Overview of The Arctic
- Official Name: Arctic, Arctic Ocean or Arctic Circle
- Government: No country owns the North Pole or the region of the Arctic Ocean surrounding it. The surrounding Arctic states of Canada, Greenland (Denmark), Russia, the United States (Alaska), Iceland, Norway, Sweden and Finland are limited to a 370 kilometre (200 nautical mile) economic zone around their coasts.
- Population: The Arctic is only sparsely populated with approximately 100,000 Inuit, 80,000 Saami and about 400,000 members of Siberian peoples.
- Total Area: About 14,056,000 square kilometres
- Time Difference: GMT -4 to -9 hours
- Peak Season: July to August
The region known as the Arctic can be defined in several different ways - geography, political boundaries and ecology.
The Arctic is primarily a thick floe of ice sitting on top of the Arctic Ocean around the North Pole, surrounded by land and islands. There is no land under the ice, which is always moving and can crack open at any time. The sea ice is an average of 3 metres thick, although the prevailing currents cause drifting which, in turn, create pressure ridges up to 3 times that size.
The Arctic region includes the Arctic Ocean (which passes through the North Pole) and parts of Canada, Greenland (Denmark), Russia, the United States (Alaska), Iceland, Norway, Sweden and Finland.
The region is also defined as being the area inside the Arctic Circle, an imaginary line which encircles the earth at latitude 66° 33’N which marks the limit of midnight sun (24-hour sunlit day) and the polar night (24-hour sunless night). Periods of continuous daylight or night last up to six months at the North Pole.
The Arctic region can also be defined as the area north of the treeline (the northern limit of upright tree growth) and locations in high latitudes where the average daily summer temperature does not rise above 10 °C.
The Arctic summer season between May and September is the best time of year to explore the spectacular scenery with its fascinating flora and fauna, including polar bears, walruses and myriads of seabirds.
Late May and early June (spring) Expedition Cruises give you a good chance to see polar bears and caribou (reindeer) migrating to their summer habitat. The warmest weather occurs in July, but mosquitoes also come out in full force during this period.
Look out for musk oxen, Arctic foxes, walruses, and several types of seals during the summer months. From August you have the best chance of seeing the spectacular Aurora Borealis in clear night skies. Late summer and autumn is prime viewing time for humpback whales (Greenland), while caribou can be seen in great numbers in autumn during their migration.
The auroral light of the northern polar region is a remarkable phenomenon. In the clear polar night during the summer months of August through November, spectacular arcs, curtains and luminous clusters move across the sky. These effects are created when streams of solar particles penetrate the Earth’s ionosphere and collide with molecules of the upper atmosphere.
The Earth’s magnetic field attracts the particles down to the magnetic poles and concentrates them in an oval band. Both the location of the ovals and the form of the aurora are governed by the intensity of solar activity. The Northern Lights have always held great significance for the myths and traditions of Arctic inhabitants.
The climate of the Arctic is generally characterised by long, cold winters and short, cool summers. The central Arctic Ocean is ice-covered year-round, and snow and ice are present on land for most of the year.
Average January temperatures range from about −40° to 0°C (−40° to +32°F), and winter temperatures can drop below −50°C (−58°F) over large parts of the Arctic. Icy winds blow snow around during this time, giving the impression of endless snowfall. Average July temperatures range from about −10° to +10°C (14° to 50°F), with some land areas occasionally exceeding 30°C (86°F) in summer.
The climate of coastal Arctic areas is strongly influenced by ocean temperatures. Generally these areas have warmer temperatures and heavier precipitation than the colder and drier interior land regions. In winter, the relatively warm ocean water, which can never be colder than −2°C (28°F), keeps the North Pole from being the coldest place in the Northern Hemisphere.
Maritime climate conditions also dominate the Arctic Ocean, coastal Alaska, Iceland, northern Norway and adjoining parts of Russia, so these areas are considered relatively mild. Winters in these areas are cold and stormy. Summers are cloudy but mild with mean temperatures about 10°C. Annual precipitation is generally between 60 cm and 125 cm with most of the cool season precipitation falling as snow, which covers the region for about six months of the year.