Why is Antarctica so popular right now?

Over the last month or so one continent has been at the top of our social feeds – Antarctica.

We’re not alone with trends data from Google showing an increase in the number of searches about the continent from the beginning of December 2022. So why now?

First off, an increase in interest in the continent around the beginning of the year isn’t all that strange. Google Trends data for the last five years reveals that searches for the continent increase around this time. One of the reasons for this comes down to the time of year.

The spike in 2019 appears to have been caused by a number of discoveries on the continent in that year but that doesn’t explain the interest over the last month or so.

As it’s Summer in the Southern Hemisphere, conditions in Antarctica are slightly more manageable for adventurers. Granted, it’s still an icy tundra but as you can see below, it’s manageable. Even local minister of Forestry, Fisheries and the Environment, Barbara Creecy is currently on the continent for a four day visit.

However, there is a notable increase in searches for Antarctica this year than there has been over the two years so why now?

Over the December period a TikTok showcasing a trip through the Drake Passage rose to prominence. The video has been viewed over 18 million times and there are many others like it. The video below spurred on a series of others discussing the Drake Passage, travelling to Antarctica and more.

@theworldpursuit Replying to @Negar Nikaeein Day 2 of the Antarctica adventures #DrakePassage #Antarctica ♬ love nwantinti (ah ah ah) – CKay

Of course one TikTok isn’t all that’s behind the trend so we looked a bit further. MrBeast had also done a video on the continent that has amassed 73 million views in just two weeks.

These videos have sparked interest in the region and spurred on articles such as this one which wondered out loud why one of the coldest places on Earth had become so popular. This seemingly had a Streisand effect and now everybody is being fed content about the continent.

The easing of COVID-19 restrictions over the last 12 months may also be increasing the number of travellers to the continent. Travel has been restricted since 2020, but after years of caution and slow re-opening, tourism is booming and travel creators are capitalising.

It’s a perfect storm of events really and there is a benefit to the South Pole being a major topic of conversation and that is folks being shown the extent of climate change.

Pushing conservation

Among the queries related to Antarctica that are being searched for you’ll find searches for Ed Sheeran’s daughter as well as her mother and, the doomsday glacier.

The Thwaites Glacier (pictured above) is located on the west coast of Antarctica and stretches deep into the western side of the continent. The reason it is dubbed the Doomsday Glacier is that if this glacier becomes dislodged and melts into the ocean, it could raise sea levels by as much as 3m in the next few centuries or so. As this video below explains, this would see coastal cities such as Florida and New York swallowed by the ocean.

Granted, this reality is a century or centuries away depending on who you ask but as with most climate change, action needs to be taken now to avoid a terrible situation in the future.

Since 1993, the sea level has risen 102.5 millimeters. This rise is caused by ice sheets in Greenland and Antarctica melting.

This rise in the sea level is caused by the heating of the ocean which also threatens marine life, causes more adverse weather events such as hurricanes while also melting the ice at the poles.

Ironically, the very adventurers who have spurred this interest in the region may be contributing to the destruction of the Thwaites Glacier as they burn fossil fuels getting to Antarctica.

The shrinkage of polar ice is a massive issue. Looking at data provided by NASA regarding the Arctic sea ice minimum extent, we can see that the amount of sea ice is shrinking by 12.6 percent each decade.

With that perspective in mind, it’s vital that we encourage real change in how we care for our environment. However, many experts argue that right now, we are fast approaching a point where we will need to make plans about how to navigate the disaster that is coming, rather than avoiding it.

Our hope is that the conversation around Antarctica helps spur on greater interest in how we can all help treat our planet better. It’s easy to feel like recycling your garbage counts for nothing when corporations are funnelling carbon emissions into the atmosphere by the ton every day, but as Simon Clark explains above, every tenth of a degree matters.

Let 2023 be the year we all take environmental conservation a bit more seriously lest all of our oceans become as treacherous as the Drake Passage on a bad day.

[Image – CC BY 2.0 Felton Davis]


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