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55812.  Mon Feb 27, 2006 2:42 pm Reply with quote

n.b. question used in series 1?

Question: What is the largest desert in the world?

Forfeit: The Sahara

Answer: Antarctica

In geological terms, a desert is defined as an area having less than 10 inches of precipitation per year, and on that scale Antarctica certainly qualifies. In fact it is one of the driest places on the face of the Earth with on average about 2 inches of snow in a year, even the coastal regions, where precipitation is more common, the conditions for desert-hood are usually met, making Antarctica a 14 million square km desert - dwarfing the Sahara’s 9million.

The driest part of Antarctica are the McMurdo valleys, deep in the heart of the continent, this area is not only dry (and cold) but unusually for Antarctica it is in large parts completely ice-free instead being great expanses of rock and dust - due to its remoteness, a large proportion of this dust has landed directly from space. (stay tuned for more dust factoids in the next few weeks)

Desert exploration of old famously made use of dog-sleds, but dogs are now banned on Antarctica as a result of the 1994 Madrid Protocol, a move made in order to protect the continent’s natural environment.

A common misconception about deserts is that they are predominately shaped by wind, in actual fact it is water which is the predominant influence in land-shaping - though water is rare in the desert, when it does arrive, it has a great impact on the erosion of the landscape.

Another nice factoid I have, but am unable to verify at the moment, is that when Admiral Byrd, the famous US explorer, had a crack at Antarctica he used a refrigerator to stop his food from freezing.

Links: Dogs, Dust, Dryness


55875.  Mon Feb 27, 2006 5:51 pm Reply with quote

when Admiral Byrd, the famous US explorer, had a crack at Antarctica he used a refrigerator to stop his food from freezing.

This caught our eye today, and we wondered whether eskimos might do the same. If so:

Q: How many words do the eskimos have for 'refrigerator'?

55903.  Tue Feb 28, 2006 3:15 am Reply with quote

Aye, I should imagine they do. Scientists working in Antarctica certainly use them.

A very cursory google came up with this, from a Washington Post travel writer:

LET'S PUT TO REST ONE CLICHE. You can sell refrigerators to Eskimos.

The people of Savoonga are Yupiks, the westernmost of the Eskimo tribes, closer to Siberians than American Eskimos in their appearance, their customs and their distinctive, liquidly sibilant native language. And, yes, they all have refrigerators. In the winter, food gets freezer burn if left out in the elements. Eskimos need refrigerators to keep their food warm.

55910.  Tue Feb 28, 2006 4:35 am Reply with quote

Do they turn them on, or are they just insulating boxes?

55917.  Tue Feb 28, 2006 4:51 am Reply with quote

I've sent an e-mail to a guy I know a little who cooks for Antarctic expeditions - will post more if/when he responds.

55970.  Tue Feb 28, 2006 7:49 am Reply with quote

I've found some images of desiccated seals that have been found miles inland in Antarctica, which have clearly been there for many years, but not rotted because there is no moisture (and no bacteria about).


(later down that page there is a picture of Antarctican sand dunes - quite unexpected...

Mummified elephant seal:

From here:
The Onyx River in the lower Wright Valley is Antarctica's only river that flows for about 60 days each year during the peak of summer. One of the other common sights of the region is the half-skeletonized mummies of desiccated seals buried in sand. One theory is that the seals get some sort of ear infection, lose all sense of direction and go wandering up into these valleys until they die of starvation. As there are no scavengers to prey on the carcass it quickly freezes solid after death. Then the harsh winter winds and blasting sands abrade one side of the carcass until the bones are cleaned of flesh. You can see the seal's skeleton on the side of the prevailing winds, and on the other side the animal is filled out with grey-black frozen flesh, its glassy eye and whiskers still intact. It's an eerie sight and one that reminded me of the continuous presence of danger from rapid weather changes.

Frederick The Monk
56745.  Fri Mar 03, 2006 10:32 am Reply with quote

I like the sand dunes. There must be a good picture question along the 'where is this?' line.

There are more photos of rather Saharan looking Antarctic dunes here - although they're a bit blurry.

Frederick The Monk
56747.  Fri Mar 03, 2006 10:35 am Reply with quote

Like this:

56762.  Fri Mar 03, 2006 11:10 am Reply with quote

Picture researchers - can you find us a clearable image of a bit of Antarctica looking like a desert?

56877.  Sat Mar 04, 2006 9:02 am Reply with quote

“Few people realise that the biggest desert in Europe is in Iceland. Over 1,000 years ago, 60-70 per cent of the land was wooded. Now, the proportion is down to 1 per cent, causing soil erosion and shifting sand dunes. The Vikings chopped down trees and brought in sheep, which destroyed the grass and resulted in the desertification process. Ever since 1943, when they became independent of Denmark, the Icelanders have been trying to reverse the situation and half the population is now actively involved in reforestation. ‘People are trying to rectify the mistakes of their forefathers,’ says Boris Masimov, presenter of World Stories (BBC World Service, 9.06am). ‘Tree planting is practically a religion nowadays in Iceland.’”

Source: Morning Star, 3 August 2005.

62816.  Thu Mar 30, 2006 10:42 am Reply with quote

Rather interestingly, there is a large number of lakes underneath the ice sheet on Antarctica, which we're only now penetrating successfully. It looks like they might be 'warm' as well, as thermophilic bacteria have recently been abstracted from a huge bore. (Whose name escapes me.)

Frederick The Monk
62842.  Thu Mar 30, 2006 11:13 am Reply with quote

MatC wrote:
.....Over 1,000 years ago, 60-70 per cent of the land was wooded.

The Vikings did deforest the coastal plains of Iceland but it's not true that the country they found was 60-70% wooded. The vast majority of the interior of the country was covered with thick ice or lava. According to D.Hill's Atlas of Anglo-Saxon England which, strangely, has a whole page of maps and charts on Iceland, ice cover has actually decreased since the 8th century.

Ian Dunn
626622.  Sat Oct 17, 2009 4:56 am Reply with quote

According to recent research, the driest place on Earth is in fact Ridge A, also in Antarctica. It is also the coldest at -92F (-70C) and the calmest.

Story from The Times


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