Through my eyes

living my life without regrets

Sunday, March 11, 2012

Antarctica, Just the Facts Please.

The discovery of a whole continent must have been very exciting years ago. While theories of land here have existed since the times of Ptolemy (1st century AD), who suggested the idea to preserve the symmetry of all known landmasses in the world, it was until 1820 just an idea. It was not a proven fact that land existed so far south.

Sure, James Cook, the famous explorer came within 75 miles of the continent in Jan. 1773 but he did not see land. Cook also predicted there was land when he got as far south as 71º10`S but he could not prove it since he was stopped by a huge ice flow from proceeding.

Only as late as Jan. 27 1820, was land first sighted this far South. The Estonian born, German named, Russian Army officer, Fabian von Bellingshausen, saw land but did not set foot on the continent.

On Feb 7, 1821, John Davis, an American seal hunter was the first to step foot on the mainland of Antarctica. So Antarctica the continent has only been discovered for the last 190 years.

The first expedition to reach the South Pole was led by the Norwegian explorer Roald Amundsen. He arrived at the Pole in Dec. 1911 followed 35 days later by Robert Falcon Scott who died on his return journey.
Scott was accompanied by Sir Ernest Shackleton who later attempted unsuccessfully to cross Antarctica.

And as James Cook said, it is a country doomed by Nature. Antarctica is doomed to lie under everlasting ice and snow.

The scientific facts of this continent are overwhelming:

• Antarctica is the Earth´s fifth largest Continent. Yes, Australia is much smaller.

• Antarctica has a huge mountain range, the Sentenial Mountains or Ellsworth Mountains. The highest peak, the Vinson Massif is 4892 Meters (16050’) above sea level. Many peaks in this range are in the 4000 Meter (13100’) range.

• Temperatures as low as minus 89 Degrees Celsius (-129F) were recorded in 1983 at the research station of Vostok, 800 Miles (1300 Km) east of the South Pole.

• Wind speeds have reached some 320 Km an hour.

• The ice is up to 5000 Meters (16000 feet) thick. The weight of the ice causes the landmass to be pushed below sea level. The average thickness of ice is 1000 meters.

• 70% of all fresh water of this Planet is frozen ice, resting on the continent of Antarctica.

• In the Southern winter (April to Oct) this giant continent, twice the size of Australia, doubles its size with frozen ice reaching out into the surrounding Oceans. In winter the total area covered by ice in Antarctica is 20 Million Square Miles.

Antarctica is a giant, frozen place. Antarctica is alive, yet so different from my normal perceptions of ´land´.

• Totally surrounded by oceans, Antarctica is the pulse that drives earth´s weather patterns. Looking at our planet from space, having the South Pole in the center of the picture one would see the waters swirling around the continent in a clockwise fashion. One would see that it is approx. 2000 Km from the edge of Antarctica to South Africa, or New Zealand but “only” 1000 Km to the tip of South America. This landmass of South America works like a wedge put in the way of all the waters swirling around Antarctica. The waters near S. America get compressed when they reach the South American coast and the speed of the water currents increases. This compression of the waters creates massive winds, too. Coupled with the mixture of currents and winds, is the meeting spot where the warmer waters of the Atlantic and the Indian Ocean and the Pacific. This part of ocean, the Drake Passage, is an extremely dangerous and very, very volatile section of ocean waters. The wind changes alone can create mayhem. Combined with the wedging of the currents, the exchange of water temperature, this is a devilish place to navigate.

Icebergs floating in these waters make a passage by ship from S. America to Antarctica even more of an adventure. Icebergs, broken off glaciers can be an extreme hazard to ships. The ice that has been compressed for centuries in glaciers is blue in color because the it is now so hard, lacking any trapped air at all, This place Antarctica, is so strange; it feels like being on a new planet.

Nobody lives permanently on the whole continent. Only scientists, occupying 40 research stations, spread all over the continent, visit on a temporary basis. In the summer months, from late Nov. - early March, there are 46 smaller tourist ship visits worldwide, going back and forth from their harbors to Antarctica bringing about 40,000 tourists for very short, very controlled visits. At least that is what I was told happened in the 2010 to 2011 season.

Some research stations are open even in winter with 1077 scientists braving the long, dark winters here recently. This number increases in summer to 4960 scientists.

On Antarctica, research in atmospheric conditions, in meteorology, in ionosphere soundings, etc. is conducted. This research is essential to our modern communications and to the environmental conditions of planet Earth. We could not have our tech age today without these stations on Antarctica giving us their daily input and doing research for our future.

Antarctica is the least known continent on Earth. Even with our space age discovery methods, some parts have never been touched upon by man. The conditions are hostile to humans, without a protective bubble to live in; we would perish very quickly here.

Due to the signing in 1959 of the Antarctic Treaty by 12 Nations: Britain, South Africa, Belgium, Japan, USA, Norway, France, New Zealand, USSR, Argentina, Australia and Chile, Antarctica south of the 60ºS parallel is protected from procession by any one county.

The treaty explicitly spells out bans for disposal of nuclear wastes, weapon testing and any military activity. After the ratification of this treaty on June 23, 1961 it is now in full force. Additional countries have since signed up to protect this treasure of Mother Earth with its wealth of mineral resources, fresh water and animal life.

No comments: