TikTok users antwuhnet and joespinstheglobe have been introducing their combined 1.4 million (and counting) followers to a part of the world few get to see: the South Pole, where they’re on the staff of the Amundsen-Scott research station. They share glimpses of life at one of the most extreme and harsh environments on the planet, which also happens to be the only COVID-19-free redoubt on earth.
The unlikely social media stars have driven a wave of interest in the land where the sun doesn’t shine for months and where temperatures can dip below -100 degrees Fahrenheit. One recent post demonstrates what happens when boiling water hits subarctic air (it turns to snow!). Another shares stunning images of gyrating green auroras. The pair also dish about everything from what the station’s rooms are like to what happens if people want to date in the deep, deep south.
Increased interest in Antarctica may be a boon to a continent that has the potential to change the climate of the world beyond it. Antarctica has 70 percent of the world’s water and 90 percent of the world’s ice, “and while not all of that is going to melt immediately, even small changes . . . result in pretty drastic effects for the rest of the world,” says Evan Townsend, a former Antarctic staffer who lives in Cambridge. Glacial ice melt may be fundamentally altering the world’s oceans, which, in turn, can change the world’s weather patterns.
While Antarctica has no government, it is not lacking for claimants to its territory. Seven countries assert ownership of sometimes overlapping segments of the continent. An international treaty that went into effect in 1961 paused pursuit of those territorial rights. Other countries, the United States included, make no official claim to Antarctic land but refuse to recognize the claims of other nations.
And because it’s not governed by a single body, Antarctica has no official flag — though it has a slew of unofficial ones. They range from the makeshift, like the Scottish Antarctic Expedition Flag brought by explorer William Bruce near the turn of the 20th century, to the modern Antarctic Treaty Organization Flag, which depicts the continent’s shape. Townsend hopes to associate one more banner with the icy continent, which he calls the True South flag and is of his own design. It has bars of navy and white to represent Antarctica’s months-long days and nights. In the center there’s a white peak resembling the top of an iceberg, shadowed by a navy-colored shape resembling “a compass arrow pointed south.” The banner has gathered a modest international following but has yet to wave on TikTok.
Ben Jackson is a writer and producer in Natick. Follow him on Twitter @bjacksonwrites.