Frequently asked questions

For more extended information please refer to the Information Sheets.

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 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.

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, for example on rocks, and range in colour from grey to 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, eg 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 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 done in Antarctica for commercial gain?

No drilling is done 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.

Static electricity

Because of the low humidity, ie, 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 (eg 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.

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, neckwarmers 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 (ie 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.

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 Adelie 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 Adelie 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