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Antarctic and Sub-antarctic region

Main attractions

South Georgia Island
South Georgia Island. / Michael Clarke, Flickr / CC BY-SA 2.0

Antarctica and Sub-antarctic islands were the last on Earth reached and explored by humans. The harsh climate prevents habitation of these lands except for Tristan da Cunha island which has much milder weather.

This is the largest wilderness region in the world with countless natural attractions which are not mentioned in any tourist guidebooks or Internet pages.

The highlights of Antarctica and Sub-antarctic islands are:

  • Animal and bird colonies. The southern seas are extremely rich with life - many millions of birds and seals can feed themselves here. There is though a deficite of landmass - a necessity for the breeding of birds and seals. As a result almost every small island here is a home for millions of living beings - nowhere else in the world is seen such a density of birds and mammals. The best known attractions of this region are penguin colonies - possibly the most amazing and most interesting bird colonies in the world.
  • Other unique natural monuments. The specific weather conditions of Antarctica have created amazing, unique landmarks. Deep under the ice are located unique lakes which may contain unique forms of life. Here are found the saltiest waterbodies on Earth, a lake saturated with "laughing gas", giant and red icefall and many more.

Unsurpassed is the scenery of Antarctica and Sub-antarctic islands. The sea near the glaciers is bright blue, mountains incredibly tall and air - incredibly clean. Some of the most spectacular sites in the world are South Georgia and Lemaire channel in Antarctica.

Natural landmarks

Lava lake of Mount Erebus, Antarctica
Lava lake of Mount Erebus, Antarctica. / NASA, public domain.

Volcanoes

  • Mount Belinda - South Sandwich Islands, Montagu Island. One of the few active volcanoes under the jurisdiction of United Kingdom. This volcano rises 1,370 m above the sea level. Summit of volcano rises from glacier, which covers almost whole island. The eruption in 2002 - 2009 created a 90 m wide, subglacial river from the molten ice, which reached the sea, creating a steam plume.
  • Mount Erebus lava lake - Antarctica, Ross Island. One of the few (five) constant glowing lava lakes in the world.
  • Mount Michael - South Sandwich Islands, Saunders Island. An active volcano on this small, glacier-covered island. Its 0.7 km wide crater in 2002 - 2006, and, possibly, up to this day contains one of the few active lava lakes in the world.

Geothermal fields and hot springs

  • Breakbones Plateau - South Sandwich Islands, Candlemas Island. A geothermal field with numerous small fumaroles and vegetation which uses the warmth to survive in the harsh antarctic climate.
  • Kroner Lake - Antarctica, Deception Island. The only lagoon with hot springs (up to 70°C) in Antarctica, contains unique community of brackish water algae.
  • Mont de Fumerolles - Kerguelen Islands, Rallier du Baty peninsula. Geothermal field with boiling springs.
  • Mount Erebus fumarolic ice towers - Antarctica, Ross Island. Constant effluxes of fumaroles have created hundreds of unusual ice towers, some up to 18 metres high.
  • Mount Melbourne fumarolic ice towers - Antarctica, Victoria Land. Up to 7 m high ice towers.
  • Mount Pond - Antarctica, Deception Island. Location with numerous active fumaroles and unique species of moss.
  • Geothermal areas of Cryptogam Ridge - Antarctica, East Antarctica. Here geothermal heat has been keeping ice-free areas of soil. Over the time in this very isolated area have developed endemic species of microorganisms, as well as mosses and liverworts.

Unusual lakes

  • Don Juan Pond - Antarctica, Victoria Land. Small hypersaline lake, saltiest waterbody on Earth with salt content exceeding 40%. It does not freeze over in harsh Antarctic winters. Salt consists mainly of CaCl with some NaCl.
  • Lake Bonney - Antarctica, Victoria Land. Frozen lake with unique geochemistry. The east lobe of the lake is saturated with nitrous oxide - "laughing gas". Another part of lake contains dimethylsulfoxide - possibly produced by microorganisms.
  • Lake Ellsworth - Antarctica, West Antarctica. Large lake which potentially contains unique life forms below the ice.
  • Lake Untersee - Antarctica, East Antarctica. Permanently frozen freshwater lake with extremely high pH - between 9.8 - 12.1. Lake is supersaturated with oxygen (150%), sediments of this lake may produce more methane than any other natural waterbody on Earth. Contains unique microorganisms.
  • Lake Vanda - Antarctica, Victoria Land. Lake with extremely clear water (and when it freezes - extremely lucid ice) because it is located in enclosed valley sealed off from the winds and thus does not get any dust. One of the saltiest natural waters in the world, containing mostly calcium chloride. Bottom layer is an enclosed hydrological system with specific chemical processes.
  • Lake Vida - Antarctica, Victoria Land. Lake is covered with at least 19 m thick layer of ice - thickest layer of non-glacial ice on Earth. Below the ice is hypersaline lake with unique microorganisms.
  • Lake Vostok - Antarctica, central part of continent. The largest subglacial lake in Antarctica, similar in size to Lake Ontario, up to 1 kilometre deep, with area 15,000 km². Lake water is oversaturated with oxygen, exceeding the level of oxygen in ordinary freshwater lakes 50 times. Lake has been frozen for half a million years at least and here most likely has been developed unique habitat of microorganisms. This habitat has not been reached and investigated yet.

Cliffs, rock formations

Cape Renard cliffs, Lemaire Channel, Antarctica
Cape Renard cliffs, Lemaire Channel. / Wikimedia Commons, Mila Zinkova, CC BY-SA 3.0
  • Cape Renard - Antarctica, Antarctic Peninsula, Lemaire Channel. One of the most impressive vertical cliff mountains not only in Antarctica but in the world, a pinnacle of basalt and ice rising more than 700 m from the sea.
  • D’Entrecasteaux Cliffs – Amsterdam Island, south-west. Up to 731 m tall cliffs, almost vertical. Populated by tens of thousands of birds.
  • Exposures of the oceanic crust in the north-western part of Macquarie Island - exposures of basic and ultrabasic rocks formed under the ocean in Miocene and Pliocene. Unique, near-complete section of oceanic crust, providing very important geological information of global importance.
  • Pointe de l'Arche (Arched Rock) - Kerguelen Islands, northern coast of Grande Terre. A collapsed natural arch, a former landmark of Kerguelen, which was 40 m high (upper rim). The arch collapsed sometimes between 1908 and 1913, now two enormous stacks remain.
  • Tsarsporten (Tsars Porten) - Antarctica, Peter I Island. Enormous natural arch, the only way to access the beach of Norvegiabukta - one of the few beaches of the island.

Waterfalls

Most certainly there are more impressive waterfalls in Antarctica and Sub-antarctic islands but they are seldom visited and not much mentioned.

  • Airdevronsix icefall - Antarctica, Victoria Land. Giant, approximately 5 km wide and 400 m tall icefall.
  • Blood Falls - Victoria Land. Unusual natural feature - outflow of hypersaline water, seeping through ice, tainted with iron oxides in blood color. This approximately 15 m tall fall provides insight into unique ecosystem which has been isolated from the outside world for 1.5 million years.
  • D’Entrecasteaux Falls – Amsterdam Island, south-west. Perennial falls cascading down the D’Entrecasteaux cliffs. In strong wind (what is often here) the water is caught up and flies upwards.
  • La Grande Cascade de la rivière du Château - Kerguelen Islands, eastern part of Grande Terre. Impressive waterfall on Château stream, around 150 m tall, with three main cascades.
  • Waterfall of Waterfall Gulch - Tristan da Cunha, Inaccessible Island. Permanent, 230 m tall waterfall with several cascades.

Penguin colonies

King penguins at St Andrews Bay, South Georgia
King penguins at St. Andrews Bay./ sheilapic76, Flickr / CC BY 2.0
  • Baily Head penguin colony - Antarctica, Deception Island. Large colony of chinstrap penguins (Pygoscelis antarctica Forster, 1781), with more than 100,000 pairs.
  • Cape Adarie penguin colony (Cape Adare) - Antarctica, south-east part of Ross Sea. Largest single colony of Adelie penguins (Pygoscelis adeliae Hombron & Jacquinot, 1841) in the world, with some 250,000 breeding pairs.
  • Cape Washington colony of Emperor Penguins - Antarctica, at the Ross Sea. Largest colony of the largest penguin - emperor penguin (Aptenodytes forsteri Gray, 1844). Here are breeding 20 - 25 thousand pairs of this unusual bird.
  • Hurd Point penguin colony - Macquarie Island, very southern part of island. Largest colony if royal penguins in the world, with some 180,000 breeding pairs.
  • Île aux Cochons - Crozet Islands. The largest rookery of penguins Aptenodytes patagonicus (around 0.5 million pairs) in the world. Here live many millions of other birds. Two endemic plant species, 59 endemic species of arthropods.
  • Penguin colony of Lusitania Bay - Macquarie Island, south-eastern coast of island. Giant colony of royal penguins. Lusitania Bay colony recently has been fully occupied and penguins are coming to other parts of island as well. In 1980 here were living 218 000 birds.
  • Penguin colony on Zavodovski Island - South Sandwich Islands, Zavodovski Island. The largest colony of chinstrap penguins (Pygoscelis antarctica) in the world and one of the largest colonies of penguins worldwide - with 2 million birds.
  • Salisbury Plain penguin colony - South Georgia. One of the largest king penguin (Aptenodytes patagonicus) colonies in the world, with more than 100,000 pairs. Contains also thousands of elephant seals and fur seals.
  • St. Andrews Bay penguin colony - South Georgia. One of the largest king penguin (Aptenodytes patagonicus) colonies in the world, with some 150,000 pairs (there are also reports about 50,000 pairs). The 3 km long beach is inhabited by fur and elephant seals and many species of sea birds.

Other bird and animal colonies

Vegetation of Gough Island
Vegetation of Gough Island. In the forefront - tree fern Blechnum palmiforme, in the background - Phylica arborea trees/ Steven Chown, Wikimedia Commons / CC BY 2.5
  • Bird Island - near South Georgia. One of the richest wildlife sites in the world. The size of this island is just 400 ha but here live 50,000 pairs of penguins, 14,000 pairs of albatrosses, 700,000 petrels, 65,000 breeding pairs of Antarctic fur seals (Arctocephalus gazella).
  • Bounty Islands ecosystem - Bounty Islands. In spite of their small size (largest island is 700 m across and total area of islands is 135 ha) on these barren cliffs live several endemic animals - birds, spiders, beetles and other insects. Here live up to 115,000 pairs of erect-crested penguins (Eudyptes sclateri) and 60,000 Salvin's Albatrosses (Thalassarche salvini).
  • Gough Island ecosystem - Gough Island. One of the least disrupted ecosystems in the cool temperate zone of the world with two species of endemic birds and 12 endemic species of plants. On the island breed 48% of the northern rockhopper penguins (Edyptes chrysocome moseleyi), 3 millions Puffinus gravis, this island is the last refuge of several sea bird species.
  • Île de l’Est - Crozet Islands. The largest known community of breeding seabirds in the world, contains breeding birds of 32 species. Many of these species are represented by tens of thousands of birds and three species - Pelecanoides georgicus, Pelecanoides urinatrix and Pachyptila salvini salvini are represented by millions of birds. Here are also three species of endemic plants and 59 endemic arthropods.
  • Svarthamaren cliffs - Antarctica, Dronning Maud Land. Ice free cliffs with a colony of some 820,000 Antarctic petrels (Thalassoica antarctica J. F. Gmelin 1789). Largest bird colony in the inland of Antarctica, 200 km from the coast.
  • Undine Bay fur seal colony - western South Georgia. The largest single colony of Antarctic fur seals (Arctocephalus gazella) with some 90,000 pairs. There live several millions of Antarctic fur seals in the north-west of South Georgia, thus providing the highest mass of mammals per area in the world.

Other ecosystems

  • Ecosystem of Inaccessible Island - Tristan da Cunha, Inaccessible Island. One of the least disturbed ecosystems in the world, with high number of endemic species. Here live two species of birds, eight species of plants and 10 species of invertebrates which are not met enywhere else in the world. Inaccessible Island flightless rail (Atlantisia rogersi) is the smallest flightless bird in the world - up to 17 cm long.
  • Grand Bois – eastern part of Amsterdam Island. The only remnant of the dense forest of Phylica arborea – an subantarctic tree. This forest covers 8 ha, earlier, before the human inflicted forest fires it covered large part of the island.
  • Megaherb meadows of Campbell Islands - Campbell Islands. One of the most impressive natural meadows in the world, covered with millions of Ross lilies (Bulbinella rossii), Campbell Island Daisies (Pleurophyllum speciosum) and Campbell Island Carrots (Anisotome latifolia). Here even grow some orchids.
  • Megaherb meadows of southern Enderby Island - Auckland Islands. These meadows represent a stunning sight during the bloom. Meadows with countless Ross lilies (Bulbinella rossii) seem to stretch up to the horizon.
  • Southern rata forests of Auckland - Auckland Islands. Southernmost forests in this part of the globe (after Campbell Islands) mostly consisting of southern rata (Metrosideros umbellata) trees flowering with beautiful red flowers. Forests are up to 9 m high and inside the fiords the foliage of trees often reaches sea level thus resembling the scenery of tropical islands.

Sites of meteorological phenomena

Cape Denison, penguins affter blizzard, Antarctica
Cape Denison, penguins affter blizzard. Life here continues in spite of winds exceeding 320 km/h./ Frank Hurley, 1911-1914, State Library of New South Wales.
  • Katabatic winds at Commonwealth Bay - Antarctica, Commonwealth Bay. Windiest place on Earth with very frequent storms. The speed of wind here occasionally exceeds 90 m/s - 320 km/h. These specific winds are called katabatic winds which might last for days. Fast moving ice crystals may cause unusual electric effects.
  • Dome A (Dome Argus) - East Antarctica. The highest ice feature in Antarctica (4,093 m), under the dome are Gamburtsev Mountains - mountain range larger than European Alps. Dome A has very dry and rather calm climate. Satellite data and climatic models show that this is the coldest place on Earth. Average winter temperature here is -70°C but theoretically it may reach -102°C. Exploration started by Chinese in 2005. Theoretically this is one of the best suited location on Earth for space exploration with telescope - beating by far any of the locations used for space research today. Not too far is located Ridge A - place with the clearest sky on Earth and another potential contender for the coldest spot on Earth.
  • McMurdo Dry Valleys - Antarctica. Another contender for the honour of driest place on Earth, this valley has not seen precipitation for more than thousands of years, moisture (some 30 mm per year) reaches it from the meltwater. Any moisture is removed from here by extremely powerful winds. Unique ecosystem of microorganisms.

Other natural landmarks

  • Icebergs at Pleneau and Booth islands - Antarctic Peninsula, between Pleneau and Booth Islands. Field of stranded icebergs (seen here for most time) of highly unusual forms and shapes. The icebergs are stranded on the ground, thus they can be safely examined while navigating among them.
  • Mount Kirkpatrick find of fossils - Antarctica, Queen Alexandra Range. One of the richest and most interesting fossil finds in Antarctica. Found remnants of several species of Jurassic dynosaurs.
  • Onyx River - Antarctica, Victoria Land at the Ross ice Shelf. The largest and longest river in Antarctica, meltwater stream flowing for a few months in summer. While flowing towards the Lake Vanda, it dissolves the salt in ground, gradually becoming saltwater flow.
  • Stephenson Lagoon - south-eastern Heard Island. Large glacial lagoon, made unusual by hundreds of floating and stranded icebergs from Stephenson Glacier.

Man made landmarks

Historical sites

Grytviken, South Georgia
Grytviken / Aah-Yeah, Flickr / CC BY 2.0
  • Borchgrevingk's Huts - Antarctica, Cape Adarie, south-east of Ross Sea. Oldest buildings in Antarctica, two Norwegian prefabricated wooden huts from 1899.
  • Discovery Hut - Antarctica, Ross Island. Wooden hut, built by Robert Scott in 1902, one of the oldest buildings in Antarctica, with certain role in early history of exploration.
  • Grytviken - South Georgia. Abandoned whaling station - unusual monument of industrial architecture. Established in 1904 (the first in South Georgia), abandoned since the 1960s. There are more such abandoned whaling stations nearby - Husvik, Stromness, Leith Harbour and others.
  • Grytviken Church - South Georgia. A wooden church in Neo-Gothic style, built in 1913. Unique Sub-antarctic church.
  • Polynesian settlement in Sandy Bay, Enderby Island - Auckland Islands. The only archaeological monument in Sub-Antarctic and Antarctic region. Here was found Polynesian earth oven with bones of sea lions, birds. Nearby were found flakes of chert and basalt. Polynesians settled here around 1350 AD and lived for at least one year here - but possibly for a longer time period.
  • Shackleton's Hut - Antarctica, Cape Royds, Ross Island. Hut built by Ernest Shackleton and his team, Nimrod Expedition in 1908.
  • Scott's (Cape Evans) Hut - Antarctica, Cape Evans, Ross Island. Hut built by Robert Scott and team in 1911 before their tragic trip to South Pole.
  • South Georgia Museum - South Georgia, Grytviken. Located in Manager's Villa, built in 1916. Museum established in 1992 and tells about the nature and history of South Georgia.

Modern polar stations

South African SANAE IV station, Antarctica
South African SANAE IV station / Wikimedia Commons, Dr. Ross Hofmeyr / CC BY-SA 3.0

A true testimony to the technological abilities of humans and often - amazing monuments of architecture!

  • SANAE IV - Antarctica, Queen Maud Land. Built in 1997 with innovative design for its time - a structure raised on stilts. This allows the snow to pass under it - otherwise the expensive station gets buried in snow soon. Stilts since this have been applied to other Antarctic stations as well.
  • Princess Elisabeth Base - Antarctica, Queen Maud Land. Belgian polar station, built in 2009, the first zero-emission polar station, buildings of station have exceptional hi-tech architecture.
  • Neumayer III - Antarctica, Ekstrom Ice Shelf. The newest German Antarctic station of innovative, high technology design, built in 2009.
  • Halley VI Station - Antarctica, Brunt Ice Shelf. Polar Station of United Kingdom, under construction (2010 - 2013). Station of unique design (although nearly anything designed for Antarctica is unique) built on moving ice shelf and standing on enormous skis. Upon necessity this large structure can be pulled to new location. Station will form a long chain of separate modules, linked together.

Countries and territories in Antarctic and Sub-antarctic region

Antarctic and Sub-antarctic region includes continent of Antarctica and 14 island territories in Southern Hemisphere which have not been grouped with any other continent.

TerritoryNo. of landmarks
Antarctica6
Antipodes Islands (New Zealand)0
Auckland Islands (New Zealand)0
Bounty Islands (New Zealand)0
Bouvet Island (Norway)0
Campbell Island (New Zealand)0
Crozet Islands (France)0
Gough Island (United Kingdom)0
Heard Island and McDonald Islands (Australia)1
Kerguelen Islands (France)1
Macquarie Island (Australia, Tasmania)0
Prince Edward Islands (South Africa)0
Saint Paul and Amsterdam Islands (France)1
South Georgia and the South Sandwich Islands (United Kingdom)1
Tristan da Cunha (United Kingdom)0

Map of Antarctic and Sub-antarctic region

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