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Antarctica

Main attractions

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

Antarctica is unusual continent, little known to general people and comparatively little investigated. Here are missing numerous kinds of landmarks common in all other continents of the world - but this is compensated by several kinds of landmarks unique to Antarctica.

Natural landmarks

Most impressive landmarks in Antarctica are created by nature. Part of them is temporary, such as the giant and visually impressive ice formations - sky-high ice cliffs with impossible colors, natural arches in ice, perennial meltwater falls over the blue ice walls and similar.

Due to the extreme weather of Antarctica some monuments are unique to this continent - such as lakes with highly unusual water chemistry and fumarolic ice towers.

Fumarolic ice towers and other volcanic phenomena

  • Mount Berlin fumarolic ice towers - Marie Byrd Land. Near the rims of northern and western calderas have been noticed ice towers shaped by fumaroles.
  • Mount Erebus fumarolic ice towers - Ross Island. Constant effluxes of fumaroles have created hundreds of unusual ice towers, some up to 18 metres high.
  • Mount Erebus lava lake - Ross Island. One of the few (five) constant glowing lava lakes in the world.
  • Mount Melbourne fumarolic ice towers - Victoria Land. Up to 7 m high ice towers.
  • Mount Pond - Deception Island. Location with numerous active fumaroles and unique species of moss.

Unique waterbodies

Onyx River - the largest in Antarctica
Onyx River - the largest in Antarctica / P.Wright, US Geological Survey, public domain
  • Don Juan Pond - 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.
  • Kroner Lake - Deception Island. The only lagoon with hot springs (up to 70°C) in Antarctica, contains unique community of brackish water algae.
  • Lake Bonney - Victoria Land. Frozen lake with unique geochemistry. The east lobe of the lake is saturated with nitric oxide - "laughing gas". Another part of lake contains dimethylsulfoxide - possibly produced by microorganisms.
  • Lake Ellsworth - West Antarctica. Large lake which potentially contains unique life forms below the ice.
  • Lake Untersee - 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 - 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 - 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 - 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.
  • Onyx River - 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.
Blood Falls, Antarctica
Blood Falls - iron oxide saturated water seeping through glacier / Mike Martoccia, / CC BY-SA 2.0

Icefalls, waterfalls

  • Airdevronsix icefall - 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.

Unique ecosystems and animal colonies

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.
  • Geothermal areas of Cryptogam Ridge - 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.
  • Baily Head penguin colony - Deception Island. Largest colony of chinstrap penguins (Pygoscelis antarctica Forster, 1781) in the world, with more than 100,000 pairs.
  • Cape Adarie penguin colony (Cape Adare) - 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 - 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.
  • Svarthamaren cliffs - 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.

Other unique natural landmarks

Cape Renard cliffs, Lemaire Channel, Antarctica
Cape Renard cliffs, Lemaire Channel / Wikimedia Commons, Mila Zinkova, CC BY-SA 3.0
  • Campbell Glacier glacial caves - Victoria Land. At least 200 m long ice caves created by thermal processes on the contact of sea ice and glacier ice.
  • Katabatic winds at Commonwealth Bay - 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.
  • Cape Renard - 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.
  • 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 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. One more contender for the coldest spot on Earth is Dome Valkyrie (Dome Fuji) where the coldest temperature -91.2 °C has been registered.
  • Erebus Crystals - Victoria Land. Deposit of large anorthoclase crystals in the center of caldera of volcano.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • Mount Kirkpatrick find of fossils - Queen Alexandra Range. One of the richest and most interesting fossil finds in Antarctica. Found remnants of several species of Jurassic dynosaurs.
  • Tsarsporten (Tsars Porten) - Peter I Island. Enormous natural arch, the only way to access the beach of Norvegiabukta - one of the few beaches of the island.
  • Vanderford Valley - located in the ocean at Wilkes Land. Undersea valley carved by glacier, reaches depth of 2,287 m. Possibly the deepest glacier-carved valley in the world.

Man made landmarks

This extremely cold and inhospitable continent has very short human related history - Antarctica was first seen in 1820 and first building appeared here in 1899. It totally misses landmarks related to distant human past and has extremely sparse network of settlements also today. Nevertheless there are few man made landmarks worth mentioning:

Huts of pioneers

Discovery Hut with McMurdo Station in the background, Antarctica
Discovery Hut with McMurdo Station in the background. / Eli Duke, / CC BY-SA 2.0

Four Antarctic Bases were created by pioneers, who arrived here before the First World War. Each of these bases contains valuable legacy to heroism of human race, they are the first buildings where humans lived on this continent.

  • Borchgrevingk's Huts - Cape Adarie, south-east of Ross Sea. Oldest buildings in Antarctica, two Norwegian prefabricated wooden huts from 1899.
  • Discovery Hut - 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.
  • Shackleton's Hut - Cape Royds, Ross Island. Hut built by Ernest Shackleton and his team, Nimrod Expedition in 1908.
  • Scott's (Cape Evans) Hut - Cape Evans, Ross Island. Hut built by Robert Scott and team in 1911 before their tragic trip to South Pole.

Contemporary Antarctic architecture

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

Over the last 100 years people have learned a lot about Antarctica and there have appeared more and more well adjusted buildings, able to persist in the extreme weather of Antarctica. Functional design is beautiful design - those stations, which have been developed with much effort and foresight, look very impressive. Some fine examples of true contemporary Antarctic architecture are:

  • SANAE IV - 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 - Dronning Maud Land. Belgian polar station, built in 2009, the first zero-emission polar station, buildings of station have exceptional hi-tech architecture.
  • Neumayer III - Ekstrom Ice Shelf. The newest German Antarctic station of innovative, high technology design, built in 2009.
  • Halley VI Station - 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.

List of described attractions

Antarctica has no formal division. Landmarks described by Wondermondo here are listed in alphabetic order.

ArrowAirdevronsix icefallsWaterfalls
ArrowBlood FallsWaterfalls, Springs, Mineral springs, Ecosystems
ArrowDome AMeteorological phenomena, Other natural landmarks
ArrowKatabatic winds at Commonwealth BayMeteorological phenomena
ArrowRidge AMeteorological phenomena
ArrowWarren icefallWaterfalls

Map of Antarctica