[section]One of nature’s little quirks sees the world’s most southerly continent Antarctica, classified as a desert albeit a polar one. Wikipedia states: “This polar desert is planet earth’s largest, coldest and driest region.” If this fact isn’t in Ripley’s Believe It Or Not, then it should be.
But that’s not the only surprising thing about Antarctica -it’s more than just icebergs and snow down there. Here are 5 Things that surprised writer Lynda Joy Smith on her last trip to one of the world’s most isolated and least-visited destinations.
[title2]1. There are plants, flowers and greenery here.[/title2][section]
Circa back around 85 million years and you could have been picking flowers way down south around the Antarctic Circle. Today, in the 21st century, for an up close with lichens take a look at Heard Island. This largest sub Antarctic island has 12 species of flowering plants (none introduced by humans) and fossils revealing ancient plant forms.
“The Antarctic Peninsula and Transantarctic mountains yield the most common fossil wood finds and the oldest microbes ever found are recent discoveries of DNA and bacteria dated at around 8 million years.”
Katabatic winds (also termed descending winds) and blizzards race off the Antarctic Plateau at up to 100 miles per hour. This unique phenomenon discourages growth of anything larger than “knee high to a grasshopper”.
[/section][title2]2. Hothouses mean researchers have fresh fruit and vegetables. [/title2][section]
Over 40 scientific bases are spread over this huge continent and a literal growth industry has been the implementation of hothouses to provide the fresh food component of their daily diet. On the menu is a veritable farmers market of vegetables and herbs.
One highlight of the winter over season is the humble tomato. Inter base rivalry sees their tomato seeds planted May 1st, with the largest or weirdest shaped tomato grown in 3 months winning the competition. [/section]
“What a great way to fill in leisure time, as you not only get to enjoy the fruits of your labor, you also get to lord it over the other competing research stations.”
Antarctic hothouse produce is grown hydroponically. No possible biological invasion via soil is allowed. Apart from the unique challenge of growing food in this hostile environment, certain something not found elsewhere in the world is that Antarctic home grown flavour.
[/section][title2]3. Wind powers it all.[/title2][section]
Wind harvesting is the way to go in Antarctica. Type ‘wind energy Antarctica’ into Google and get off track reading about NASA scientists who are excited about using similar hybrid wind and solar prototypes on the planet Mars.
Efficient energy is the key word for both habitats, and Antarctica has been developing wind turbines in an environment that has seen wind speeds topping 155 miles per hour.
[section]Antarctica’s harshness has previously deterred the use of wind turbines, but modern technology combined with cooperative expertise from various treaty countries has seen advancement in the field and reality has finally caught up with the dream.
The latest example is the world’s first zero emission Antarctic research station. Belgium-built “Princes Elisabeth” was up and running for the 2008 summer season. Solar panels and 8 wind turbines are the core energy sources and sustainability is the catch-word for the future when it comes to the reality of satisfying the world’s rapidly growing clean energy needs. Kinetic energy here we come.
But let’s not stop there. Take this clean power solution one step further as we visualize a future where Antarctica will eventually have an electricity surplus, which could be exported via super-conductive undersea electric power cables to South America and beyond.
If our new energy technology is OK for Mars, I guess it’s OK for South America and the rest of us “Earthlings”.
[title2]5. 4 species of penguins breed here.[/title2][section]
Wiki.answers.com lists 18 species of penguins worldwide, and the Antarctic continent is the home ground where 4 species breed.
Adelie penguins have white around their eyes giving a constant surprised look, while the Chinstrap’s markings add a certain something to their black & white suits.
“The Gentoo family follows the nesting norm, Antarctic style and gathers small pebbles into a circle nest.”
[section]Stone envy is not uncommon in these environs and stealing is a common problem that sees neighborhood fights on a regular basis during the breeding season
The unforgettable Emperor Penguin, star of the hit movie ‘Happy Feet’, holds the title of the world’s largest penguin. He also has the longest walk of all, up to 75 miles to court and breed during the Antarctic winter season on this amazing continent. What has been termed ‘The Biggest Crèche in the World’ sees around 25,000 Emperor Penguins herding their young into huddles to conserve warmth and save them from freezing to death.