The Antarctic, a mysterious frozen continent, about 1.5 times the size of the United States, 99 percent of which is covered by ice. It contains about 70 percent of the planet's freshwater and 90 percent of the Earth's ice. Being the least populated continent, it keeps a lot of secrets. Of course the more we explore and analyze Antarctica the less it seems mysterious to us. We already know why water in the 'blood falls' is red and that there are mountains and hundreds of lakes underneath thick layers of ice.
However, because of the remoteness and extreme weather conditions, Antarctica wasn't properly studied by scientists and it remains shrouded in icy mysteries. Conspiracy theorists have developed many theories trying to find out what secrets the ancient glaciers keep. Nazi base, UFO base, the Lost City of Atlantis, and the most ancient pyramid in the world are just some of the things which conspiracy theorists think can be situated in the Antarctic.
In contrast with many destinations and places which are listed on The Travel, Antarctica isn't a popular place among tourists, so only a few of you reading this article will be able to explore it yourself. For this reason, we have collected the most interesting information about Antarctica trying to show you the solved mysteries related to the icy continent and taking a look at controversial issues in a pragmatic, non-sensational manner.
Now let's take a look at the most interesting things, objects, and creatures underneath and above the ground on this mysterious continent where mostly penguins and scientists dwell.
20 Underneath: Mountain Lakes
There are many things hidden under the thick layers of ice in Antarctica and some of them are already discovered. One of such discoveries are the underground lakes. Scientists first find the lakes in 1970 with help of echo sounding which is very similar to using radars to locate aircraft in the sky. The estimated amount of lakes under the 3 kilometers of ice is 400, but this estimation is approximate and scientists suggest that there could be twice as many lakes there because there are many regions which weren't examined.
Most likely these lakes were formed after the separation of Antarctica from Gondwanaland, which was a supercontinent many many years ago.
19 Above the Ground: Blood Falls
This flow of red liquid in the middle of snow kingdom has been confusing scientists since the beginning of the past century. In 1911 an Australian geologist first discovered the 'blood waterfall' and the quest to solve this riddle began. Scientists understood very quickly that the water was red due to the high iron content, but they were able to prove the theory and find the source of red water only at the beginning of 2018.
It turned out that there's an underground lake not far from the falls with water full of oxidized iron, which gave the water this color. Puzzle solved.
18 Underneath: Methane
Have you ever heard about Abraham lake in Canada full of mesmerizing ice bubbles? If yes, have you ever wondered what these bubbles are? It's frozen methane which comes from microbes digesting organic matter in water. Methane is a greenhouse gas worse than carbon dioxide and although it looks beautiful when frozen, it poses a serious threat to mankind's well-being.
Right now huge amounts of methane are frozen and hidden in the ice of Antarctica, but if glaciers continue to recede it may lead to the explosion of a 'methane bomb' which we'd better avoid. After all, it's all in our hands.
17 Above the Ground: Giant Hole
A hole larger than the Netherlands, or the size of Maine has opened in Antarctica in 2017. These holes aren't something new to Antarctica and they are known as polynyas. However, the hole which opened in 2018 is the first one in forty years and its the biggest one since the 1970s.
National Geographic explains that this phenomenon happens when warm water is pushed toward the surface with ocean currents which makes the ice layer on the top melt. When the Antarctic atmosphere comes in contact with the surface water, it sinks and cools, then heats up again and rises back towards the surface.
16 Underneath: Dangerous Bacteria
Scientists have found microbes underneath the ice of Antarctica and bacteria hiding right in the ice. Researchers aren't sure if it is a functional ecosystem or just disorganized hubs of life, but what they know is that the bacteria found in ice samples are old and date back to 420,000 years old.
Scientists also aren't sure if ice acts as a preservative which makes the microbes intact until the ice melts, or active microbial communities are living inside the ice. Another question which pops in mind is if these bacteria are dangerous? The potential of that is rather high. Maybe by not being able to deal with global warming, we're slowly opening the Pandora box?
15 Above the Ground: The Pyramid
Do you remember the loud news titles saying that 'Pyramid found in the Antarctic could change the history of humanity' from a couple of years ago? I remember it very well and I can imagine that just like me, many people around the world got puzzled by reading these titles.
Now, let's take a closer look at this issue. There's really a formation in the Antarctic that looks like a pyramid and it's even been nicknamed 'a Pyramid'. But it's only a mountain that looks like a pyramid. And it wasn't discovered by Google Maps as some articles say. It was first encountered during a 1910-1913 expedition in Antarctica and it was kept secret from the average man. After a hundred years people found out about it and started to create conspiracy theories around it.
“By definition, it is a nunatak, which is simply a peak of rock sticking out above a glacier or an ice sheet. This one has the shape of a pyramid, but that doesn’t make it a human construction,” says Mitch Darcy, a geologist at the German Research Centre for Geosciences in Potsdam.
Look at Mount Bulandstindur in Iceland or Matterhorn in the Alps. They also look like pyramids, while being mountains. The fact is that pyramidal peaked mountains is a phenomenon that you can often see in glaciated areas and 'Pyramid' found in Antarctica is one of them.
14 Underneath: Hidden City
We already know that there are hundreds of lakes hidden underneath the thick ice of Antarctica, but what if there's something more? To know for sure we have to go through 3 kilometers of ice and make proper research and until then we can only theorize.
There are people who suggest that frozen continent is a home to the Lost City of Atlantis. If we take into consideration that a long long time ago Antarctica was as warm as Los Angeles is now and it was a very appropriate place to build a city it would be quite logical to suggest that this area was inhabited. The society that could have existed there came to an end with the last Ice Age which completely froze the continent.
So, it's quite possible that some kind of society lived in Antarctica before the Ice Age, but whether it's the Lost City of Atlantis or some other civilization, we can't really tell for sure.
13 Above the Ground: Mysterious Meteorite
Not so long ago, a team from Japan and Belgium discovered a hefty meteorite from Mars in the Eastern Antarctic.
"This is the biggest meteorite found in East Antarctica for 25 years," Vinciane Debaille, a geologist from Université Libre de Bruxelles in Belgium said. "This is something very exceptional. When you find such a meteorite on Earth, it means that when it was in the sky, it was much larger."
Just imagine, the expedition has spent 40 days to collect 75 kilograms of the meteorite! In fact, there are a lot of scientists and adventurers who travel to Antarctica in search for meteorites.
12 Underneath: Oil
Did you know that there's oil in Antarctica? But it's too dangerous to extract it and we'd better leave it where it is. The Madrid Protocol signed in 1991 in the capital of Spain regulates the environmental protection of Antarctica and bans all commercial mining until 2048.
Today, there are no plans for commercial mining in Antarctica and no known plans to reverse the collective decision for Antarctica's environmental protection.
In fact, the weather, quantity of ice and distance from industrialized areas make extraction of oil very expensive and dangerous. So let's hope that international agreements won't be broken because of someone's greed or ignorance.
11 Above the Ground: Mount Erebus
Despite the harsh weather conditions, Mount Erebus is the southern-most active volcano in the world with liquid magma and lava likes boiling for eons. To be more precise Mount Erebus has been active since about 1.3 million years. It's also Antarctica's second-highest volcano with the elevation of 3,794 meters above the sea level.
The Ross Island, where Mount Erebus is situated is also home to three inactive volcanoes Mount Terra Nova, Mount Terror, and Mount Bird.
It's notable that during the last 30 years the activity of the volcano has increased. There are currently two lava lakes at Mount Erebus.
10 Underneath: Nazi Base
There are theories that Germans built a station on Antarctica to fly to the moon and that Hitler didn't commit suicide and fleeted to Antarctica instead. While these rumors are false, Germans were really exploring Antarctica and built a hidden base 960km from the North Pole.
Knowing Hitler's passion for mysteries (Nazis did an expedition to India and Tibet to find the powerful artifact called the Spear of Destiny which would grant Hitler victory in war) it's no wonder that he has searched for something in Antarctica. Nazis base in Antarctica didn't exist long and was abandoned 70 years ago after its crew was poisoned by the meat of the polar bear.
9 Above the Ground: Deep Lake
Deep Lake in East Antarctica is one of the most remarkable ecosystems on Earth. Its waters can rival with the Dead Sea in terms of saltiness and its saltiness also makes the water liquid despite freezing temperatures. It's a very dangerous environment for most of the sentient beings living there. For instance, it's dangerous for penguins to swim in this lake because the water is much colder than in the ocean.
Deep Lake is home to only four species, three of which belong to Archaea, one of the most enduring life forms on Earth. No one, except for the cold-loving microbes can live in such a harsh environment.
8 Underneath: Ancient Rainforests
Are you surprised to see this one on the list? Of course, you shouldn't expect a secret oasis in Antarctica where green rainforests grow. But leaf impressions and fossilized wood clearly show that there were rainforests in Antarctica. There were also signs of tropical trees and that once again leads us to a quite trustworthy scientific theory which states that before the Ice Age, Antarctica was a warm region were ancient civilization (or civilizations) lived.
It is very interesting to ponder what the future research of the frozen continent will uncover because the things are hidden under thick layers of ice surely have a lot of stories to tell and we're just starting to unearth them.
7 Above the Ground: Paradise Bay
There's nothing mysterious about Paradise Bay, but because it's one of the few flawless expressions of Antarctic beauty it should definitely be included in the list. All the things that you have seen on the postcards from Antarctica are present there. Giant icebergs, mammoth glaciers standing on a steel-blue sea and playful penguins doing their routine stuff which looks so entertaining to us.
It's one of the two spots on the continent where you can easily set foot on the icy land and if you just want to experience the beauty of Antarctica without any extremes, it's a perfect place to be.
6 Underneath: Plants
It's difficult to imagine plants growing in this frosty kingdom, but scientists were able to find some. Just like everything on this continent they're far from being ordinary. About 300 species of lichens and 100 species of moss which can endure cold were found in Antarctica. Most of them exist on the western side of the continent which is warmer, but certain species can also be found in colder regions of the continent.
Tussock grass can be found on islands around the continent, the lichen grows in cracks between rocks where they can access water and green and red snow algae can be found on the underside of floating ice and in the snow.
5 Above the Ground: The Oldest Worm in the World
According to National Geographic, the fifty-million-year old sperm cells on the ancient worm's egg case were found in Antarctica. The egg case belongs to the class Clitellata worm, species of which are long extinct which make it quite an extraordinary finding.
Studying this finding the scientists were able to figure out evolutionary relationships between different worm species and they're hoping to find more ancient specimen during the next expeditions.
“A world of new information about the past is waiting to be revealed by further studies of the kind conducted here," says Michael Archer, a paleontologist at University of New South Wales in Australia.
4 Underneath: Gamburtsev Mountain Range
A team of scientists was traveling across Antarctica when they suddenly stumbled upon a very thin ice in the middle of an ice sheet and found mountains underneath the ice. You've got it right, mountains underneath the ice. And not just one tiny mountain but big mountains. Called the Gamburtsev Mountains, they stretch to 1,200 kilometers across Antarctica's interior and rise to 3,000 meters. This mountain range is about a billion years old and it's incredible how it still exists because the march of geological time should have already wiped it out a long time ago.
Scientists have their theories in regards to how they were able to stand so long, but they still don't know it for sure.
3 Above the Ground: B-15
B-15 is the world's largest recorded iceberg. It's 37 kilometers wide, 295 kilometers long and its surface is larger than the territory of Jamaica island. It was calved from the Ross Ice Shelf of Antarctica in March 2000 and it broke into smaller pieces soon after it.
Scientists believe that this iceberg broke away not due to the global warming, but because of the natural long-term cycle which occurs every 50-100 years. It's interesting that scientists tracked the route of B-15 carefully, for more than 6 years until it eventually broke into many lesser pieces. Some of them are still flowing in the waters of Earth.
2 Underneath: See-Through Fish
Please welcome the one and only see-through fish! This creature had to adapt to survive the cold temperature and for that reason, it evolved into such a unique being. The cause of translucent coloring may be the loss of hemoglobin, a protein which makes our blood and blood of birds and animals red. If icefish encounters warmer water, it will die, so waters of Antarctica are literally its home.
If see-through fish isn't enough, Antarctica has a lot of other interesting species that can leave you speechless. What about leggy sea spiders the size of the dinner plate or a giant squid, which most probably inspired the mythical Kraken?
And don't Google Eulagisca Gigantea please. I wish I never saw this worm.
1 Above the Ground: World’s Loneliest ATM
There's nothing special about ATMs in New York, but ATM in Antarctica looks more like a holy grail or an artifact from the Lost City of Atlantis. Wells Fargo has installed an ATM in Antarctica in 1998 at McMurdo Station, which is the largest hub for scientists on the continent. The population of this station ranges from 250 to 1000 depending on the time of the year, but even though there are more penguins than people on the continent, money is still a necessity here.
Certainly, the more expeditions are sent to the Antarctic and the better equipment scientists have, the more we will know about the past of this continent which is still surrounded by mystery. As Huw Griffiths, a marine biologist with the British Antarctic Survey says:
"There are a lot of mysteries. The more things you find out about Antarctica, the more questions it raises than answers."