For longer than humans have walked the planet, Ice has dominated Antarctica. It’s the mystery continent at the bottom of the world, and the largest single mass of ice on earth. It’s the coldest, windiest, driest, and most deserted landscapes on the planet with few prominent residents except Penguins and seals. This frosty continent is almost covered with ice; its every inch of land. About 98% of Antarctica is covered with 1.6km thick Ice sheet which carries 90% of the world’s ice.
If all the ice at Antarctica were melted, sea level would rise by 200ft ! Its temperature ranges from -27.5°C to – 60°C. Other than its cold weather Antarctica is also gets beaten by the heavy winds. It is the windiest place on earth and storms are very frequent and always energetic. Ther’s no rain falls to the Antarctica, except the showers of snow.
Life… ‘The Ice breaker’
A combination of freezing temperatures, poor soil quality, lack of moisture and lack of sunlight makes it impossible for extensive vegetation in Antarctica. The plant life is only limited to Mosses, Algae and Lichens. Antarctica supports a variety of animal life too, almost all of it being dependent on the sea.
As the animal life is dependent on the sea and are mainly warm blooded, they tend to be pretty large as a survival technique against the extreme and relentless cold. This frozen kingdom is dominated by several types of Penguins, whales and seals. It can support such an abundance of large animals is a result of the productivity of planktons in the southern polar sea. Antarctic krill, which are shrimp like invertebrates play an important role in Antarctic ecosystem, by it’s being the major food source interconnecting several food chains.
Other than them Antarctic harbors several other invertebrates too. Despite Asia and Africa have elephants, Antarctica has 1mm spring tails and midges, where they shelter lions and tigers, Antarctica gives shelter to predatory mites and while the Arctic has polar bears, there are water bears about 0.2mm long. Bird life of Antarctica consists of several large flight birds including Wandering albatross, Snow petrel, Antarctic tern, Cape pigeon and many others.
Surviving the cold…
Major Antarctic animals seal, whales and dolphins are warm blooded, which means they produce their heat internally. The temperature of the Antarctic Ocean varies from -2°C to +2°C. There is a temperature level at which an organism dies which called the “lower lethal temperature”.
Even the coldest water (-2°C) doesn’t result in death of any Antarctic seals and whales; it means that these animals can live indefinitely in cold water. This is due to the insulating properties of a thick layer of blubber (fat) under the skin. Blubber insulates in water, fur and feathers insulate in air.
Antarctic Birds also have thick coats of insulating feathers, also they have a counter current heat exchanging mechanism in their legs which ensure that the body heats blood returning from the flippers, so retaining heat in the core and minimizing heat losses. So, they don’t lose heat when swimming in freezing water. Many species of Antarctic fish have anti-freezing compounds in their blood for their survival.
In case of large animals, other than insulating themselves they being large help them to reduce their surface area to volume ratio; it reduces the loss of heat from their skin. Also they consume lots of high energetic food to generate warmth from within. From small birds upwards almost all the large animals in Antarctica are carnivores. Since Meat supplies more energy than vegetable matter. Huddling together in groups is also a good way of getting protection from the wind and retaining warmth. This adaptation is especially can be seen in penguins.
However, this frozen kingdom and its Life are at highly threatened by the Global warming. Antarctic is warming at a rate 10 times faster than the global average. Due to global warming Antarctica is experiencing a net outflow of glacial ice which simultaneously increases the global sea level over the time.