The extreme cold of Antarctica makes it one of the most challenging places on our planet to survive. Did you know that Antarctica is also considered the largest, and one of the driest, deserts on Earth?
Click on image for full size
Extreme environments are places that are inhospitable to most "normal" living creatures. Extreme environments are not necessarily lifeless. Certain types of organisms, known collectively as "extremophiles", have adapted to survive or even thrive in various types of extreme environments.
Familiar extreme environments include deserts, mountain peaks, caves, and the frozen realms of the Arctic and Antarctic. Some environments are very hot or very cold, extremely dry, or both. Other environments are highly acidic or alkaline, are exposed to high levels of radiation, are under tremendous pressure, or are otherwise hostile to "normal" life.
Some extreme environments are hostile to life in multiple ways. Most deserts are both hot and dry, while the Dry Valleys in Antarctica are extremely cold and dry. Some hot springs are exceptionally acidic as well as scaldingly hot. Hydrothermal vents on the sea floor lack sunlight, spew forth scalding water, are chemically exotic, and are subjected to the crushing pressures of the deep oceans.
Early in our planet's history, most environments on Earth were extreme by modern standards. Likewise, environments on alien worlds within our Solar System and beyond are often marginally habitable if at all. Discoveries of life in recent decades in many extreme, and previously thought sterile, environments on Earth have sparked new interest in the study of life in exotic locales. Such study may help us learn about the history of life on Earth as well as the possibility of life on other planets. Astrobiologists also use extreme environments on our planet as analogs for other worlds (such as Mars) to test life-sensing instruments and techniques before implementing them on space missions.
Shop Windows to the Universe Science Store!
Our online store
includes issues of NESTA's quarterly journal, The Earth Scientist
, full of classroom activities on different topics in Earth and space science, as well as books
on science education!
You might also be interested in:
Some environments are inhospitable to most "normal" living creatures. However, these extreme environments are not necessarily lifeless. Certain types of organisms, known collectively as "extremophiles",...more
Deserts are full of interesting questions. How can anything survive in a place with hardly any water? Why is it so dry to begin with? You can find at least one desert on every continent except Europe....more
North of the Arctic Circle (at 66.5°N latitude) you will find the Arctic Ocean surrounded by the northernmost parts of the continents of Europe, Asia, and North America. You will find the geographic North...more
What Will You Find There? South of the Antarctic Circle (at 66.5°S latitude) you will find the continent of Antarctica surrounded by the Southern Ocean, the geographic South Pole and the magnetic South...more
This page describes environments that are very hot or very cold, extremely dry, or both. Extreme environments are places that are inhospitable to most "normal" living creatures. Extreme environments are...more
This page describes extreme environments that are acidic or alkaline, are exposed to high levels of radiation, are under tremendous pressure, or are hostile to "normal" life in a number of other unusual...more
Antarctica is unique. It is the coldest, windiest, and driest continent on Earth. The land is barren and mostly covered with a thick sheet of ice. Antarctica is almost entirely south of the Antarctic Circle...more