Nazis and pyramids: What's really going on in Antarctica?

Antarctica is one of the last remaining unexplored places on Earth so it's no wonder theories are rife about what's really happening at the bottom of the world.

From secret pyramids to hidden Nazis, and speculation about military operations, the inhospitable continent is a favourite topic of discussion for many people across the internet. 

So what is going on in Antarctica?

Flat Earth

For a group who call themselves the Flat Earthers, the claim by Pythagoras and Aristotle that our planet is round is absurd and they believe scientists have been deliberately misleading the public ever since.

At the core of that deception? They say Antarctica is in fact a large, mostly flat plane surrounding the rest of the world, culminating in a large ice wall guarded by NASA employees.

But what about the 24-hour sunlight and darkness that we've been told Antarctica experiences every year? Flat Earthers say it simply isn't true, claiming fake videos are used to manipulate the public.

Kiwi documentary maker Anthony Powell has lived in Antarctica for both summer and winter seasons, enduring 24-hour daylight for months on end, and 24 hour darkness for months on end. He's filmed a number of timelapses showing the sun as it dips, but fails to graze the horizon, in summer.

He says Flat Earthers often comment on his videos, something he finds very entertaining. He's even issued a challenge to them: He'll reimburse any Flat Earther who travels to Antarctica in summer and can prove his video is fake.

"I even had one person email me to say they were going to take me up on it, and I gave them advice on filming and which cruise ships go to the same location," he told Newshub.

"We'll see if it actually happens or not."

Antarctica NZ's website also hosts a webcam stream from New Zealand's Scott Base, which refreshes every 15 minutes.

At Ross Island, where Scott Base is found, the next sunset won't happen until February.

pyramids from above
The 'pyramids' as seen from above. Photo credit: Google Earth

The pyramids

In 2016, a striking screenshot from Google Earth showed a set of near perfect pyramids, partially covered by snow.

Immediately speculation was rife. How were they created? How old were they? Why had they been kept secret until now? At some point someone claimed they were 100 million years old. The quote was assumed to be factual and repeated across the internet unchecked.

So had humans with the technology to build pyramids really been in Antarctica 100 million years ago?

Unfortunately that's not the case. Firstly, humans have only existed in today's form for around 200,000 years. Secondly, the pyramids were revealed to be part of the Ellsworth Mountains, in the Heritage Ranges.

"Pyramid shapes are not impossible - many peaks partially look like pyramids, but they only have one to two faces like that, rarely four," US researcher Eric Rignot told LiveScience when the images began circulating.

The Nazis

After a secret Nazi mission to Antarctica in 1939, it's been widely speculated the Nazis managed to build a base on the continent - with some even believing Hitler may have escaped there before Germany surrendered in 1945.

The evidence for this? It's claimed a German U-boat arrived at an Argentine base in Antarctica two months after the war ended. This boat allegedly carried not just Hitler, but other high-ranking Nazis, securing their safety and taking them to a secret base near the South Pole.

However, a study by marine geologist Dr Colin Summerhayes, from the UK, has already debunked this rumour.

Wartime documents proved the Nazis never decided to build a base in Antarctica. They certainly never began constructing one. The initial 1939 mission was scoping out a base so Germany could carve out a slice of the prolific whaling industry. There was no connection to wartime planning.

US Hercules
One of the US Hercules C-130s. Photo credit: Breanna Barraclough/Newshub.

The military

Travel to Antarctica is strictly controlled under the Antarctic Treaty which aims to protect the continent for peace and scientific research. The 53 countries under the treaty, including New Zealand, apply to conduct operations on the ice.

The majority of work is carried out by the military or contractors. McMurdo Station, the US base, has military personnel serving as staff and pilots, while New Zealand's nearby Scott Base works with the Kiwi Defence Force.

The majority of air travel into the continent is also military-run, with New Zealand and the US sharing C-17s and Hercules C-130s to transport personnel and cargo, as they have the skills, equipment and experience needed to safely travel to Antarctica.

Each plane is huge and has to make its way, in a single trip, across the vast expanse of the ocean and into the freezing landscape. When the weather packs in, it really packs in, making it impossible to land and forcing the flight to turn back.

When the ice softens at the peak of summer, only aircraft equipped with skis, like the US Hercules, can land.

Antarctica's vast, freezing emptiness has captured the imaginations of people for generations - and with the majority of the continent still untouched, it's likely wide-ranging theories will continue to propagate for generations to come.