Frequently asked Questions about Antarctica
Find out everything you need to know about Antarctica before you travel. We have all the answers to your most frequently asked questions on Antarctica travel.
Frequently asked Questions about Antarctica
Where is Antarctica?
The southernmost continent in the world, Antarctica is located at and around the South Pole, and surrounded by the Southern Ocean. Almost all of Antarctica lies south of the Antarctic Circle in the Southern Hemisphere, which means temperatures are consistently below zero throughout most of the year.
The nearest neighbouring continent to Antarctica is South America, where the closest part is shared by Chile and Argentina. Part of Antarctica – called the Antarctic Peninsula – extends north beyond the Antarctic Circle. From here it’s about 600 miles to the southernmost tip of South America, Tierra del Fuego.
Apart from South America, Antarctica’s other neighbours are the Falkland Islands, South Georgia and the South Sandwich Islands. Other neighbouring countries to Antarctica include Australia, of which the islands of Tasmania are the closest part, and New Zealand’s South Island, which is also officially named Te Waipounamu.
Can you go to Antarctica?
You can certainly go to Antarctica! We highly recommend visiting.
You don’t need a visa to visit Antarctica, because it has no government and doesn’t belong to any other country. However, if you’re a citizen of a country that is signed up to the Antarctic Treaty, you’ll need a permit from your country. You can see a list of all Signatories to the Treaty here.
Few people go to Antarctica, and many of those who do are scientists. However, there are plenty of excellent reasons to go to Antarctica. Every year, some intrepid people make the journey to explore this amazing wilderness for themselves. We recommend you take a look around on our website and see if an Antarctic cruise is right for you.
Hurtigruten Expeditions offers a variety of expedition cruises to Antarctica with a range of different itineraries to choose from.
How to get to Antarctica?
To travel to Antarctica, the closest place to depart from is the southern tip of South America, from where you can take a ship or plane.
Most flights go from Punta Arenas in Chile to King George Island in Antarctica, which takes two hours. From King George Island, you then need to take a ship to reach the Antarctic continent or other islands. There are also limited flights to the interior of the continent, where you land on a runway of blue ice!
Alternatively, you can fly to Antarctica from Cape Town, South Africa, or sail from South Island, New Zealand, or from Ushuaia, Argentina.
On a Hurtigruten Expeditions trip to Antarctica, you can cruise in comfort on one of our state-of-the-art ships that are outfitted for the purpose of making your trip as enjoyable and rewarding as possible. We offer expedition cruises with a variety of different itineraries so you can find the one that suits you best.
How to choose Antarctic cruise?
We recommend choosing an Antarctic cruise provided by a reputable company with modern ships and top experts to help you understand and get the most from your incredible opportunity. Coming to such a pristine wilderness, we also consider it of the utmost importance to take care to protect the environment and keep it unspoiled.
At Hurtigruten Expeditions, we offer expedition cruises to Antarctica with a variety of different itineraries, so you can find one that suits you best. Simply get in touch with our knowledgeable experts – they’re always happy to help. They can talk to you and ask you about your preferences to help you choose your dream trip to Antarctica.
Once you’ve chosen a cruise, our friendly teams can give you expert advice on topics such as what you need to pack for Antarctica.
What animals live in Antarctica?
Antarctica is teeming with animal life. Even though it’s one of the least hospitable places in the world, the wildlife there is spectacular.
The largest animals of all are found around Antarctica – whales. The whales found here include blue, humpback, Minke, sperm, and beaked. It’s also thought that Antarctica has the largest population of orcas (a type of dolphin) to be found anywhere in the world. In addition, many other types of dolphins are found here. Seals abound, including fur seals, leopard seals, elephant seals and sea lions.
Penguins are the most common birds in the Antarctic, where there are about 20 million breeding pairs (40 million birds). There are 18 different species of penguins in Antarctica, and while most are migratory, the Emperor Penguin and Adélie Penguin remain on the continent year-round, hatching their eggs among the bare rocks. Other birds found here include albatrosses, petrels, skua, prions, fulmars, shearwaters, gulls, terns and cormorants.
Some of the most notable differences between Antarctica and the Arctic are the differences between the animals found there. While penguins are emblematic of the Antarctic, there are no penguins in the Arctic. Moreover, there are no land mammals, reptiles or amphibians in Antarctica, so there are no Polar Bears! In fact, the only terrestrial vertebrates in Antarctica are birds that are found on the sub-Antarctic islands – the South Georgia pipit and freshwater ducks.
Further down the food chain are huge numbers of krill, fish and squid that nourish the marine ecosystem. In fact, the vertebrates living in Antarctica are almost entirely dependent on the Southern Ocean surrounding the continent for sustenance.
Invertebrates in Antarctica include earthworms and molluscs, as well as spiders, beetles and flies – though these are mainly confined to the warmer sub-Antarctic islands. There are no flying insects on the Antarctic continent itself – only tiny nematodes and the Antarctic springtail arthropod are able to survive and complete their lifecycles there.
You can read more about the wildlife of Antarctica here.
Do people live in Antarctica?
Yes, they do, but there are no people living permanently in Antarctica.
In Antarctica, there are many permanent research facilities, and some of them are constantly occupied. However, the individual people in these facilities typically stay for the summer before returning to their home country. While some people stay on through the winter and into the next summer, and sometimes through two or even three winters in a row, no one lives in Antarctica permanently.
During the short summer period, the population of researchers staying in Antarctica typically numbers around 4,000 people – a number that falls to around 1,000 during the winter.
The largest scientific base in Antarctica is McMurdo Station, which has about 1,000 people staying there during the summer. This number falls to about 200 during the winter.
Interestingly, women have given birth to babies at some of the scientific bases in Antarctica. At least 11 children are known to have been born there, to Argentinian and Chilean parents. However, they became citizens of their respective countries rather than of Antarctica and left soon afterwards, because Antarctica is not a country.
Who owns Antarctica?
No single country owns Antarctica, and there are no countries in Antarctica. Moreover, there are no native inhabitants.
Many different countries have historically claimed certain areas of Antarctica as their territory. These are Norway, Australia, Argentina, the United Kingdom, France, New Zealand and Chile. However, these claims have never been universally recognised.
A unique international partnership – the Antarctic Treaty – has existed since 1959 to protect the continent. This sets aside any disputes over territorial sovereignty and binds the signatories to keep Antarctica as “a natural reserve, devoted to peace and science.”
Under the agreement of the Antarctic Treaty, the countries that are active in Antarctica consult each other on the uses of the continent, guarantee each other the freedom to perform scientific research, and prohibit the establishment of mineral mining, military bases, nuclear explosions and nuclear waste disposal. Consequently, there has never been war in Antarctica, and there are strong environmental protections in place.
Many countries have built research facilities in Antarctica in order to study the unique environment. In addition to the countries mentioned above, these include Russia, Ukraine, Pakistan, India, Italy and the USA.
No one lives permanently in Antarctica, and while there are some people in the buildings and research stations of Antarctica year-round, individual people stay for a limited time and then return to their own countries.
How cold is Antarctica?
It gets very cold. In fact, Antarctica is the coldest continent on Earth. The lowest temperature ever recorded at the surface of the Earth was recorded at Vostok research station, where the temperature once fell to −89.2 °C during winter.
However, the temperature varies considerably with the location, weather and seasons in Antarctica.
The coldest parts of Antarctica are in the interior of the continent, away from the coasts. Even during the summer, the interior remains below freezing with an average temperature of between −20 °C and −35 °C. The average temperature here during the coldest months is between −40 °C and −70 °C. It gets so cold because the sun doesn’t rise here in winter. Ever in summer, the sun remains low in the sky, so its rays are spread out over a wider surface area than in warmer parts of the world.
The warmest parts of Antarctica are the coastal areas, where the maritime climate keeps temperatures slightly higher. The average temperature during the coldest months here varies from −20 °C to −30 °C, while the mid-summer average temperature is about 0 °C on the coast.
The Antarctic Peninsula and the islands around it extend the furthest northwards towards the equator. Here, midsummer temperatures remain mostly below 0 °C, but can reach as high as 15 °C on occasion.
Research indicates the rate of climate change in Antarctica is greater than the global average.
How big is Antarctica?
At 5.4 million square miles of land mass, Antarctica is about 1.3 times as large as Europe and roughly twice the size of Australia. Antarctica is the fifth largest continent in the world, with 11,164 miles of coastline, about 45 percent of which is fringed with ice shelves.
In addition, Antarctica almost doubles in size during the winter. This is because it’s 98 percent covered with an ice sheet, which extends out from the land as ice shelves that float on the water of the Southern Ocean. During the winter, these ice shelves become extended as the sea freezes on a vast scale. At its peak, around 12.4 million square miles of the surface of the sea around Antarctica is frozen into sea ice. Much of this frozen sea ice melts during the Antarctic summer, leaving only around 1.8 million square miles of the sea frozen.
Antarctica is a high continent too, with significant mountain ranges. The highest mountain is Vinson Massif in the Ellsworth Mountains, which reaches up over 16,000 ft. Some of Antarctica’s mountains are entirely buried beneath the continental ice sheet.
You can read more about the physical features of Antarctica here.
Is Antarctica a desert?
Yes, much of Antarctica is a ‘cold desert’ or ‘polar desert’. This is because it is a large and extremely barren area where little precipitation occurs. In fact, as well as being the world’s coldest continent, it’s also the world’s driest.
Despite being a place with an abundance of ice covering the ground and sea, the interior of the Antarctic continent only gets an annual snowfall of a few inches. What’s more, the constantly low temperature in the interior keeps water frozen, making it very difficult for most forms of life to access it.
The coastal areas of Antarctica receive higher levels of precipitation and higher temperatures than the harsher interior of the continent. On the coast, temperatures can even rise high enough that precipitation falls as rain, while snowfall is typically measured in feet.
Plant life is only to be found along the coastal areas and islands where temperatures can rise above freezing. However, these plants don’t support any mammals, reptiles or amphibians. Most of the wildlife found in Antarctica such as penguins and seals depend on the ecosystems of the Southern Ocean for sustenance. The only terrestrial vertebrates are birds that inhabit the sub-Antarctic islands – the South Georgia pipit and freshwater ducks.
Do polar bears live in Antarctica?
No, polar bears don’t live in Antarctica. In fact, there are no land mammals living there.
Polar bears are found in the Arctic, which is located around the northernmost region of the planet, and while they do move south of the Arctic Circle, they remain in the colder northern latitudes.
Interestingly, the name ‘Arctic’ comes from the Greek word for bear. This is because the constellation Ursa Major – also known as the Great Bear – is always visible there. The name ‘Antarctic’ means ‘opposite to the Arctic’.
When was Antarctica discovered?
Antarctica was first observed on 27 January 1820 by the First Russian Antarctic Expedition led by Bellingshausen and Lazarev. They went on to circumnavigate the newly found continent twice. Just three days later, a British naval officer named Edward Bransfield also saw Antarctica. However, the first person to actually make a landing in Antarctica was John Davis, an American seal hunter and explorer, in 1821.
The history of exploration and discovery in the Antarctic is a fascinating story of desperate competition between the great powers of the world.
What time is it in Antarctica?
The time in Antarctica depends on who you ask! There isn’t one official time zone for Antarctica, nor is there any government to decide on an official time. Besides this, there is no need for a single time zone.
In most of the world, the time zone is related to the time of the sunrise and sunset (based on longitude). However, Antarctica is so far south that the days and nights last for months, so the time doesn’t matter very much in relation to sunlight. Moreover, since all lines of longitude pass through Antarctica (meeting at the South Pole), this would make 24 different time zones on one continent. By walking around the South Pole, you could then step through each one in a few seconds!
In practice, the various research bases on Antarctica use whichever time makes the most sense for them. Some bases use the time of the country they come from, or which supplies them. Others use the time of nearby countries such as Chile or Argentina.