The End of the Earth
Accessible only by specially equipped vessels that typically depart from the resort town of Ushuaia in Tierra del Fuego, Argentina, Antarctica is one of the most remote destinations on our planet. It is the fifth-largest continent and exists entirely of polar desert ice. Along its coastlines, the region's extremely cold, dry climate ranges from a low of 14 degrees Fahrenheit in winter to possible highs of 48 F, during the summer along its coastlines. Interior winter temperatures can dip as low as negative 76 F. Precipitation on Antarctica exists only as snow and, while it is hard to track, scientists believe that only 2 to 4 inches of moisture accumulate per year, making it the driest place on Earth.
Its maritime habitat—which is teeming with life—consists of the convergence of salty ocean water into which freshwater glaciers and ice sheets gradually melt. While increasingly threatened by warming ocean temperatures, the ice surface is and always has been variable, growing in size from about 1 million square miles at the end of summer to about 7 million square miles by winter.
There are no permanent human populations, countries or governing powers on the continent. While as many as seven nations made claim to the region prior to the international Antarctica Treaty of 1959, it belongs to no one and is not owned or managed by any one nation.
Due largely to the difficulty and possible danger of the journey, the erratic and inhospitable climate and conditions once you arrive, and the sheer distance from almost everywhere, few of us will ever see Antarctica. Even fewer will travel with the goal of slinking into the icy cold waters to take a look around under the surface of the foreboding, tumultuous sea.
But for Holly, an expert scuba diver and aquarist who has dedicated so much of her extensive career to witnessing, understanding and supporting marine biodiversity, a trip to Antarctica had been on the to-do list for close to 15 years. A hearty New Englander with experience diving in the chilly waters of the Northeastern U.S., Holly had long dreamed of experiencing this intimidating and remote polar region.