East Antarctica is the part of Antarctica that falls in the Eastern Hemisphere, east of the arbitrary line of 0° longitude on the South Africa-facing side down to the South Pole then 180° on the Australia-facing side. It's mostly a high, even plateau with an intensely cold dry climate and no wildlife, not even tundra.
As with the rest of the continent, this area is governed by the Antarctic Treaty, which seeks to protect the fragile environment and sets aside national claims. Thus, various nations own and operate bases here and have hypothetical claims to territory which they waive. References to nations on this page should be understood accordingly. The Treaty also forbids military use but there is no objection to military support to the civilian research effort: nothing could get done here without military-grade transport.
- Within this hemisphere but described elsewhere are:
- - The South Pole, in both the eastern and western hemispheres, or alternatively in neither.
- - Scott Island and the Balleny Islands are described as Antarctic Islands, as they lie well north of the mainland and have a different oceanic climate.
- - Coat's Land east of the Weddell Sea by some definitions is part of East Antarctica, but on these pages is described in West Antarctica.
- - The Ross Sea is bisected by the 180° line. It's a major hub for transport towards the pole, often visited by cruises from Australia and New Zealand.
- Queen Maud Land is a pie-segment of Antarctica nominally claimed by Norway, east of Coat's Land and extending from the pole to the coast, where it forms impressive ice cliffs. This sea (unofficially known as the King Haakon VII Sea) was traditionally a Norwegian whaling area. The coast is backed by high mountains (with Isachsen reaching 3425 m), so it was the first part of the mainland to be sighted, by Bellingshausen in 1820, but the ice long prevented exploration. Staffed bases and camps are E Base (South Africa, summer), Novolazarevskaya (Russia), Maitri (India), Aboa (Finland, summer), Kohnen (Germany, summer), Jinnah (Pakistan, summer), Princess Elisabeth (Belgium), Syowa (Japan), Tor (Norway, summer), Troll (Norway) and Wasa (Sweden, with Svea its outlying camp). (See Coat's Land for others.) Far inland is Kunlun (China, summer) and the 4093 m Ice Dome Argus.
- Australian Antarctic Territory is a huge pie-segment, almost a third of the area of the continent, nominally claimed by Australia. It includes almost all the area east of Queen Maud Land round to the Ross Sea, namely Enderby Land (with Kemp Land), Mac. Robertson Land, Princess Elizabeth Land, Kaiser Wilhelm II Land, Queen Mary Land, Wilkes Land, George V Land and Oates Land.
- Enderby Land is geologically interesting, as its mountains have rocks 4 billion years old, revealing the continent's evolution from Gondwanaland. The highest point is triple-peaked Mount Elkins (aka Jökelen) at 2300 m, prominent near the coast. There are nowadays no permanent bases here, but Molodyozhnaya (Russia) and Vechernyaya (Belarus) in the Thala Hills are occasionally still used. The region is named for the Enderby brothers of London who owned whaling ships and encouraged their captains to explore this coast. The eastern edge of this region is called Kemp Land, and deep in its interior are the "Pole of Inaccessibility" and South Geomagnetic Pole.
- Mac. Robertson Land has the Prince Charles Mountains, a 400 km ridge with the highest point Mount Menzies at 3228 m / 10,591 ft. Bases here are Beaver Lake and Mawson (both Australian); Russia's Soyuz is mothballed. The region is named for the confectionery magnate Sir Macpherson Robertson of Melbourne, who funded the 1929/31 expedition to this coast, and other dashing exploits such as the London to Melbourne air race.
- Princess Elizabeth Land has several "oasis" areas not covered by glacier, which became early sites for exploration and bases. Active bases in the Larsemann Hills above Prydz Bay are Bharati (India), Law-Racoviță (Romania / Australia, summer) and Zhongshan (China); Russia's Progress II station has been rebuilt after a fire but (as of 2020) has not yet re-opened. In the Vestfold Hills oasis is Davis (Australia). 500 km inland is Taishan (China), while far inland Vostok (Russia) may be the coldest place on Earth.
- Kaiser Wilhelm II Land is the next slice of Antarctica; yes, he put up the money to explore it. There are no bases.
- Queen Mary Land is difficult to approach because of the Shackleton Ice Shelf. The only base is Mirny (Russia).
- Adélie Land is a thin pie-slice nominally claimed by France, dividing the Australian claim. March of the Penguins was filmed near the coastal base Dumont d'Urville (France). This is named for the colorful explorer and botanist Dumont, who discovered the Adélie penguin. Far inland near "Dome C" is Concordia base (France-Italy).
- Wilkes Land further east resumes the Australian claim. It's named for the 19th C US naval explorer Charles Wilkes, who established that Antarctica is indeed a continent. Casey station (Australia) stands on Vincennes Bay, and there's also the fictional underground lab in the X Files soap opera. One km below Wilkes' ice, a 500 km-wide depression may be a giant impact crater - now that's a real cover-up of an alien arrival.
- George V Land nowadays has no bases, but in Commonwealth Bay are Mawson's Huts, established during his 1911-14 expedition. Mawson reckoned it was the windiest spot on earth, where katabatic winds often blow at hurricane force. The Mertz glacier outflows here, with a tongue 80 km long - it used to be much longer, but in 2010 half of it broke away as an iceberg the size of Rome. This went aground off nearby Cape Denison where it blocked the access of Adélie penguins to the open sea, so the former colony of some 150,000 has dispersed elsewhere along the coast. The region is regularly visited by cruise ships from Australia.
- Oates Land is the westernmost slice of the Australian claim, stretching from George V Land to the Ross Sea; there are no bases. It's named for Lawrence "Titus" Oates, who perished with Scott on their return from the South Pole.
- Victoria Land, nominally claimed by New Zealand, is the next segment. It forms the western shore of The Ross Sea and is described on that page.
See Antarctica#Get_in for flights and cruises to this region. The easiest approach is by cruise ship from Australia or New Zealand. These tour the Ross Sea then sometimes follow the coast as far as Commonwealth Bay before turning for home.
Skis, skidoos, tractors, snowcats, helicopters and ski planes are all used to get around. Cruise ships use RIBs / zodiacs (sturdy inflatable powerboats) to ferry tourists between ship and shore; bases close to open water also use these. But several places described on this page are very far from each other or from the coast (or at least from open water - an ice-breaker can't penetrate 30 m-high ice cliffs). So for these you need a ski plane, lots of spare fuel, and a robust emergency plan.
See and Do
- See Antarctica#See and Do for general suggestions, but the most important thing for you to do here is to come home safe.
- 1 Mawson's Huts on Cape Denison in Commonwealth Bay were built in 1912 during the Australasian Antarctic Expedition. This expedition made a huge contribution to polar study, both from land-based work and from their ship Aurora. (They'd also planned aerial photography, but the aircraft was damaged before they set out.) Minor huts held instruments eg for magnetic observations and astronomy, while the main hut housed the 18 men and their workshop. The plan was to stay for one winter, but Mawson himself went on a lengthy trek towards Oates Land with two companions, who died. When he finally made it back alone, Aurora and the men perforce had sailed away to escape the oncoming winter, leaving a relief crew of six. These seven then spent a second winter here. The base was in regular radio contact with Australia, a communications first, but the radio operator went mad.
- 2 Dome Argus or "Dome A" in Queen Maud Land is the highest of the major ice domes A-F within the plateau ice sheet. It reaches 4093 m (13,428 ft) but like the others is not prominent, just a gradual rise. The Gamburtsev Mountains here are the size of the European Alps yet are nowhere to be seen - they're 2.5 km below the ice. This area has a claim to be the coldest place on earth (though that's probably in the ridge 150 km southeast) but more notably is among the driest and with the clearest weather. This remote spot is like the "eye of the hurricane" - clear and still while the fierce winds spiral outside. Kunlun station (China, summer) and a remotely-operated astronomical observatory therefore stand here.
- 3 The coldest place on earth, sometimes called "The Pole of Cold", is believed to be around Vostok station in Princess Elizabeth Land. This certainly has the longest run of reliable records and lowest average temperature, with a low of −89.2 °C (−128.6 °F; 184.0 K). That largely reflects its elevation of 3488 m (11,444 ft), so on average it's 5-10 °C colder than the South Pole which is lower-lying. Weather satellites have detected a "spot" low of −93.2 °C in this area, under a ridge where hollows trap intensely cold air flowing down the slope.
- Lake Vostok is a very large freshwater lake 4 km below Vostok station, so its surface is 500 m below sea-level. It's 250 km long by 50 km wide and as much as 800 m deep, comparable to Lakes Baikal, Michigan or Tanganyika. It's the largest of some 400 subglacial lakes known to exist, with the water kept liquid by the intense pressure of ice above. That pressure also means a high content of oxygen and other dissolved gas. The waters of Lake Vostok have probably been isolated since the continent froze 15 million years ago, so they may contain unique life forms, and mimic conditions elsewhere in the solar system (such as Jupiter's moon Europa, and Saturn's moon Enceladus). Attempts to draw biological samples have so far only resulted in a backflow geyser of drill fluid and contaminated water. It's been politely suggested to the investigators that they first try for a smaller lake, in case they trash it.
- The South Geomagnetic Pole is also in the vicinity of Vostok station. The earth acts as a giant bar magnet, and if indeed it was one, then the axis of its dipole would intersect the surface here. However the earth is not a perfect dipole, so the point at which the field lines become vertical, and a compass aligns straight up / down, is a considerable distance away. This point is the South Magnetic Pole and is off the coast of Wilkes Land. Both points are shifting by 10-15 km per year, as are their northern counterparts.
- 4 The Pole of Inaccessibility in Kemp Land is the point in Antarctica furthest from any coastline - though, given the difficulty in defining that coastline, it can only be described as "around here someplace". (One common definition is the "grounding line" - the point where the ice lifts free of its base to float on the sea - but there are others.) The Soviet Union built a station at this particular spot, 878 km from the South Pole and at 3800 m elevation. They only occupied it for a couple of weeks in Dec 1958 then left because it was too far from anywhere else, a discovery as remarkable as realizing that it was a tad cold. The station became covered by snow except for the bust of Lenin on its roof, a fitting memorial for the man who sent hundreds of thousands of people to icy death in Siberia. Very few adventurers have since reached this spot, and presumably if many were able to come, it would have to be renamed the pole of something else.
- The Transantarctic Mountains are described as part of 5 The Ross Sea.
Like anywhere else on continental Antarctica, food will be served in bases, and must be carried when away from those.
"Water, water everywhere yet not a drop to drink:" you are surrounded by freshwater ice that is deep-deep-frozen. Bases can melt it but equipment to do so in bulk is heavy and needs fuel. So on extended trips away from base, this adds weight, and lugging weight raises a thirst.
This is not the place for wild camping. You (or your trip organiser) must negotiate access to a base, or bring a heavy-duty self-sufficient expedition.
Whichaway Camp in Queen Maud Land near Wolfs Fang airfield is Antarctica's nearest thing to glamping. Visitors arrive by business jet from Capetown.
East Antarctica is extremely cold and remote, and medical care on the bases is limited. Travel / health insurance that covers a cruise trip to the Ross Sea will not be valid for the hazards involved in visiting the interior of this region. The cost of a medical evacuation would be huge.
The problem is that you can only get here on specialist round trips, with few onward options. Reaching anywhere else in Antarctica (even within East Antarctica) might mean doubling back via Australia. Ask ahead about cross-country supply flights that might connect you to another base such as McMurdo.