The A to Z of Antarctica

Here is, hopefully, an informative and hopefully entertaining A to Z of all things Antarctic!

  •  A – Antarctica. The 5th largest continent in with world, with 26.5 million km3 of ice.
  • B – Beaker [slang]. A scientist who visits Antarctica to undertake research.
  • C – Cold. Antarctica has the coldest average temperature of any continent. The coldest temperature ever recorded on Earth was at Vostok: -89.2°C on 21st July 1983.
  • D – Deep. The West Antarctic Ice Sheet is grounded below sea level, and the deepest part is Bentley Subglacial Trench, the base of which lies 2496 m below sea level.
  • E – Elephant Seal. Southern Elephant Seals live in Antarctica and on sub-Antarctic islands. Males can be 6 m long and weigh up to 4 tonnes. They can dive up to 1500 m deep.
  • F – Fieldwork. Many beakers visit Antarctica each year to undertake fieldwork in glaciology, geology, atmospheric sciences, climate change, ocean circulation, biology and much more.
  • G – Greening. Climate change is warming sub-Antarctic islands, bringing different plant life, including more grasses. Humans are helping to transport plant life to Antarctica.
  • H – High. Antarctica is the continent with the highest average elevation. The mean height, excluding ice shelves, is 2194 m above sea level. The highest mountain is Mt Vinson (4892 m).
  • I – Ice Shelves. Ice shelves surround 75% of Antarctica’s coastline, and cover an area of over 1.561 million square kilometres. Many, including the ice shelves around the Antarctic Peninsula and Pine Island Glacier, are thinning and receding.
  • J – Jingly janglies [slang]: climbing rack worn when crossing crevassed ground.
  • K – Katabatic Wind. Wind flows from high pressure to low pressure. Cold, dense air forms over ice, resulting in strong winds around ice margins. They can rush downslope at hurricane speeds, flattening your tent if you’re not careful.
  • L – Lapse rate. Air cools as it rises. Cooling air holds less water, so there is more precipitation at altitude as well. That’s why glaciers form on high mountains first.
  • M – McMurdo. The largest base in Antarctica is American, and is located on Ross Island. It can support up to 1258 residents. It even has a webcam.
  • N – Nye (N) Channels. A channel cut into bedrock under high subglacial meltwater pressure.
  • O – Operations group. The ‘Ops’ group at Rothera must coordinate all field parties, their logistics, equipment and food, follow planes in and out, keep track of flights, and make sure that everyone has everything they need in the field. They keep in touch with field parties with a daily ‘sked’ – a scheduled radio broadcast.
  • P – Penguin. Penguins only live in the southern hemisphere, but out of the 17 species, only the Adelie and Emperor make the Antarctic continent their home. Chinstrap, Gentoo and macaroni penguins breed on the northern islands around the Antarctic Peninsula.
  • Q – Queue. Getting to Antarctica involves a lot of flying, a lot of waiting, and a lot of queues.
  • R – Radar. Scientists use radar to ‘see through’ the ice, and measure its thickness and other properties. Radar might be mounted on an aircraft or towed on a sledge.
  • S – Sledge. Field parties are called ‘Sledges’ and each has a different call sign. Sledges are also often used to tow equipment behind skidoos. These are called ‘Pulks’ and are made from fibreglass.
  • T – Thinning. The glaciers around the Antarctic Peninsula and west Antarctica are thinning rapidly. They are flowing faster and have a strongly negative mass balance.
  • U – U shaped valley. Otherwise known as a ‘Parabolic Valley’, wide, U-shaped valleys are associated with glaciation.
  • V – Volcanoes. There are many volcanoes underneath the Antarctic Ice Sheet, and geothermal heat from below helps ice melt at its base, lubricating it and helping it flow faster.
  • W – Wind slab. Hard snow, polished by the wind
  • X – X-ray diffraction (XRD). XRD is used to differentiate clay minerals in cores taken from the continental shelf edge. From these data, scientists are able to make inferences about the rocks underneath the Antarctic Ice Sheet.
  • Y – Year. Glaciers must be measured all year around, including their mass balance, velocity and temperature.
  • Z – Zeolite. A mineral formed in lava when it erupts in water. They can be used to make inferences about the circumstances of lava formation.

18 thoughts on “The A to Z of Antarctica”

  1. I really like the information that this gives. It helped me with my homework. I appreciate it. Thank you very much!

  2. There was a lot of good information. It helped me with my homework. I really appreciate it. Thank you!

  3. Hello Bethan,

    Are you still working on the subject of Antarctica?
    We are going there with our children on a citizen science initiative. I would love to talk to you before we go.
    Thank you for any time you cam lend.

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