about Antarctica

There's a well-known current

Circumpolar Current

(Image credit: San Diego Supercomputer Center, UC San Diego)

The world's largest wind-driven current, the Circumpolar Current, circles clockwise around Antarctica, from west to east, and is instrumental in moving heat, salt, nutrients and marine life among the world's main ocean basins.

It's home to the South Pole

Amundsen-Scott South Pole Station

(Image credit: Nick Strehl, National Science Foundation)

Antarctica is, of course, home to the geographic South Pole, the spot where the Earth's (imaginary) rotation axis would intersect the surface — at least, it is usually. There is some wobble in Earth's orbit, so the location is not always a precise one.

Antarctica is super cold

A sundog in Antarctica

(Image credit: Don Brown, Utah Skies (opens in new tab))

The air in Antarctica is so cold that water vapor can condense out of the air and form tiny ice crystals that then fall to the ground. On a sunny day, the sun's rays glint off the crystals, creating a phenomenon called diamond dust, according to the British Antarctic Survey.

There are some cool formations

weird geology, natural phenomena

(Image credit: Mount Erebus Volcano Observatory, NM Tech)

Giant, hollow towers of ice form on Mount Erebus when fumarole cracks on the volcano that vent hot gas spew steam into the open air. The steam freezes in place in the frigid air, forming towers up to 30 feet (10 meters) tall.

Antarctica's lake is salty

Deep Lake

(Image credit: UNSW)

Deep Lake in Antarctica is so salty that it stays liquid at temperatures down to minus 4 degrees Fahrenheit (minus 20 degrees Celsius).

There's a hole in the ozone

the area of the ozone hole above antarctica in october 2013.

(Image credit: NASA/Ozone Hole Watch)

Scientists with the British Antarctic Survey first noticed a significant depletion of the ozone in the layer of the atmosphere called the lower stratosphere above Antarctic in the 1970s.

It has cloudy skies

cloudy skies, antarctica

(Image credit: Zee Evans, National Science Foundation)

Areas along Antarctica's coasts are among the cloudiest places in the world, according to the British Antarctic Survey. This "hole" in the ozone layer grows and shrinks with the seasons and is largely caused by chemicals called chlorofluorocarbons, once widely used in air conditioners, aerosol sprays and refrigerators.

It's a hunters' paradise

Big chondrite meteorite from Antarctica

(Image credit: International Polar Foundation)

Antarctica is considered the premier hunting ground for meteorites on Earth, in part because the dark rocks stand out against the white ice, but also because the meteorites are largely undisturbed by natural processes.

It set a record for coldest temperature

Coldest places on Earth

(Image credit: Ted Scambos, National Snow and Ice Data Center.)

While the coldest temperature ever measured by thermometer on Earth's surface was made at Vostok Station (see slide 1), the coldest ever recorded was minus 136 degrees Fahrenheit (minus 93.2 Celsius), measured in pockets scattered near a high ice ridge between Dome Argus and Dome Fuji, two summits on the East Antarctic Plateau. The satellite measurement, made on Aug. 10, 2010, was announced in December 2013, and, if confirmed on the ground, could beat out the Vostok record. The World Meteorological Organization only recognizes temperature measurements made a few meters above the ground as eligible for records.

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.