The World's Loneliest ATM is in Antarctica

Wells Fargo
Wells Fargo

Despite the frigid temperatures, ornery elephant seals, and months of perpetual darkness, Antarctica is still a place where money matters. That’s where Wells Fargo comes in.

The banking conglomerate installed an automatic teller machine (ATM) back in 1998 at McMurdo Station, the largest science hub on the continent. Depending on the season, McMurdo’s population ranges from 250 to more than 1000. And like any small community, commerce is crucial. In order to patronize the coffee shops, general stores, bars, or post office, money is exchanged in what amounts to a closed economy. Some places only accept cash; others have a credit card minimum that’s hard to meet when you need just a couple of items.

But what happens if there’s a malfunction at a time when flights in and out are scarce due to weather conditions?

According to Wells Fargo spokesperson Kristopher Dahl, the company trains McMurdo staff to make simple repairs; more importantly, there’s a second ATM that can be cannibalized for parts. “Every two years, both machines are serviced and brought up to speed on the latest technology,” he says. The vendors chosen for that job undergo a psychological exam and a physical to make sure they’re equipped to deal with the Antarctic climate in case they get held over.

While McMurdo is near New Zealand territory, the ATM only dispenses American currency. (Staffers can exchange money at Scott Base, which is about two miles away.) There is no such thing as the Antarctic dollar, though the Antarctica Overseas Exchange Office does produce “collectible” bills they’ll buy or sell for their face value until the faux-money expires.

Naturally, we wondered what the consequences would be if someone lost their mind and had the financial resources to max out their daily withdrawal limit until they depleted the ATM of its cash reserves, ruining the economy of an entire continent.

“That’s interesting,” Dahl says. “For security reasons, we can’t share how much cash is in the machine or other related information.” Anyone planning any type of foul play should take note: Dahl says that there’s a camera in the unit.   

[via Today I Learned]

Why is North Always Up on Maps?

iStock/Princessdlaf
iStock/Princessdlaf

Geophysicists recently updated the World Magnetic Model—navigational data used for everything from cell phones to satellites—and found that magnetic north, a spot once located in Arctic Canada, is moving quickly toward Siberia. But even this discovery doesn't quite explain why maps always feature north at the top.

There’s nothing inherently upward about north. Some early Egyptian maps put south on top, while in medieval Europe, Christian cartographers tended to give that distinction to east, since you had to turn that way to face Jerusalem. Others placed east on top because of the rising Sun (that’s why we orient ourselves). And early American settlers sometimes used maps with west on top, because that was the direction they were often heading.

If anyone deserves the blame for today’s northward bias, it’s Claudius Ptolemy. In the 2nd century, he wrote the influential Geographia, which featured a “global” map with north on top. No one’s positive why he positioned it that way, but it may be that the Library of Alexandria—where he did his research—simply didn’t have much information on the Southern Hemisphere. During the Renaissance, Ptolemy’s work was revived. By then, the phenomenon of magnetic north had been discovered, making his layout even more appealing to mapmakers.

The magnetic north pole, however, was not located until 1831. On an otherwise disastrous expedition to Arctic, British explorer James Clark Ross discovered the pole—the spot where a compass needle on a horizontal axis points straight down—on the west coast of Canada's Boothia peninsula. "I must leave it to others to imagine the elation of mind with which we found ourselves now at length arrived at this great object of our ambition," Ross recalled. "Nothing now remained for us but to return home and be happy for the rest of our days."

This story was originally published in 2014.

11 Totally Redundant Place Names

The Milky Way galaxy
The Milky Way galaxy
iStock.com/Nick_Pandevonium

East of Lancashire, England lies Pendle Hill, known for its historical association with witch trials, scientific discoveries about air pressure, and religious visions that led to the founding of the Quaker movement. It is also known for having a tautological name. A tautological name has two parts that are redundant, or synonymous. Tautological place names usually come about when more than one language goes into the name. The Pendle in Pendle Hill is derived from Pen-hyll, a combination of the Cumbric word for "hill" and the Old English word for "hill." So Pendle Hill is really "Hill Hill Hill." Here are 11 other redundant place names:

1. Lake Tahoe ("Lake Lake")

This scenic body of water on the Nevada/California border gets its name from a loose pronunciation of dá’aw, a word from the Native American language Washo that means "lake."

2. La Brea Tar Pits ("The Tar Tar Pits")

The animal bones displayed at this California attraction were preserved in la brea, Spanish for the tar.

3. Milky Way Galaxy ("Milky Way Milky")

The general astronomical term galaxy comes from the word the ancient Greeks used to describe the band of light they could see in the night sky, galaxias or "milky."

4. Minnehaha Falls ("Waterfall Falls")

The name for this Minnesota waterfall does not, as the legend has it, mean "laughing water." It comes from the Dakota word for waterfall.

5. Sahara Desert ("Deserts Desert")

The name for this giant expanse of North Africa comes from çaḥrā, the Arabic word for deserts.

6. El Camino Way ("The Way Way")

There's a street in Palo Alto, California called El Camino Way, or "The Way Way." If you drive down it in your Chevy El Camino you will be driving your way down The Way Way in The Way.

7. Avenue Road

The city of Toronto can't claim the foreign language excuse for this tautological street name.

8. Street Road

Nor can this name in Pennsylvania be blamed on foreign language issues.

9. Mississippi River ("Big River River")

Our favorite spelling word is derived from an Ojibwe or Algonquin word for "big river."

10. Faroe Islands ("Sheep Islands Islands")

Faroe comes from the Faroese word Føroyar, literally meaning "sheep islands."

11. East Timor ("East East")

Whether you say East Timor or Timor Leste, it still means "East East." Timor comes from the Indonesian/Malay timur, for "east." One could argue that the name isn't really tautological, however, since Timor is the name for the easternmost island in a chain of islands, and East Timor is the eastern half of that island. So it's a repeated word, but referring to more than one thing.

A version of this list first ran in 2013.

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