Common Misunderstandings about the Antarctic

By admin / 25 July 2018

Common Misunderstandings about the Antarctic

The Antarctic is an incredible place and with this blog, we hope to teach readers about the Antarctic by discussing the most common misunderstandings.

We recently wrote a blog discussing what we felt were the 10 most common misunderstandings about the Arctic and we thought it would be a good idea to follow it up with a blog about the most common misunderstandings about the Antarctic. So many of the misunderstandings about both of these places are a result of misinformation and the fact that most people haven’t travelled to the Arctic or the Antarctic. With this blog, we hope to teach readers about the Antarctic by discussing the most common misunderstandings. The Antarctic is an incredible place and we’d like to help you understand it better.

No one lives in the Antarctic


US Antarctic research station

This is a common misconception, and it’s completely understandable that people think Antarctica is uninhabited. In fact, you could argue that this misconception is half-true, as no native people (as far as we know) have ever lived in Antarctica. However, plenty of scientists and explorers live on the Great White Continent — between 1,000 and 4,000 at any given time. When you consider Antarctica’s great size, even the maximum 4,000 people is an absolutely minuscule population. 

The Antarctic is the South Pole

Another common misconception, many people believe that the South Pole is synonymous with Antarctica. The South Pole and Antarctica are not ‘the same thing’. The Antarctic is the large continent at the southernmost region of the Earth; the South Pole is a specific point in Antarctica. It even gets slightly more complicated as there are actually two South Poles: 

  • The South Geomagnetic Pole — the southern point of Earth’s axis,
  • And the South Magnetic Pole — the wandering point where the geomagnetic field lines all travel northwards.

Polar bears hunt penguins


We also covered this specific point in our Arctic misunderstandings blog. Children’s books and cartoons put these two iconic polar animals together all the time, but it’s hard to conceive of two animals less likely to meet each other as polar bears live in the Arctic (in the north) and penguins live in the Antarctic (the south). Other than in a zoo, it’s highly unlikely that polar bears and penguins will meet. If you’d like to see polar bears (from a safe distance), you could take one of our Svalbard expedition cruises. If you’d like to see penguins, we have a huge range of different cruises, such as our In-depth Antarctic and South Georgia trip and our Classic Antarctica Cruise.

You can only find penguins in the Antarctic


Penguins in Cape Town, South Africa

This feels like the best follow-up misconception topic to the polar-bears-hunt-penguins topic above. Many people think penguins only live in Antarctica, but this isn’t true. They all live in the Southern Hemisphere, but many venture much further north than the Antarctic. The most Northerly penguins live in the Galapagos Islands, off Ecuador, just south of the equator, but they are a bit of an anomaly. Some other penguin colonies can be found in South Africa and Australia, and many live on islands without land predators all across the southern part of the southern hemisphere.

Penguins are the only type of birds that live in the Antarctic

Last penguin-related point, we promise. Many people believe that penguins are the only native birds in Antarctica. This misconception just comes from the photographs and footage most people see from the Antarctic and because penguins are so widespread throughout Antarctica — with approximately 20 million breeding penguins found throughout the continent. Perhaps the best way to see a range of different penguin species in one trip is to take our penguin safari through South Georgia and Antarctica. However, you’ll see much more than penguins on all of our Antarctic expeditions; you can expect to see petrels, ducks, cormorants, swans, egrets, and albatrosses, to name only a few of the bird species found in Antarctica. 

People seem to be very confused about the size of Antarctica


Some people think Antarctica is much bigger, or smaller than it really is. Both of these misconceptions occur for the same reason: the strange way Antarctica is drawn on maps of the World. Maps of the World are flat drawings of a sphere, so they always try to into account the curvature of the planet. In doing this, the Antarctic’s position at the southernmost point means that its size is distorted more than any other continent. Antarctica is actually the fifth largest continent, with South America in the fourth spot and Europe in the sixth spot. 

It’s good that Antarctica’s sea ice is expanding


There is a lot of completely understandable confusion about global warming and about Antarctica’s role in the process. Many people have correctly heard that Antarctica’s sea ice is expanding in places and interpret this as a positive countermeasure to the melting of the polar ice caps. However, the reality is a lot more complicated. The sea ice is indeed expanding in parts of the Antarctic, but this is because the temperature of the Antarctic is in flux. This is partly because the land ice in the Antarctic is melting and some glaciers moving more rapidly, pushing ice into the sea. In the longer term this may contribute to further ice loss, significant sea level rises, changes in convection currents and other climatic effects. It is, of course, much more complicated than that, but hopefully, this answer at least slightly clears up the misunderstanding. 

We hope you’ve enjoyed reading this blog and that it has answered some of your questions about the Antarctic. We also hope this blog has inspired one or two readers to finally make the leap and book their once-in-a-lifetime Antarctic expedition. If you have any questions about our range of Antarctic cruises and expeditions, please don’t hesitate to get in touch. Plan your Antarctic adventure today!

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