1/ Why doesn't it rain in Antarctica ?
The simple answer is that it's too
cold. What would be rain falls as snow instead, but
not very much of that falls either, Antarctica is classed
as a desert as so little snow falls, it's just that
being so cold, it doesn't go anywhere and so builds
up instead until it's kilometres thick.
2/ Where is
the South Pole ?
Unlike the North Pole
the South Pole is inland. It is near the middle of the
Great Antarctic ice sheet at an altitude of 2800 m.
It is 1230 km from the nearest coast. The ice at the
Pole is moving at about 10 m per year. Each year staff
at the Amundsen-Scott (USA) station, at the South Pole,
move the marker flag to compensate for the movement
of the ice.
The magnetic South Pole
on the other hand doesn't have a fixed position, it
drifts about continually by quite a long way. It was
first reached during Shackleton's British Antarctic
Expedition (1907-1909) by Professor Edgeworth David
and Sir Douglas Mawson (Australian geologists) and Alistair
At that time the magnetic
pole lay within the Antarctic continent at latitude
71.6°S and longitude 152°E.
Today the Magnetic South
Pole lies far out to sea at latitude 65°S and longitude
139°E, it travels 10 to 15 km north-west each year.
The pole wanders daily in a roughly elliptical path
around this average position, and may be as far as 80
km away from this position when the Earth's magnetic
field is disturbed.
3/ What do you pack in your
Depends what you mean
by a survival kit. Scientists in Antarctica generally
live on a base where everything is provided for them.
Like living in a sort of hotel - except there aren't
any staff to do things for you! Apart from the specialist
jobs on many bases everyone takes it in turns to do
the mundane unskilled work. Near to many bases is a
hut that contains enough tents, clothing and food for
a full base compliment for about 18 months, just in
case the base burns down and they are left with nothing.
When going off base
to stay in tents or huts, there are sufficient rations
for much longer than the intended stay. The saying is "pitch
your tent as though you're there for a month, even though
it may only be a night" If the wind gets up, then
a storm could (and has in the past) kept the men in
their tent for a month, unable to leave because of the
In huts and tents,
there is everything needed to stay alive in really low
temperatures. Paraffin stove and lamp, loads of high
energy food, synthetic camping mat, air mattress and
thick sheepskin on top of this, then two huge great
down filled sleeping bags with a big hood, and of course
lots of layers of very warm clothing. (but not much
underwear - not a lot of inclination to change and wash
it when it's well below freezing!).
4/ How do
people survive the cold in Antarctica ?
You wrap up warm
and several of them. It's very important to cover feet,
ankles, hands, wrists and your head. Mainly synthetic
fibers these days, not forgetting
insulated footwear too. Clothes
need to be kept dry and clean to maintain their best
UV (ultra-violet) radiation
is fierce in the summer so wearing wrap-round goggles
and sun screen on any exposed skin is just as important
as keeping warm in the winter. It can be quite a
surprise to get sun burnt under your nose
from the light reflected from snow and ice.
Survival is largely about
not being caught out in the worst weather, not getting
lost in whiteout conditions and not taking
unnecessary risks. This means you must be
well-trained to carry out your activities, careful about
how you dress and work in a team where each member watches
the others for signs of "frost-nip" and hypothermia.
Food is very important
too. Clothing keeps the body heat from escaping, plenty
of nutritious food feeds the furnace from the inside
and helps generate warmth.
Despite what people often
assume, the Antarctic is not a place to take risks,
but a place where weather extremes are planned for in
advance and survival actions are a well rehearsed drill.
Antarctic clothing |
More on Antarctic food
5/ Has a whale
ever hit an iceberg?
purpose! Icebergs are part of the scenery as far as
whales are concerned, like trees are to elephants I
suppose. Maybe one's hit one while looking the other
way, but no great consequence other than a bumped snout
- and some embarrassment in case his mates were looking.
6/ Have you ever
seen an ice berg fall into the water?
and I was actually about 1/4 of a km away from it in
a small boat at the time! It started with a bit of rumbling
and a few snowballs fell from the top, then a huge great
column of ice like a couple of office blocks slid into
the water. This caused an enormous wave and we thought
for a while that we'd be overwhelmed, but were ok after
much rocking about. It's one of those things that it's
good to be able to say happened to you, but you wouldn't
choose to do it!
7/ Is there a rubbish (garbage) truck in Antarctica?
Antarctic bases are
much more environmentally friendly these days than they
used to be. Most bases are small with around 15 people in winter
50 in summer, so there's no truck. All waste is crushed
and segregated into different types before being taken
out by the ships that bring in the new supplies. The
waste is then dealt with in the home country.
8/ How many species of animals live in Antarctica?
Not sure really, but
not that many. As you move away from the tropics towards
colder climates, there is a general reduction in the
number of species, but increase of numbers of individuals
of a species. So Antarctica has not so many different
type of animal - but loads of each, the tropics have
loads of types, but not so many of each. The second
most numerous mammal in the world after man is the crabeater
seal - a typical Antarctic animal.
9/ What sort of clothes do you wear in Antarctica?
Thin layers and several
of them. It's very important to cover ankles, wrists
and your head. Mainly synthetic fibers these days.
10/ What happens if you run out of food?
Unlikely (see above),
in the extreme case we had rifles and skinning knives
in order to capture and eat penguins and seals. At my
base I was a marine biologist, so we had boats and nets
and could have caught fish to eat (in fact we did eat
some of the extra ones we caught).
12/ If the temperature got to 50 degrees C, how
long would it take to melt all of Antarctica?
Don't know - ages
- there's about 30 million cubic kilometres of ice in
Antarctica. Enough to cover the whole of Australia to
a depth of 4 km.
13/ Do they sometimes use huskies in expeditions?
Not any more. As a
part of the environmental protection, no non-native
species are allowed to be taken to Antarctica, the last
huskies were taken out in 1994. They were superseded
for transport many years before that by motor powered
14/ How do you know the ozone layer is there when
you can't see it?
You can detect it
with special instruments. Like you can detect x-rays,
radio waves and electricity even though you can't see
on the ozone layer
15/ Are children allowed to go to Antarctica?
Allowed to - yes,
but don't often go. Everyone who goes with a country's
Antarctic programme has a job to do, children don't
have jobs and so don't go. Children can go as tourists
although the cruises are very much aimed at adults and
I imagine most children would find them fairly boring
for much of the time - like a load of other things adults
seem to enjoy.
There are schools however at the Argentinian Esperanza
Base and also the Chilean Presidente Eduardo Frei Montalva
Base, both on the Antarctic Peninsula. The parents of
these children work at these bases.
Up to 2009, there were eleven children born in Antarctica
at either an Argentine or Chilean base. In both cases,
they were part of a deliberate attempt to strengthen
national territorial claims.
16/ What kind of jobs are
there in Antarctica and what is the lifestyle like?
Antarctic bases exist
for scientific research, so jobs are scientific
or support for the scientists.
marine biologist, bird biologist, lake biologist,
microbiologist, atmospheric scientists, geologists,
climatologists and lots of other sorts of 'ologists!
radio operator, boatman, mechanic, electrician,
doctor, cook, diving officer, carpenter.
More on jobs in Antarctica
17/ Does Antarctica have electricity?
Yes it does. Usually provided by diesel
powered generators at each base, but increasingly some
bases are installing windmills to generate supplementary
electricity. This makes sense as Antarctica is the windiest
place on earth, but poses a problem in case the strong
winds damage the windmills.
18/ What Sound do Penguins
Penguins tend to have harsh raucous voices. They are
somewhat variable in the adults but tend to be a
sort of loud "Awk", Jackass penguins are named after
the braying sound of their namesake. When courting,
they make gentler sounds of an elongated awwww....
ending in the inevitable shouted "awk, awk, awk".
Penguin chicks on the other hand make the same sort
of cute cheeping sounds that many other birds make.
19/ What is the Antarctic Circle?
The Antarctic Circle is an imaginary line that runs
around the earth at 66° 33' 44'' (66.5622°)
South. It encompasses the great majority of the
Antarctic continent and large areas of the Southern
Ocean. It is the line that marks where for at least
one day of the year, the sun is continually above or
below the horizon so giving 24 hours of daylight or
nighttime. On the circle itself, there will just be
one day a year of each (full daylight at midsummer
and then full night at midwinter), the further you
go south, the longer the period of constant day or
night until you get to the pole itself. At the pole
there is 6 months of daylight followed by 6 months
This situation is mirrored in the north by the