Antarctica is the second smallest and most inhospitable continent on the planet. Located in the South Pole, the uttermost south of the world, Antarctica is an icy land of research and natural phenomena (and penguins! Cannot forget the penguins), and over the years scientists and adventurers have uncovered fascinating information about this frozen land, many of which might come as a surprise to a lot of people - and we’re gonna tell you about it!

9 Antarctica is actually a desert

Approximately 98% of the Antarctic territory is covered by ice, which leads many people to believe it is a humid place, but that’s not really true; Antarctica is, in fact, the world’s biggest desert, if a polar desert. It is the driest, coldest, and windiest place on earth, and because the average temperatures are so low, the water doesn't evaporate as much, which leads Antarctica to have the lowest levels of precipitation in the world. The sun in Antarctica can also be just as harsh, if not more, than sand deserts, as the snow reflects all the sunlight back into anything on land.

8 Antarctica is an international region

Simultaneously a no-mans and all-mans land, Antarctica is politically ruled by the Antarctic Treaty. Signed in 1959 by the 12 countries that had previously claimed territories in the continent, they all agreed to waive their claim for an indeterminate period in the name of international cooperation for scientific and research purposes. The Treaty established Antarctica as a territory of scientific investigation and banned any military activity. As of 2019, the Treaty has 54 signatories and Antarctica has multiple research bases of these countries where many research projects are conducted.

7 Actually, Antarctica is essentially a big international lab

The reason that this Treaty could be established in the first place is that Antarctica has no native population. For its arid and extremely cold climate, it’s too inhospitable for a sedentary population and consists mostly of research bases. Even the scientists and researchers who reside there often only live there in the summer. Its lack of population and harsh weather makes it ideal for the conduction of many scientific research projects.

6 There are 0 polar bears

Despite being called “polar” bears, this species exists only in the Arctic. Alas, penguins and polar bears partying together on a snowy scape is the stuff of Christmas commercials: penguins are native to the South Pole and polar bears live exclusively in the North Pole! Antarctica has no reptiles either, but seals, birds, and various species of fish and whales are native to the territory.

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5 It holds 90% of the world’s fresh water reserves

Frozen in the Antarctic glaciers are around 70% of all the freshwater reserves on Planet Earth, in its 2 km thick ice sheet. That also makes it the continent with the highest average altitude in the world.

4 A Russian doctor once removed his own appendix there

In 1961, Russian doctor Leonid Rogozov, the only doctor stationed at Novolazarevskaya Station, had to perform an emergency appendix removal on himself. He did so applying available antibiotics and anesthetics, half reclining on a bed and having fellow mates holding up a mirror so he could see what he was doing; the operation was successful and in two weeks he had resumed his post.

After this incident, extensive medical check-ups were required before explorers went to Antarctica. Despite common info running around the internet, explorers are not required to remove their appendixes before going to Antarctica, however, doctors that are stationed there in the winter are, due to the fact that there is generally only one doctor on duty in the winter months, and an emergency evacuation like an appendix removal is extremely challenging, if not impossible, and, well, not many people want to step into Dr. shoes and remove their own appendix!

3 Antarctica, an ex-tropical beach?

Chances are that when travelers are looking for tropical seaside destinations to visit, Antarctica doesn’t come to mind. But, had we been alive a few hundred million years ago, we could have seen vast and verdant vegetation and 10°C of average temperature in the continent. Seems hard to imagine, but evidence indicates that it’s true!

2 There is a blood-red waterfall there

Dramatically and aptly called ‘Blood Falls’, a gushing red waterfall in the Taylor Glacier at McMurdo Dry Valleys had long since fascinated curious observers and scientists alike. A recent study solved the mystery: The Taylor Glaciers has lakes of unusually salty waters, high on iron, which both gives it its rusty red color and lower freezing point, which makes it flow like a waterfall.

1 It has Southern Lights, Diamond Dust, and Second Suns

Though they all sound like fascinating aspects of fictional worlds, these phenomenons are all regularly seen in Antarctica. The Southern Lights - aurora australis -, similar to the Northern Lights, are a play of lights created by solar winds passing by Earth; the second suns, sun dogs or mock suns are common optical illusions experienced in the Antarctic region, sunlight reflection on ice crystals; the diamond dust is a fine layer of glittering mist near the soil formed by ice crystals reflecting in the air. Magical!

Next: 10 Bizarre Things Hidden Right Underneath The Antarctic (10 Found Above Ground)