Weather in Arctic and Antarctic Regions
The Arctic and the Antarctic are two of the iciest regions on Earth. They may look similar, but in many ways they are very different. The Arctic, which includes the North Pole, is mostly an ice-covered ocean. The Antarctic, which contains the South Pole, is a land mass largely covered by enormous glaciers. Both regions are about 1.5 times the size of the United States (including Alaska).
Both places are extremely cold yet surprisingly dry. The moisture that does fall usually comes as snow. But in many places there is so little precipitation that if it were rain, you would think of these places as deserts.
In addition to the Arctic Ocean, the Arctic includes many of the surrounding lands, including Greenland, the world's biggest island. It also contains large portions of northern Canada and smaller parts of Alaska, Russia, Norway, and Iceland.
Explorers trying to reach the North Pole must cross treacherous ice floes. Polar bears live on the ice, and travel is difficult because the floes can be separated by open water gaps called leads. Shifting floes can also collide creating icy ridges that can be extremely difficult to cross.
Antarctic explorers face extremely cold temperatures and thin air at altitudes that often climb to 10,000 feet (3,048 meters) above sea level. They also face frigid blasts called katabatic winds that sweep from the interior highlands to the sea. Taken together, these conditions make Antarctica one of the world's harshest climates.
|Antarctica wasn't declared a continent until 1840.
An iceberg frozen in sea ice
|The average temperature in Antarctica in summer is 20°F (-6.66°C), while the average temperature in winter is -30°F (-34.44°C). Note: Antarctic winter months are the reverse of those in the Northern Hemisphere.|
|The coldest temperature ever officially recorded on Earth was -129°F (- 89.2ºC), at Vostok, Antarctica, on July 21, 1983.|
|The average precipitation in Antarctica is less than two inches (5 centimeters) per year.|
|The highest wind speeds in Antarctica were clocked at over 200 miles (322 kilometers) per hour.|
|The highest mountain in Antarctica is the Vinson Massif, which is 16,062 feet (4,897 meters) high.|
|Ninety-eight percent of Antarctica is ice-covered.|
|There are no countries in Antarctica. The land is managed under an international treaty signed in 1959.|
|Antarctica is the world's coldest, windiest, highest, and driest continent. Beneath the ice, some parts of Antarctic are 2,555 meters (8,380 feet) below sea level.|
|Midnight sun occurs throughout the Antarctic and Arctic at any latitude higher than 67.5° (three-quarters of the way from the Equator to the Poles). It is so intense that in the summer, Antarctica receives more solar energy per day than do lands near the Equator. Sunburn and snow-blindness (from intense glare) are serious risks.|
|The population of Antarctica varies from 4,000 people in the summer to 1,000 in the winter. |
|Antarctica is losing ice cover due to global warming, but it is cold enough there that, unlike the Arctic, most of it likely won't melt. Winter ice on the seas may diminish however—a bad thing for penguins.|
|Polar bears eat seals, but they don't eat penguins. That's because penguins are only found in the Southern Hemisphere, and polar bears live in the Arctic.
A ribbon waterfall spills off the icecap of Northeastland.
|The highest point in the Arctic is Gunnbjorn, a mountain in Greenland. It is approximately 12,136 feet (3,700 meters) high.|
|Greenland is three times the size of Texas and is owned by Denmark, a country about twice the size of Massachusetts. Greenland has only 56,000 people. June 21, the longest day of the year, is a national holiday there.|
|In Greenland, one-fifth of the land is ice-free|
|There are approximately 1.5 million people in the Arctic.|
|There are 36,563 islands in the Canadian Arctic. The biggest is Baffin Island, which is about one-quarter the size of Greenland.|
|The coldest temperature in the Arctic was -94ºF (-67.8ºC) at the village of Verkhoyansk, Siberia.|
|Global warming is shrinking the amount of ice on the Arctic Ocean. Scientists calculate that by 2040, temperatures may be so warm that all the ice will melt each summer.|
Explore More from National Geographic
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Photo Gallery: Animals of the Arctic
Get an up-close look at the some of the world's most recognizable cold-loving creatures, from polar bears to walruses to harp seals.
Photo Gallery: Animals of Antarctica
Meet the hearty creatures that call the cold, isolated habitat of Antarctica home.
Occupations: Explorer, civil engineer, mountain guide, public speaker
• Co-founder, International
• National Geographic polar expeditions expert
• Mountain guide
• Marathon runner
• Various climbs in the Himalayas, the Andes,
Antarctica, Patagonia and Alaska
• First Belgian (with Didier Goetghebuer) to
reach North Pole
• World-record crossing of the Antarctic
continent, 2,438 miles (3,924 km) in 99 days,
|A Message from Rolex|
Rolex is resolutely engaged in the challenge of halting climate change. Our sponsorship of Alain Hubert's historic expedition will mobilize the international scientific community and lead to a burst of research activity in the critical polar regions. Learn More »