Michael A. Stecker

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Antarctica Home Page


Other Antarctica Pages:
Antarctic Photos 
Reference for History of Antarctica
Antarctic Icebergs   Icebergs of Chile

The Antarctic Environment
Antarctica is the highest, windiest (katabatic winds), coldest and most arid continent on earth.  It has an average elevation of 2250 meters. The highest point is the 5140m Vinson Massif.  Katabatic winds, driven by temperature and gravity, originate at higher elevations centrally and flow to the coast at high velocities.  About 98% of the continent is covered in ice, and this represents 90% of the world's ice - 30 million cubic km or around 70% of the world's fresh water.  Ice averages 2160 meters (6700 ft) thick and in areas reaches 4700m (14,000ft) in depth. Volcanism is found on Deception Island along the Antarctic Peninsula and isolated areas of West Antarctica.  Plant species in Antarctica are mostly small simple life-forms, like algae, lichen and moss. In contrast, the subantarctic islands support a much wider variety of flora. The largest of the endemic land-based animal species is a wingless midge (Belgica antarctica) that grows to just over a centimeter.  The rest, all invertebrates, are even smaller.  About 45 bird species breed south of the Antarctica Convergence, and just a few of those, mostly penguins and petrels, on the Antarctic continent itself.  The Southern Ocean, by contrast, teems with life and supports vast numbers of fish, seal, whale and seabird species.


14.25 million sq km. About 1.5 the area of the USA and second smallest continent (after Australia).

Non-tourist Population
about 1200 in winter

17,968 km

Ice Content
90% of the world's ice - 30 million cubic km or around 70% of the world's fresh water.

lowest point -- Indian Ocean 0 m
highest point -- Vinson Massif 5,140 meters (16,860 feet)

Antarctic Treaty, 1961

Points of Interest
The Lemaire Channel
The Lemaire Channel is a spectacular sight with enormous sheer cliffs falling straight into the sea.  It's a narrow channel flanked by the Antarctic Peninsula on one side and Booth Island on the other.  So photogenic is the channel that it is sometimes called "Kodak Gap".  At the northern end of the Lemaire Channel are a pair of tall, rounded snow-capped peaks known as Una's Tits. The channel was first navigated by Belgian explorer de Gerlach during his 1898 expedition aboard Belgica.  It
was somehow named after another Belgian explorer -- Charles Lemaire, who explored parts of the Congo.

Paradise (Bay) Harbor
Paradise Bay (see Antarctic Photos and Iceberg pages), off the Antarctic Peninsula, is one of continents most visited areas. I saw it from a small inflatable boat called a zodiac that motored around the icebergs that calve off the glaciers at the harbor's head. The icebergs and mountains reflect beautifully in the calm water.  This serene scene was the highlight of my trip.

Deception Island
An island of the South Shetland group, Deception Island is easily recognized on a map by its horseshoe shape.  Its collapsed volcanic caldera is breached at Neptune's Bellows and makes for one of the world's safest natural harbors despite the volcano's periodic eruptions.  Ships enter the relatively calm waters of Port Forster (12km wide) through the caldera's breach that is surrounded by snow-covered hills that reach 580 meters. The volcano is still active and its eruptions have caused considerable damage to past stations located on it. The most recent eruption was in 1991-92.  A curiosity to the Antarctic tourist is the volcanic activity that heats the waters of Pendulum Cove (so-called because of the British pendulum and magnetism experiments held there last century).  It is so warm that you can safely swim here. There are large colonies of chinstrap penguins on the coast, but few other marine animals.