You may think you know a thing or two about Antarctica, but did you know it’s actually considered a desert? There is a common misconception that deserts are the barren sweltering stretches of land filled with sand and heat, but that’s actually not always the case. A desert is simply an area that doesn’t receive a lot of annual precipitation in the form of either rain, fog, snow, or mist. The South Pole’s average annual rainfall over the past 30 years is 10 mm (or .04 inches). Although there are some higher levels of precipitation toward the coast, overall the rainfall is low enough that Antarctica is considered to be a polar desert.
Among the ice and snow, Antarctica is also home to some very interesting geological phenomena. One such phenomenon is the volcanoes, including the world’s southernmost active volcano: Mount Erebus. The second-highest volcano in Antarctica, Mount Erebus has some unique volcanic features including ice fumaroles and ice statues that form around the various gases.
Another unique feature of Antarctica is a blood-red lake that was discovered in 1911 and was aptly named Blood Falls. Although the lake’s strange coloring remained a mystery for over one hundred years, in 2017 scientists finally managed to discover the cause. The lake water, which flows within a glacier, originates from a subglacial lake that contains high concentrations of salt and oxidized iron. When it comes into contact with oxygen the iron rusts which gives the lake its signature red color.
Although the precipitation levels are low, there is a unique phenomenon that occurs because of humid air near the earth’s surface. Tiny ice crystals precipitate out from the humid air near the ground and hang in the air. This creates a unique optical anomaly with a glittering diamond-like effect, especially when the sun is shining.