Frequently Asked Questions

Did you know?

The name ‘Antarctica’ comes from a Greek word meaning ‘opposite to the north’.



How was Antarctica formed?

Antarctica was once part of Gondwana, along with New Zealand, Australia, South America, Africa, and peninsula India. 190 million years ago Gondwana began to break up forming the distinct continent Antarctica. Fossil remains and geological investigations have helped clarify the relationship between Antarctica and the other parts of Gondwana.

What are the highest and lowest recorded temperatures?

The highest temperature recorded at Scott Base was in January 1970, and was 8°C. The lowest temperature recorded in Antarctica was recorded at Vostock Station and was -89.6°C

What is the worst accident that has happened in Antarctica?

On the 28 November 1979 Flight TE901 crashed into the lower slopes of Mount Erebus on Ross Island killing all 257 passengers and crew. The site of the accident is permanently protected under the Antarctic Treaty. There is a memorial cross on the boundary of the protected area approximately three kilometres from accident site.

Why is there static electricity around Scott Base?

Because of the low humidity, i.e., the dryness of the air, there is a lot of static electricity in Antarctica. Static electricity can be dangerous when refuelling vehicles as the static spark can ignite the fuel vapours. To decrease the effects people touch metal objects, including structural steel, metal wall cladding and benchtops at regular intervals to avoid painful static shocks from electrical charge build-up. There are anti-static sheets under all computers and electronic equipment to prevent damage from the static and static must be discharged before using equipment, such as computers and phones.

How cold is it before liquids freeze in engines in Antarctica?

There are three main liquids used in vehicles: engine coolant (water and antifreeze): a mixture of 70% antifreeze to 30% water is used. If the ratio of antifreeze to water is higher than that (e.g. 80% to 20%) then it will lose its ability to prevent freezing. The 70% / 30% will remain completely liquid to -35°C and will be slushy (still working) down to -50°C lubricant (oil): synthetic oil to reduce problems is used. It can be pumped down to -50°C and can be poured down to -54°C fuel (petrol etc.): aviation turbine kerosene (aeroplane fuel) which can go down to -46°C without freezing is used. A variation of this that has a freezing point of -58°C is used in generators over winter. If the wrong fuel is used then problems can occur as it may not freeze but the wax in the fuel may separate out which prevents it working. Battery Acid the other liquid related to engines is the acid in batteries. Addition of more acid to the mix prevent freezing and maintains energy output. This liquid has a freezing point of -70°C.

Check out this video of water freezing in mid air!

How is the Antarctic environment protected?

Environmental protection is effected through the Environmental Protocol to the Antarctic Treaty and by the Committee for Environmental Protection (CEP). Areas of outstanding scientific, historic or other value can be designated as Antarctic Specially Protected Areas (ASPA).

What kinds of vegetation are there in Antarctica?

Algae are the predominant plants in Antarctica. The dominant species are cyanobacteria, which are blue/green in colour. The algae may combine with fungi to form lichen. Lichens form thin crusts, on rocks, and range in colour from grey, yellow and orange. Some lichens may grow to a height of three centimetres and have branches and leaf-like growths. The most complex plants in Antarctica are the mosses and liverworts, which attach to soil and rock using rhizoids (threads which emerge from the base of the stem). In favourable locations in Antarctica the mosses may form mounded cushions or larger carpets.

How is waste managed?

Scott Base sewerage is processed through a Waste Water Treatment Plant and field human waste from land-based camps is brought back to Scott Base for disposal. Supplies for Scott Base are carefully chosen and packed to minimise waste, but some packing waste is always generated, e.g. cans and boxes. Card paper, glass and aluminium and tin cans are separated for recycling back in Christchurch. Food and food contaminated wastes are returned to New Zealand for disposal. It costs about $10 000/year to bring rubbish back to New Zealand and dispose of it. Most of the rubbish left in the past has been removed. Scott Base has an active rubbish removal/base-tidying scheme. Examples of cleaning up Antarctica are New Zealand's Vanda Station at Lake Vanda, the Greenpeace World Park Base at Cape Evans and Hallett Station at Cape Hallett. These bases were removed completely from Antarctica, including taking away contaminated soil. There is still a small amount of rubbish yet to be removed from Hallett Station.

Is Antarctica being exploited?

The answer to this question depends on the definition of exploitation. Scientific 'exploitation' is provided for as a key purpose of the Antarctic Treaty System but must be within the bounds of the Protocol on Environmental Protection to the Antarctic Treaty. The Protocol also bans all mineral exploitation. CCAMLR is an international agreement designed to allow for ecologically sustainable marine living resource extraction without over exploitation. Tourism occurs in the Antarctic and is governed by the Treaty and Environmental Protocol. The Antarctic tourism industry is self-regulating through IAATO. No drilling for commercial gain is done in Antarctica. The Antarctic Treaty nations agreed to place a moratorium on mining in Antarctica for fifty years. This moratorium was put in place in the Madrid Protocol in 1991. New Zealand ratified the protocol in 1994. By January 1998 all treaty nations had ratified the protocol and the moratorium was legally in effect.

Is any drilling being completed in Antarctica for commercial gain?

No drilling is completed in Antarctica for commercial gain. The Antarctic treaty nations agreed to place a moratorium on mining in Antarctica for fifty years. This moratorium was put in place in the Madrid Protocol in 1991. New Zealand ratified the protocol in 1994. By January 1998 all treaty nations had ratified the protocol and the moratorium was legally in place.

What is frostbite and how do you get it?

Frostbite occurs when parts of the body do not receive enough warmth to prevent them from freezing. The most commonly affected areas are the ears, nose, hands and feet. Today most frostbite is superficial and recovery is complete once the body has rewarmed. Severe frostbite may result in amputation of the affected area. Correct clothing including hats, scarves, neck warmers and gloves provide protection from frostbite.

How do you navigate to the South Pole?

Most navigation in Antarctica is done using the Global Positioning System (GPS) which uses satellite intersections to determine locations. Satellites orbit the earth and are at known positions. A ground-based receiver positioned at an unknown spot on the ground (i.e. where you are) determines the distance to all the satellites in view. With distances known to several satellites the position of the received can be discovered. A minimum of three satellites is required. The accuracy of the receiver's position depends on how accurately the distances to the satellites are determined. GPS navigation is not weather dependant (unlike using the sun as a navigational aid). GPS can also give the distance between two points on the earth as long as the two points (receivers) can observe the same satellites at the same time. GPS will give accurate distance measurement between the two points regardless of the terrain or distance between the two points. If you are travelling to the South Pole you can use this to determine how far away you are from the pole as the pole is a known fixed geographic point. There are several levels of GPS. At its simplest GPS can tell us where we are on or above the earth's surface with an accuracy of 100 metres. The most sophisticated GPS can give location accurate down to 10cm.

Where are New Zealand huts and refuges?

Cape Royds Hut (occupied periodically during summer): situated at Cape Royds, Ross Island

  • Latitude 77°38'S, Longitude 166°10'E
  • One hut established 1993, with accommodation for two persons


Cape Evans Huts (occupied periodically during summer): situated at Cape Evans on the West Coast of Ross Island at northern entrance to Erebus Bay.

  • Latitude  77°38'S, Longitude 166°24'E
  • Two huts established 1989, with accommodation for two persons, plus a mess hut


Lower Wright Refuge Hut: situated on the south side of the Wright Valley, approximately 3 kilometres west of the Wright Lower Glacier

  • Latitude 77°26'7"S, Longitude 162°37'E
  • One hut established November 1971, with accommodation for two persons


Cape Roberts Huts: situated on promontory on south east edge of Granite Harbour

  • Latitude 77°02'S, Longitude 163°12'E
  • Two huts established November 1984, with accommodation for four persons, plus a mess hut

Bratina Island Huts: situated on Bratina Island near the northern tip of Brown Peninsula

  • Latitude 78°01'S, Longitude 165°32'E
  • Three huts established December 1989


Cape Bird Huts: (occupied periodically during summer): sited adjacent to Adélie penguin rookeries at the northern tip of McDonald Beach

  • Latitude 77°14' S, Longitude 166°28'E
  • Accommodation hut plus a storage hut, with accommodation for eight persons


Lake Vanda Huts: three relocatable huts opposite the former site of Vanda station, near the mouth of the Onyx River

  • Latitude 77°31'25" S, Longitude 161°40'23"E
  • Established in 1994, providing shelter only, including stove


Cape Hallett: sited in Adélie penguin rookery on Seabee Hook

  • Latitude 72°19'S, Longitude 170°16'E
  • Station  established in 1957, main buildings decommissioned in 1980s
  • Emergency cache on beach


Cape Adare: Ridley Beach

  • Latitude 71°17'S, Longitude 170°14'E
  • Survival box in historic hut store (limited food store and fuel)
  • Emergency  accommodation in historic hut

Did you know?

  • Antarctica is the coldest, windiest and driest continent
  • Winds can reach up to 320kms per hour
  • 50 million years ago Antarctica had a temperate climate
  • The Circumpolar Current is the world's  largest wind-driven  current
  • Antarctica is the engine that drives global processes
  • Antarctica is the fifth largest continent
  • 2% of Antarctica is not covered by ice
  • Antarctica (without sea ice) covers approx. 14 million km2 (nearly double the size of Australia 7.69 million km2 or 52 x size of NZ,268 thousand km2)
  • Sea ice around the coast more than doubles the size of Antarctica, approx. 15 million km2,  each winter  (winter  sea ice extent approx. 19 million km2, summer sea ice extent approx. 4 km2, difference approx. 15 million km2)
  • Antarctica would rise approx. 500m over 10,000 years if all the ice sheets melted
  • In 2000, the largest recorded  iceberg "8-15", 295km long and 37km wide, broke free from the Ross Ice Shelf (outside Scott Base) - surface area of 11 km2 above water and ten times as large underwater
  • Ross Ice Shelf (outside Scott Base) is largest shelf in Antarctica at 487 thousand  km2 - over 3 x the size of NZ South Island (151thousand km2)
  • The Transantarctic Mountain range is one of the longest mountain  ranges on Earth (3,500 km long)
  • Antarctica's largest sand dune, found in the Dry Valleys, is 70m high and 200m wide
Animals & Plants
  • The only vegetation in Antarctica is moss, lichen and algae
  • There are no indigenous populations of people in Antarctica (unlike in the Arctic where you have resident tribes of Inuit)
  • Only invertebrate animals, insects, live in Antarctica year round
  • Largest land animal in Antarctica is an insect - a wingless midge at 1.3cm long
  • There are no flying insects in Antarctica- they'd get blown away
  • Male Emperor penguins are the only warm blooded animal that stay on the continent throughout winter
  • Since 1994 no non-native species have been allowed in Antarctica (e.g. dogs)
  • Two penguin species are found in the Ross Sea area (where we work)­ Adelie and Emperor penguins
Physical Properties
  • Antarctica is considered a desert but contains 90% of the world's ice
  • Antarctica's ice cap contains approx. 70% of the world's fresh water
  • Melting Antarctica's ice sheets  would raise the world's oceans by 60m compared to the Arctic (Greenland) which would raise levels by 7m
  • Mount Erebus is the southern most active volcano and home to the only long-lived lava lakes on earth
  • Antarctica is the only continent without a time zone
  • Antarctica is governed by an international treaty, the Antarctic Treaty
  • Nobody owns Antarctica - The Antarctic Treaty was signed on 1st December 1959 by 12 countries (now 48 nations) designating the continent as a natural resource devoted to peace and science