Situated in the eastern half of the Antarctica, the Antarctic Desert is one of the most extreme deserts on earth. It encompasses three parallel valleys namely Wright, Victoria and Taylor valleys of the continent. It is also known as the Maudlandia Desert or simply Maudlandia. Contrary to the normal belief, the desert is not covered in ice and is completely barren. The region is arid, windy and cold. This is a dry valley ecosystem kept barren due to the strong winds that not only keep the moisture away but also prevents the roots from fixing the plants to the ground.
|Area / Size||14,000,000 km2 (5,400,000 sq mi)|
Not only is Antarctica the 5th largest continent on Earth, it is also a desert. It has two primary seasons – summer and winter. There is very little rain in this part of the world – in fact, the average rainfall is only 2 inches. Most of the precipitation is brought in by weather systems and carried to about 200 miles inland. Antarctica is made of up large sheets of ice, some of which could be glaciers and ice shelves. Parts of the ice shelves break off to form icebergs. There are ice free areas in the Antarctic as well.
Since it is the coldest and driest area on Earth there is very little life here – no trees or and few animals. The animals in this region adapt to cold conditions and thrive on food from the oceans. Some of the mammals which are found here are different kinds of seals, whales and dolphins. Birds which have adapted to the conditions are penguins of different types, albatrosses, terns, gulls and the Antarctic songbird to name a few. The cold ocean waters are home to cod, robber and crocodile fish, eels, sea snails and other species. Invertebrates like cuttlefish, sea stars, anemones, sea urchins, Krill and plankton can be found in plenty.
Over millions of years, changes in weather patterns and splitting up of the continents resulted in the isolation of Antarctica. It became a desolate and virtual desert in the Pleistocene era and remained so since. All the vegetation died out and it became an icy desert. Antarctica gets less than 2 inches of precipitation a year.
Antarctica is divided into two distinct regions – East and West. The eastern part comprises 2/3rds of the continent and close to Australia in size. The size of the continent varies by season – sea ice adds miles to the coastline. When measured, the depth of the ice is about 1.2 miles in thickness.
West Antarctica comprises a series of islands which are mostly frozen year round. These islands stretch towards South America and believe to be a part of the Andes Mountains. East and West are separated by the Transantarctic range. This range stretches the length of the continent and is covered off and on by ice.
Antarctica is about 5.4 million sq. miles in size. There are 2 active volcanoes on this continent - Mt. Erebus and another on Deception Island. Antarctica had a temperate climate millions of years ago with plenty of forests and a number of species of animals.
Human habitation in this area is relatively short. Captain Cook was the first to reach it in 1772. The first colony was set up at Cape Adare in 1899. Serious efforts are being made to preserve artefacts, shipwrecks, monuments and other papers. Countries close to and on Antarctica are working together to preserve the environment and the historical and archeological legacies of the region.
|Latitude and Longitude to decimals||-90.0||0.0|
|Latitude and Longitude to degrees minutes seconds||90° 0' 0" S||0° 0' 0" E|
|Latitude/Longitude to UTM Reference|
|UTM Northing:2035.0568771418184 Easting:500000.0 Zone:31Z|
The Antarctic desert is the coldest and driest place on earth. Its average temperatures range from -5 to -25 degrees centigrade. Rainfall is very scarce with an annual precipitation of not more than 15 cm. This is much lower than even the Gobi and the Sahara deserts.
|Temperature Data °C||Jan||Feb||Mar||Apr||May||Jun||Jul||Aug||Sep||Oct||Nov||Dec||Average||Range|
|Continental High Plateau||-32.1||-44.3||-57.9||-64.7||-65.6||-65.2||-66.9||-67.6||-66.0||-57.1||-43.3||-32.1||-55.1||36.0|
|Continental Low Plateau||-14.7||-19.8||-27.7||-29.7||-33.0||-34.1||-35.6||-36.7||-36.6||-30.2||-21.4||.14.4||-27.9||22.3|
|Continental High Latitude Coast||-2.9||-9.5||-18.2||-20.7||-21.7||-23.0||-25.7||-26.1||-24.6||-18.9||-9.7||-3.4||-16.9||23.8|
|Continental Low Latitude Coast`||-0.7||-5.4||-11.2||-15.0||-16.8||-16.7||-18.0||-18.8||-18.2||-13.9||-6.2||-0.9||-11.9||18.9|
Vegetation in this region is almost absent with only a few microscopic plants such as lichen to boast of. Occasionally one might find patches of moss near the snow patches or such favorable spots. The algal species like Hemichloris are adapted to the freezing and thawing cycles. The bottoms of some lakes are known to support algal mats comprising of prehistoric blue green algae.
Lower level invertebrates such as mites and springtails are only animals present on this desert. The harsh climate does not support any wild life beyond these. Recent research has led to the discovery of various microscopic communities of algae, bacteria and fungi that live inside the protective rocks. Living in these minute crevices of the rocks these organisms derive nourishment from the minerals and obtain access to adequate sunlight and moisture. They are called cryptoendolithic microorganisms. Nematodes that feed on bacteria are known to exist in these environs and their eggs are known to be dormant for many years in the anhydrobiosis state.
The Antarctic desert was discovered just over a hundred years ago. Due to obvious reasons there was no human habitat on this land. And more importantly this continent that comes under the purview of 44 nations, is not a property of any of these. This is a land that has been solely dedicated for scientific study and any kind of mining or military activity is prohibited according to the Antarctic treaty of 1959.
Antarctic Desert Frozen
Antarctic Desert Map
Antarctica Desert Climate
Wildlife of Antarctica Desert