Do People Live In Antarctica? Population, Cities & Houses
Antarctica is the most remote continent on Earth and boasts its harshest climate. Although it’s a wonderful, even downright transformative place to visit as a summer tourist, it would seem a challenging realm for permanent human inhabitation.
And indeed it is: Antarctica, in fact, has no permanent human population. Yet people can be found on the White Continent all year-round, although in vastly fewer numbers than you’ll find elsewhere in the world. So what exactly is the population of Antarctica? Are there any cities in Antarctica? Can you live in Antarctica? Let’s explore!
Antarctica is the only continent on Earth without an indigenous or “native” human population. People didn’t reach the White Continent until the 1800s, not definitively stepping foot on it till late in that century.
That’s in stark contrast to the other polar realm of the planet, the Arctic, which of course has long been inhabited by Inuit, Yupik, Iñupiat, and other northerly indigenous cultures. (Incidentally, some of the innovations and strategies of native Arctic peoples have been employed in Antarctica, as by the Norwegian explorer Roald Amundsen, who applied polar skills and crafts learned from the Inuit to his successful bid for the South Pole in 1911. Traditional Arctic igloo design has inspired both emergency and manufactured shelters in Antarctica. And you’ll find a word from the Inuit language, nunatak, widely applied to Antarctic terrain: It refers to isolated rock summits poking above the ice.)
Antarctica’s population consists of the seasonal inhabitants of research stations and field camps, plus crews onboard research ships plying Antarctic waters.
More than 70 research bases dot the Antarctic landscape (and ice-scape), from the comparatively accessible Antarctic Peninsula to the vast, largely inhospitable Polar Plateau of the East Antarctic Ice Sheet. Dozens of different countries operate these research stations, which reflect the Antarctic Treaty’s mandate that human activities on the White Continent be devoted to peaceful purposes; science is the primary focus.
Many Antarctic research stations are seasonal, only in operation during the southern summer. Others are year-round installations.
Planes, helicopters, ships, tractors, snowmobiles, Sno-Cats, and other varied, polar-ready crafts and vehicles help transport people and supplies to, from, and around Antarctica.
How many people live in Antarctica? The population is about 5,000 during the austral summer, and drops to about 1,000 for the winter. Personnel cycle in and out of Antarctica: hence the fact of no permanent human population here, despite human presence all across the year.
Associated with research stations are the only two civilian settlements in Antarctica: Argentina’s Esperanza Base on the Trinity Peninsula (Antarctic Peninsula) and Chile’s Villa Las Estrellas, within President Eduardo Frei Montalva Base on King George Island (South Shetlands). The latter, marginally the larger of the two civilian outposts, harbors about 150 people in summer and 80 or so in winter.
The Esperanza Base and Villa Las Estrellas settlements and the larger research bases are the only thing approaching what you might call Antarctica cities. (No, there aren’t any underground or ice-buried lost cities in Antarctica—let alone crashed alien spacecraft or ancient pyramids—despite what you may have run across in the back alleys of the Internet.)
The biggest outpost—and pretty much a genuine little city in Antarctica—is the United States of America’s McMurdo Station, situated on the Hut Point Peninsula of Ross Island in the Ross Sea. Some 1,200 people reside in McMurdo during the summertime, with about 150 overwintering. The complex includes more than 80 buildings, among them stores and bars.
Does anyone live in the South Pole? On a temporary basis, yes, courtesy of the Amundsen-Scott South Pole Station, also operated by the U.S.
Are there houses in Antarctica? Well, depending on your definition of a house, sure, not least in those Argentinian and Chilean civilian settlements. There are also churches in Antarctica: some of the wooden-framed variety you’ll find in milder climes, some excavated out of ice.
Some of the earliest shelters constructed in Antarctica remain standing in remarkably decent condition. These include Borchgrevink’s Hut at Cape Adare, dating from the 1898-1900 Southern Cross/British Antarctic Expedition; Robert Falcon Scott’s Discovery Hut at Hut Point (within view of McMurdo Station from the 1901-1904 Discovery/National Antarctic Expedition; Omond House or Casa Omond, constructed of stone by the Scottish National Antarctic Expedition on Laurie Island in the South Orkneys in 1903 and considered the oldest extent research base in Antarctica; and Shackleton’s Hut at Cape Royds, built for the 1907-1909 British Antarctic Expedition.
Along with the seasonal and year-round research stations, you’ll find widely scattered temporary camps during the Antarctic summer, hosting scientists doing fieldwork on everything from marine biology to meteorology. These are more primitive affairs, of course, than the permanent research bases, with tent living and campstove cooking.
Given the lack of a permanent human population, and the fact that most inhabitants are there on relatively short stints, it’s not surprising that there haven’t been very many births in Antarctica.
According to the International Antarctic Centre, 11 babies have been born here: the result of pregnant women specifically traveling to Argentinian and Chilean bases in order to bear children there and thus, the idea was, to strengthen those nations’ territorial claims.
The first child born in Antarctica was Emilio Marco Palma, who came into this world at Esperanza Base on January 7, 1978.
All of the 11 babies born in Antarctica survived infancy, which technically means the White Continent boasts the lowest infant mortality rate in the world.
Many people dream of living in Antarctica, but as there is no real estate to purchase, your average Joe can’t simple buy a property and move there. However, should you be a professional or expert in certain fields—from glaciologists, ornithologists, and astronomers to engineers, pilots, and chefs—then you may be able to find employment or placements to study and subsequently live in Antarctica as one of the hard-working folks populating the White Continent’s research stations, bases, and camps.
As a traveler, though, you certainly can get a little taste of Antarctic living on a bucket-list trip to the bottom of the world. Passengers on cruise ships can visit research stations and historic huts on landfalling daytrips—or even camp out for a night! And there are also luxury lodges and camps serving as the closest thing to “hotels” in Antarctica, from Wolf’s Fang Camp and Three Glaciers Retreat to South Pole Camp, aka “the World’s Southernmost Resort.”
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