I am always fascinated by the nature. Her resilience is amazing and her vibrant colours will make anyone fall for her beauty. The jungles are green, the deserts are brown, the seas are blue, the corals pose in a multitude of colours, the flamingos are pink…Why am I stating all these obvious facts? Because recently I fell in love with white. The white magical wonderland Antarctica.
The southern continent Antarctica wasn’t explored until the eighteenth century. The freezing temperatures of the continent in summer is around 0 degree Celsius to -28 degree Celsius, now imagine how the temperatures could be in winter. The Antarctica was earlier referred to as ‘Terra Australis Incognita’ (Unknown Southern Land).
At its heart is the South Pole, the most southerly point on earth. Man has always wanted to explore, expand and exploit the beauty around him. He has not even left out the moon and the outer space. Eventually, a race to explore this unknown piece of land began. But none of them expected its climate to be so harsh. The South Pole is covered by snow which is up to 4.8 km tall. And the sea surrounding the continent has hazardous ice bergs. As a result, many explorers perished in this feat to conquer the South Pole.
It was Roald Amundsen, a Norwegian explorer who became the first man to reach the South Pole. He and his team completed this arduous journey on December 1911.
Antarctica has just two seasons summer and winter. During the summer which begins in November, the pole tilts towards the sun and is in constant sunlight, even during midnight.
During winter, which begins in April, Antarctica is in constant darkness as the pole tilts away from the sun. I just cannot imagine being in a place without sunlight just for a day. Seven months is a long time to go without the sun. May be that is the reason why Antarctica is so magically white.
Aurora – A Light Show by Mother Nature
The sky above the Polar regions in winter often produces surreal lights. These are caused by electrically charged particles from Sun reacting with the Earth’s atmosphere. The Aurora effect above Antarctica is called ‘Aurora Australis’ (Southern Lights). By looking at the Aurora, it makes one wonder beyond science. Its beauty is so divine.
Having mentioned its harsh climate, it is impossible for life to thrive on this continent. However, the warmer coast along with the surrounding South Ocean offers favourable conditions for certain birds, animals and aquatic legends. Aquatic legends …. You may be wondering why such an adjective? You will understand as I proceed further.
Warmer coast means the ecosystem here thrives with the help of the fishes that live in bountiful quantities around the continent. The think sheets of Ice on top layer of the sea here serves as a breeding ground for lush green algae (phytoplankton).
Krill is a small crustacean found in the ocean. The Antarctic krill which thrive on the algae serves as an important animal of the Antarctic ecosystem. Krill is the primary food for the Gentoo penguins and seals that breed on the Antarctic coast. Krill also satiate the hunger of the aquatic legend: humpback whales.
These beauties primarily feed on krill. They attack the Antarctic coast during summer for krill and go to warmer seas during winter. Whales are air breathing mammals, so they can be seen near the surface of the ocean. They normally hunt in groups, forming circles which forms a lovely pattern of bubbles on the ocean surface.
These are the largest of the penguin species. Emperor penguins breed on the harshest winter of Antarctica. A thick layer of fat called the blubber beneath their feathers and skin keep the emperors warm during winters. Even seals have blubber to keep them warm.
Every summer, a variety of sea birds visit Antarctica to feast on the aquatic life that thrive on the South Sea. They breed on the surrounding islands. The wandering albatross with the longest wingspan of 3.3 metres also hunts on the Antarctic coast during summer.
A note of caution
Antarctica contributes to 70% of world’s fresh water. Over the past 50 years the Antarctic coasts are warming fast. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) has reported an increase in the air temperature of Antarctica by 3 degrees Celsius. This warm up has melted the ice sheets on coastal antarctica, reducing the quantity of Phytoplankton for krill. Reduction in krill numbers will affect the entire Antarctic ecosystem.
It is not just the ecosystem of Antarctica; such rapid melting of ice will increase the water level in the sea. This will reduce the salinity in oceans and the ocean ecosystem will also get hit. Last but not the least, increase in sea water is a threat to coastal lands all over the world.
If each one of us take conscious efforts to reduce global warming, the beautiful world around us can be preserved and with luck our future generations will also have this beautiful Earth to live on.