Antarctica, the picturesque yet virtually uninhabited land mass at the South Pole of the planet, is known for its vast frozen landscapes and adorable penguins. The freezing-cold continent is larger than Europe and more than twice the size of Australia — yet there is still so much about it we don’t know.
Recently, explorers on an expedition there sought more information about this mysterious otherworldly land. They expected to collect a few samples, take some measurements, and leave. However, their research came to an alarming halt when they happened upon a sight that none of them could explain.
Part of the reason why Antarctica holds so much intrigue is, similar to the bottom of the ocean, top scientists still can’t explain many of its mysteries, even with all of their academic expertise.
Over 160 million years ago, the entire content was completely frozen over…but astoundingly, nobody knows the exact cause. Of course, there has been speculation: Could it have been a series of meteorites? Volcanic eruptions?
Palentologist Thomas Mors and his team were desperate to find answers. So there they found themselves: on their knees, digging through samples of sediment in the icy cold. It was no easy job, and while they knew the study was necessary, they had no idea how ground-breaking it would be.
Jeremy Lee – CBC
While engaging in the painstaking process of sifting through these arctic materials, hoping to find a fossil or some sort of clue, they came across a peculiar sight: teeth and bones.
YouTube – Nature Video
These fossils came from small marsupials who used to inhabit the land. This wasn’t so surprising, however, as evidence of these species living in the area has been documented as far back as 1982. Still, the researchers exercised their curiosity.
Being the dutiful scientists they were, they didn’t stop there and continued with the often grueling work of sifting through, categorizing, and analyzing the samples they came across. Little did they know, they’d soon have a startling realization.
Mors remembered the bone that would change it all. The fossilized specimen may not have stuck out to the average Joe, but its true significance transcended continents and eons, putting into question everything we thought we knew about the South Pole.
The bone in question was an ilium, or a large hip bone, and there’s absolutely no way it could have belonged to a marsupial. Discovered alongside the ilium was an ornamented skull, adorned with small bumps. These clues all pointed to one huge revelation.
Mors recalled his “Eureka” moment: “I first found the hip bone, and I directly realized that I found an Antarctic frog, the first!. It was a totally unexpected discovery under the microscope,” he related. The implications were vast.
Getty Images – DavidovArt
It may not be immediately clear why the existence of one tiny frog threw the entire scientific community into a frenzy, but it did. The fossil shed light on huge unanswered questions about how our planet as we know it today came to be.
Mors and his team tested the awe-inspiring discovery, and were even more taken aback after learning the fossil was 40 million years old. Meaning? Amphibians were still happily hopping around only 6 million years before the great freeze happened.
Even crazier? This same exact species of frog exists today…but in environments that are the polar opposite of the frozen tundra where Mors located his fossil. This realization addressed the age old question of how did Antarctica get so cold?
See, the frog species currently lives in South America and Australia, places with extremely warm climates and dense vegetation. So did Antarctica once look more like a lush Brazilian rain forest? Maybe, and that’s not all…
The fact that the fossilized frog is of the same variety as amphibians existing in other parts of the world today suggests that, while it seems impossible given its current climate, Antarctica was crucial in the beginning for life on Earth.
Research also suggested Antarctica began to freeze over even as frogs and other amphibians and vertebrates were still living there. They likely resorted to burying themselves under the mud when temperatures got really bad, but soon they were forced to make a dramatic move for survival.
Twitter – USFWS Midwest
At this point, the world hadn’t yet split into the seven continents we know. It was all one land mass known now as Pangea. The frogs likely lived all across the world at one point, fleeing from the Antarctic when temperatures got too cold. This opened up interesting possibilities.
Maybe frogs weren’t the only animals that could have lived in the Antarctic in the distant past. Leaches and cocoons have also been discovered there. All these pieces of the puzzle lead researchers to one astounding conclusion.
According to Mors, “My guess is that it [Antarctica] was a rich and diverse place. We have only found a percentage of what lived there.” If a leading paleontologist is saying this, who knows what more exciting discoveries there are waiting to be unearthed.
YouTube – Nature Video
In a time gone by, the frozen wasteland we know Antarctica as today could have been teeming with life, as lushly beautiful and abundant with wildlife as places like Australia and South America..but there is one slightly frightening possibility that remains.
Public Domain Pictures
If this could happen to Antarctica, couldn’t nature repeat itself and send our favorite tropical climates and vacation destinations into freezing ghost towns? The continent is home to so many mysteries and interesting details.
1. The first Tinder match in Antarctic history was made when an American scientist logged into the app “just for fun.” Lo and behold, a profile came up just a 45-minute helicopter ride away, and she swiped right!
2. Yes, there is an ATM. Wells Fargo installed the continent’s first and only ATM back in 1998 at the McMurdo Station — the largest science center on Antarctica. It’s often out of order, and this is one line you don’t want to wait in!
3. The shifting gravitational pull caused by our drastically changing climate is very real. Scientists have confirmed the mass melting of ice in Antarctica has actually caused a noticeable dip in the gravity field in just 3 years.
4. There are two civilized towns in Antarctica, and they are both Latin American. The larger of the two is Villa Las Estrellas, a Chilean town founded in 1984. The second is Esperanza Base, which now serves as an Argentine research center.
5. Speaking of Esperanza, this homey little town is famous for more than just its extreme geo-tag. In 1978, it was the birthplace of Emilio Marcos Palma, the first person ever born in Antarctica. Since then, 10 more births have taken place on the continent.
6. About 3 TRILLION TONS of ice melted in Antarctica in the past 25 years. Scientists now believe we are currently losing 240 billion tons of ice per year, so keep it together and reduce your footprint — the world can’t afford another meltdown.
7. The continent boasts a surface area of 5,400,000 square miles, which doubles in size in the winter as ice forms around the coastline. It is twice the size of Australia and 1.5 times the size of the U.S.
8. Sure, you might have to endure some cold weather living in Antarctica, but at least you won’t ever have to worry about ants in your pants. That’s right, Antarctica and the Arctic are the only places in the world that are not colonized by ants. Finally, a place you can picnic in peace.
9. Antarctica was a tropical continent 52 million years ago (not too long ago geologically speaking). It seems completely implausible now, but CO2 emissions can actually cause the continent to return to its former rainforest-y paradise. Imagine packing your bikini for Antarctica!
10. This land isn’t all ice and snow. Mount Erebus in Antarctica is one of the most consistently active volcanoes in the world. Erebus is home to a 1,700° lava lake that is believed to bubble and trouble several miles below the surface.
11. How low can you go? Well, if you’re in Antarctica and we’re talking about temperature, you can dip all the way down to a frigid -144°F. Chill out, this doesn’t happen too often. To achieve this degree of cold requires dry air and clear skies for several consecutive days.
12. There are seven different churches on Antarctica! So far, Christianity is the only religion to have erected churches on the continent, but there is clearly plenty of space for anyone’s faith here.
13. You won’t find any dog parks in Antarctica. In fact, dogs have been banned from the entire continent since 1994. The concern of disease being introduced to the local seal population was enough for all pups to get the eternal boot.
14. We still see you Minnesota, but give some cred’ to Antarctica for boasting over 300 secret lakes below its ice sheets. While these lakes are largely unexplored due to inaccessibility, scientists believe there are microorganisms living in these waters that no one on earth has seen yet.
15. The largest iceberg documented in Antarctica measured 183 miles long and 23 miles wide, which is bigger than the entire island of Jamaica! This mammoth chunk of ice was named B-15, but it has since broken up into smaller (but still giant) icebergs floating around the ocean.
16. Antarctica has an impressive list of world records, but a lesser-known world record is that this fine continent is home to the world’s oldest sperm. Worm sperm. Credit goes to Swedish scientists who, back in 2015, made this 50-million-year-old discovery.
17. Finding the time in Antarctica could be a challenge. That’s because there are no ordained time zones on the continent. A general rule is to use the time of whichever country is maintaining your base. Now that is a place frozen in time.
18. There is no need to worry about icebreakers here. The average thickness of an ice sheet in Antarctica is about 1 mile. Of course, this ranges throughout the continent, with some sheets getting up to 3 miles thick.
19. Antarctica is home to 70 percent of the Earth’s fresh water in addition to 90 percent of its ice. Scientists estimated if all the ice in Antarctica were to melt, sea levels around the world would rise 200 feet. That means New York and Los Angeles would be completely underwater.
20. Polar bears only live up north, in the Arctic. Even if they wanted to pack up and move south, it would be impossible for these bears to survive the tropical temperatures on their southerly migration. Additionally, there isn’t even a direct land connection for them to make the cross.
21. For all its dangers, one man did conquer the icy continent. Every day, Colin O’Brady kissed his wife Jenna goodbye and went off to work. However, he didn’t slave away at some conventional office job. Colin’s occupation was pushing the human body to — and sometimes past — its limits.
To say Colin was an adrenaline junkie would be a major understatement. He dedicated his life to becoming one of history’s greatest endurance athletes. His first triumphs came in the triathlon circuit, though what Colin really wanted to do was conquer the deadliest place on the planet.
He dreamed of crossing Antarctica. With temperatures plummeting below negative 120 degrees Fahrenheit and barely any drinkable water available, the continent posed an unimaginable challenge to even this experienced climber and adventurer. But Colin added in a twist to his scheme.
Flickr / Eli Duke
Colin planned on doing it alone. That feat had never successfully been pulled off, but this daredevil was eager to make the history books. Even so, plenty of Colin’s loved ones were queasy about the idea. It could have lethal consequences.
Instagram / Colin O’Brady
British explorer Henry Worsely attempted the solo trek in 2016, but Antarctica proved too much for him. He died 30 miles from the finish line. What made that loss even more troubling was the fact that Henry was one of Colin’s most influential mentors.
The New Yorker
Could the 33-year-old succeed where his teacher had fallen short? Colin believed the answer to that depended all on his preparation. To cross nearly 1,000 treacherous miles, he would need to be in the best shape of his life.
YouTube / Colin O’Brady
Aside from packing on more muscle, Colin needed to figure out the perfect balance of gear. On a team expedition, certain members could share the load of common equipment. But Colin, carrying everything on his own, had to make some serious sacrifices.
The New York Times / Tamara Merino
He collected the bare essentials and strapped all his supplies to a sled, which weighed in at 375 pounds. Colin was ready for the challenge of a lifetime. For better or worse, however, so was another man.
The New York Times
Colin wouldn’t be the only adventurer attempting the Antarctic trek in 2018. Louis Rudd, a British army veteran who’d previously traversed the icy continent with a group, was also gunning for the record. The two competitors shared a ride down south.
The New York Times
Even so, Colin was filled with optimism at the start. He was glad to have a competitor pushing him — though the unforgiving landscape would separate them almost immediately. But the harsh realities of hiking through Antarctica soon set in.
The athlete had weeks, if not months, of slow trudging ahead. His focus had to stay razor-sharp every second. If Colin lost grip of his poles, he could suffer a fall that would send him rolling down a hillside or plunging into a frigid pool.
When he settled down to rest, there were no real creature comforts either. Colin quenched his thirst with bland water melted down from snow. Every morning he had to quickly relieve himself in a hole, before frostbite took over his more delicate regions.
Sleep didn’t come easy, either. After a 12-hour day of walking, Colin wrestled with the wind to set up his tent, which nearly blew away on more than one occasion. His single luxury was a satellite phone, his single lifeline to Jenna.
She listened to Colin recount his struggles each night, often through tears. Jenna was taken aback by how miserable her confident, risk-taking husband sounded. Part of him wanted to quit and go home, before Rudd or the elements got the best of him.
Instagram / Colin O’Brady
What was also troubling was that Colin was shedding pounds at an alarming weight. Despite a diet of custom protein bars and nutrient-packed dinners, he was getting skinnier and weaker. All that fiber also brought him to rock bottom.
The New York Times
In the Arctic wilderness, Colin felt the need to pass gas one day. He was mortified to discover that something very solid came out. The real kicker was that Colin’s ultra-light pack didn’t contain a single spare pair of underwear.
Demoralized, Colin hiked onward in his soiled skivvies. The unrelenting landscape was starting to wear him down, as he felt like a “cork floating in the middle of the ocean, or a speck of sand on the beach.” He contemplated calling for help.
His iron will wouldn’t let him quit, however. Colin went out there to show what one determined individual could accomplish, and his mantra of “You’re strong, you’re capable” kept him going — until he could go no further.
Twitter / Colin O’Brady
And that was only because he reached the opposite Antarctic coast! The solo trek was finally complete after 54 days, though Colin could barely believe it. He frantically dialed Jenna to tell her that he made it — plus another piece of good news.
Twitter / Colin O’Brady
He beat Louis Rudd by two days! Following their extraction, the rivals celebrated their journey with beers and burgers, plus stories of their respective struggles. They both knew they were fortunate, given the history of disasters that struck polar expeditions.
Instagram / Colin O’Brady
The Terror was a British naval ship constructed in 1813 that specialized in destruction. Armed with two heavy mortars and ten cannons, the bombing vessel was jam-packed with kind of firepower that truly gave meaning to its name.
The Terror played a key role in the War of 1812, taking part in the bombardment of Stonington, Connecticut, in 1814. A year later, the shipprovided support during the Battle of Fort Peter as well as the attack on St. Marys, Georgia.
After the war, the Terror was decommissioned until 1828 when it was called to serve in the Mediterranean. The vessel suffered damage near Lisbon, Portugal, shortly after beginning its patrol and was removed from service thereafter.
But the Terror found new life in the mid-1830s when it was recommissioned as a polar exploration vessel. With its sturdy frame and powerful engine, the Terror seemed capable of traversing even the most treacherous of arctic terrains.
This confidence was put to the test in 1836 when Captain George Back helmed the Terror on an expedition to Hudson Bay. Despite being well-equipped for the journey, the vessel wound up trapped in sea ice for ten months before returning to port.
The Terror‘s second expedition in 1840 under James Clark Ross proved more fruitful, as the ship and its companion vessel, the HMS Erebus, completed a three-year journey to Antarctica. Mount Terror, a dormant volcano on Ross Island, was even named in the ship’s honor.
In May 1845, Sir John Franklin led the Terror and the Erebus on an expedition across the Northwest Passage, a feat that’d never been accomplished before. The journey looked promising at the start, though after being spotted in Baffin Bay in August, the ships vanished without a trace.
A series of search efforts were launched to locate the missing ships, though neither the vessels nor Franklin and his crew were ever found. Then, in 1859, a note was discovered in a stack of rocks on King William Island that revealed the startling fate of the expedition.
Stephen S / Twitter
Dated April 1848, the note explained that both the Terror and the Erebus had become trapped in ice in the Victoria Strait, forcing the crews to abandon ship. The survivors attempted to trek to a fur-trading post some 600 miles away though quickly perished from starvation and exposure.
More than 100 years after the note’s discovery, the remains of a number of crewmen were located on King William Island. Autopsies of the bodies showed that, in addition to hypothermia and lack of food, the men also suffered from lead poisoning and botulism, likely a result of tainted rations.
In the late 20th century, Inuit researchers discovered that cannibalism may have played a role in the demise of the Terror and Erebus crews. Cut marks on the skeletal remains of several crew members suggested that the men may have resorted to eating one another to survive.
Yet one question remained — where were the ships? And for that matter, could they even be salvaged? After spending more than a century beneath the frigid waters of the Arctic, there was no telling what condition they’d be in if found.
The answer to that question came two decades later, when wreck of the Erebus was discovered off the coast of King William Island in 2014. Then, in 2016, the Terror was located 45 miles away in a body of water aptly called Terror Bay.
Archaeologists were eager to explore the lost wrecks, though it wasn’t until 2019 that they acquired the technology to do so. Using a remotely operated vehicle (ROV), the researchers began a systematic exploration of the ships.
Searching the various cabins and compartments of the vessels, the archaeologists were blown away by how well-preserved everything was. Cabinets were closed and filled with liquor, furniture sat in place, and even paper maps remained taut and readable.
Visions of the North
“The impression we witnessed when exploring the HMS Terror is of a ship only recently deserted by its crew, seemingly forgotten by the passage of time,” said ROV pilot Ryan Harris.
The captain’s cabin proved to be the biggest treasure trove, containing maps, a tripod, and several thermometers. Cabinets filled with plates and cutlery were also discovered, their contents still polished and colorful despite spending decades beneath the sea.
But how was this possible? According to the researchers, the Arctic conditions created the perfect environment for preservation. Between the zero-degree water temperature, lack of natural light, and sedimentation, the artifacts had very little chance to decompose.
This exploration marks the first many in an effort to recover all artifacts from the wreckages. By analyzing these objects, researchers hope to learn more about how and why Franklin’s expedition met its tragic end.
“The excellent condition of the ship will, I hope, mean that there will soon be answers to so many questions about the fate of the Franklin Expedition, shrouded in mystery since 1845,” said British High Commissioner to Canada Susan Le Jeune d’Allegeershecque.
Since the fateful sinking of the Terror and the Erebus, more than a handful of other ships have also met a watery grave.The SS America, for instance, was originally sold to become a hotel off Phuket, Thailand, though it never made it there.
While its base was still in excellent condition, the ship could no longer run properly and was set to be towed across the ocean for 100 days. But, the towlines broke, and, despite the crew’s best efforts, the ship was left adrift.
On January 18, 1992, it ran aground off the west coast of Fuerteventura in the Canary Islands where it slowly disintegrated over time. Only a relatively small section of the bow, as well as the keel of the vessel, were still visible at low tide.
2. Desert Ships in Mo’ynoq, Uzbekistan: The last place you’d expect to find a shipwreck is the desert, but there are plenty to be found outside of Mo’ynoq, Uzbekistan. It was once a busy Soviet fishing port on the Aral Sea — once one of the four largest lakes in the world — but today, nothing but desert remains.
What once was a 26,300 square mile body of water has dried up when the rivers feeding it were diverted for irrigation purposes. It has since shrunk to less than 10% of its original size and is considered one of the most catastrophic environmental disasters of all time.
The ships are located 100 miles from the current shore, creating a surreal sight for anyone who finds them. While the ships themselves don’t seem to be haunted, Mo’ynoq has become a ghost town of abandoned fish industries. Pretty eerie…
3. SS Antilla in Aruba, The Caribbean: This German cargo ship was launched in 1939 but didn’t live a long life… it was built for trade between Germany and the Caribbean and thus named after the Dutch islands, which are referred to as “The Antillen.”
On May 10th, 1940, Germany invaded the Netherlands, so the Dutch government immediately ordered the seizure of all German ships. However, before the Dutch marines could execute their attack, the Germans began to scuttle, or purposely sink, the Antilla.
One crewman locked himself in the engine room, opened her seacocks, and climbed out through the funnel, while others set fire to several parts of the ship. Sixty years later, she became a popular scuba diving spot.
4. HMS E5 in the North Sea, The Netherlands: The Antilla was not the only ship that led a short life due to warfare. The English E-class submarine was on its way to rescue survivors of a wrecked trawler in the North Sea when it met its fate.
It was 1916, in the middle of World War I, and Germany had planted underwater mines all around their coast as well as those of the Dutch Wadden Islands. Even submarines had a tough time navigating around this threat.
In 2016 divers found the wreck of E5 off the Dutch island of Schiermonnikoog. Her hatches were open, which suggests the crew tried to escape. The disappearance of its 29 sailors was finally solved.
5. M.P. Émelie in Baie-Saint-Paul, Canada: Captain Eloi Perron built what at first felt like the love of his life in 1956 and piloted it along the St. Lawrence River until 1975. It was eventually sold and resold several times until it was stranded 90km north of Quebec City.
There she lay for decades, rotting away until finally, in 2015, a fire accidentally set off by a thief trying to cut through the copper in the boat’s hull destroyed what was left of it, leaving only the frame. It pained Perron to see it whenever he visited Baie-Saint-Paul.
On February 15, 2018, Perron passed away from old age. A week later, his son was informed that the wreckage had completely disappeared! The ship left the world with its true owner.
6. Ghost fleet in Chuuk Lagoon, Micronesia: Formerly Truk Lagoon, this area is littered with planes, ships, cars, tanks and bodies — victims of WWII. For two days in 1944, Allied bombers rained destruction on the beaches of the Caroline Islands in the South Pacific.
Often referred to as “Japan’s Pearl Harbor,” Operation Hailstone was so successful that the lagoon became a kind of cemetery. Approximately 250 Japanese aircrafts and over 50 ships were destroyed and sunken.
An estimated 400 Japanese soldiers were killed in one ship alone, trapped in the cargo hold. The fleet was largely forgotten until the late 1960s, when wreck divers brought attention to the site. Japan then made recovery efforts and removed many bodies for burial.
7. The SS Mohegan, Cornwall, England: The sinking of SS Mohegan is one of the biggest tragedies and mysteries of the Atlantic Transport Line ever to occur. The ship hit another, the Manacles, on her second voyage, on 14th October 1898.
Some people on board noticed the ship sailed too close to the coast and the Eddystone Lighthouse was too far away. When the ship struck Vase Rocks, the engine room immediately flooded and the steam gauges broke. Everyone ran onto the deck.
The crew managed to prepare two lifeboats, one of which capsized. It took only 12 minutes for the sea to swallow the Mohegan. Lifeboat Charlotte launched right away but only managed to save 44 passengers — no officers or crew. The recovered bodies were buried in a mass grave in St. Keverne.
8. Empire Strength (Romania): An old, decrepit ship rests just off the coast in the Black Sea. One kayaker, with a GoPro strapped to his head, bravely explored it.
Mike / Wikimedia
On the side of the hull, there’s a small crack. You can’t fit a boat inside of it, but this experienced adventurer was no stranger to navigating tight confines.
RM Videos / Youtube
The ship wore a coat of thick rust, but this fearless explorer continued his journey into the opening. With sharp edges and hidden pieces lurking below, this was no task for the casual kayaker.
Furthermore, in an unstable structure like an old ship, you never know what might be ready to crumble. Anything he touched could nudge something out of place and bring down some wreckage…
RM Videos / Youtube
Using his hands instead of his paddle, the kayaker guided himself fully into the ship. The interior was dark, but luckily, light poured through cracks. The inside wasn’t in any better condition than the outside.
There was definitely an eerie vibe to the ship that time had worn down into looking like an evil villain’s vaulted lair. Girders ribbed the walls and ceiling, while enormous gears and pistons blocked certain pathways.
Comments on the kayaker’s original video relayed mixed feelings about his journey. One person posting, “I noticed the Harland & Wolff logo on the main engine. Possibly the whole ship was built by this British shipyard, the builders of the SS Titanic.”
Others compared the structure’s interior to other familiar settings in shipwreck films and video game franchises. However, most comments seemed upset that the guy sometimes had his feet hanging outside the kayak!
Perhaps more interesting than the interior of this dilapidated ship, however, was the history of the ship itself. It spent years navigating waters all around the world before it was finally abandoned…
The vessel actually served within the UK’s Ministry of War Transport as an Empire Ship; it was used for giving the country’s wartime fleet a little extra umph. These ships were usually either built or captured from enemies.
RM Videos / Youtube
Before and during World War II, the United Kingdom boasted the largest fleet of merchant ships, but the war claimed 4,000 of them. German U-boats and the Luftwaffe patrolled the water, looking to sink enemy vessels…
Built in 1942 in a shipyard in Belfast, Northern Ireland, the ship weighed 7,355 tons! And though you probably couldn’t tell from its current state, this ship actually survived the fighting of WWII.
Despite the glory of Empire Strength‘s appearance and apparent might, its role wasn’t the most glamorous: it transported frozen meat from Argentina in 1944 and 1945, making stops at ports in North Africa, Algiers, Cuba, and Australia.
Just 26 years after it was built, EmpireStrength—whose name at one point had been changed to MV E Evangelia—ran aground just 16 miles south of the largest port in the Black Sea. Unable to move, it was abandoned and left floating in its current spot.
At first, locals raided the ship for anything of value, but now the MV E Evangelia has been reduced to nothing more than a few good photos and exploratory opportunities…
Still, the ship in its current state serves as a one-of-a-kind tourist attraction. Some people even brave the waters and swim out to the wreck—though that seems like a good way to cut yourself on a ship fragment!
Apparently, there’s even a way to get onto the deck, but it involves navigating rusty pipes and climbing up a ladder to a dark, windowless shaft. That seems, uh… safe? Yikes!
Thanks to one courageous kayaker, who documented his exploration, we were all able to experience a journey through a piece of history. We’re thankful he didn’t just take a trip to a nearby sandbar!
Check out the video this adventurous man recorded first-hand while paddling into the unknown. You’ll be quite surprised to find all the history that’s still intact!
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