Lets suppose that Antarctica at some point lost most of its ice (due to global warming or some other plausible reason) and now most of its bedrock surface is exposed.

Compared to other continents, how would Antarctica look like? Could the land be cultivated to grow crops? what potential resources could be mined from there? and lastly, would humans be able to develop a sustainable society on there like they have done on other continents?

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    $\begingroup$ Although the idea of using a non-icy Antarctica as a setting is interesting, asking us to simply look up the topo map, for you on Wikipedia is not. A better question woukd be for the OP to point to that as a given and ask help interpreting what it means, or speculating on how this land will affect the story. $\endgroup$
    – JDługosz
    Jun 9, 2015 at 0:26
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    $\begingroup$ I feel like this question would be better suited to the Earth Science SE, as, despite the hypothetical, it's a question about real-world geography/geology. $\endgroup$ Jun 9, 2015 at 2:20
  • $\begingroup$ to the two commenters above, i apologise if my question doesnt meet proper standards. $\endgroup$
    – Notaras
    Jun 9, 2015 at 2:24

4 Answers 4


A 3D map showing the topography of the area was created by NASA and the British Antarctic Survey:

This is what the continent would look like if you instantly removed all the ice and snow. A map indicating elevation in color was created by the same team (from here) :

enter image description here

Note that it's far from flat. There are quite a lot of mountains, which would not make any large-scale utilization easy.

This latter picture shows just how and where land would first be flooded if the ice caps melted and the excess water stayed there.

If all the ice melted, the other continents would also change in shape, as National Geographic shows.

  • $\begingroup$ "Quite a lot of mountains" is an understatement. 14800 feet above official sea level. $\endgroup$
    – JDługosz
    Jun 9, 2015 at 0:33

I've noticed that it is mostly underwater, shallow seas coving much of the lowlands. It will rebound from the weight of the ice being removed, which made the techtonic plate sink lower into the mantle. But Michigan is doing that today, so it's not something you'll notice any time soon. In tens of thousands of years the land will rise.

map 1

Here is what it looked like before the ice:

map 2

But on that time scale (35 million years) the mountains will erode and new uplifts will take place, so it will be totally different.

You might contrive a way to get more usable land, filling in shallows with sediment or new volcanic activity or something.

As with the maps, the mineral resources are detailed on the Wikipedia page.


If the caps melted it would look like this:

enter image description here

It would look similar to south east Asia. It would contain similar elements to the other continents. If it was warm enough we could easily populate it like other continents.

Currently antarctica belongs to no one, officially. But there are several conflicting claims.

  • $\begingroup$ "It would look similar to south east Asia" supporting documentation ? "Currently antarctica belongs to no one" Ownership of land is an illusion. It is just scheme for some humans to divide what cannot be owned to sell to others for a profit. One can not own part of the earth.The earth is is host to the current set of parasites that inhabit it and the most "evolved" of those parasites is not even smart enough (yet) to figure out how to exist on it without damaging it to point that it will not support them. The earth will be here after it has shaken us off ( or we pollute ourselves off of it.) $\endgroup$
    – Alaska Man
    Mar 17, 2017 at 15:43
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    $\begingroup$ @Alaskaman The ideal that we need to not destroy our environment is an illusion. That is, it lacks the same inherent Truth that ownership of land does. You don't value ownership and some don't value sustainability, neither value is more correct that the other except in your mind. All that matters is who (and how many) people agree on what is valuable. $\endgroup$
    – Samuel
    Mar 17, 2017 at 16:41

The ice would have scoured most if not all of the soil away, so the revealed continent would resemble a huge rocky plain covered in gravel, for the most part. Without intervention, it would also remain like this for millennia as it would take that long for the rocks to weather, lichens and mosses to begin "dissolving" the rocks and soil to develop, allowing for the colonization of the continent by plants, and eventually animals outside of the coastal region. This process will work somewhat faster in the places where volcanoes currently exist, since the volcanic ash and pumice are soft and easily weathered, and also make for a rich base for soil to develop.

The weather will be fairly harsh even without the ice (six month "seasons" of summer sun and winter darkness), and Antarctica gets little precipitation, so will be quite dry and arid.

As for natural resources, there is no reason to expect that minerals, oil and coal might not exist, since Antarctica underwent the same processes as the rest of the Earth, and even spent time in higher latitudes aeons ago, so would have supported life at one point. Prospectors and miners would be living and working in a very tough environment, and the high costs of supporting a large work force with imported food and everything else would make much mining and oil drilling less competitive than stuff mined or pumped closer to the markets of the world. Depending on political and economic events, it might still be worthwhile to exploit Antarctic resources.

  • $\begingroup$ Consider what the northeastern US and Canada look like even today, 10,000 years and after the retreat of the glaciers of the last Ice Age. There are many places where the bedrock is exposed, and scars from the glaciers can still be seen. Here's a link to a good picture: robinsonlibrary.com/geography/physical/ice/glaciers2.htm $\endgroup$
    – jamesqf
    Jun 9, 2015 at 0:03
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    $\begingroup$ "there is no reason to expect that minerals, oil and coal might not exist" yea, since it's already been discovered. There's no rule that says that just because the OP didn't use google or wikipedia before asking that the responants can't either. It does make for more lively discussions though. ;) $\endgroup$
    – JDługosz
    Jun 9, 2015 at 0:36

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