Exploring the Arctic: An Introduction
That is the word for ‘Hello’ in a language spoken by the Inuit people (Inuktitut), who are one of the many native populations of the Arctic.
In this ‘Exploring the Arctic’ series, I will be covering the many different features of the Arctic, including the landscape, the animals that live in the Arctic and the Arctic ice melt.
To kick off this series, I will be giving a brief introduction of the polar north. Are you ready?
Where is the Arctic located?
There are many definitions of what constitutes the Arctic.
The most popular one is ‘the area within the Arctic circle’ (National Geographic Society, n.d), that is, the area where you can have the sun all day, or darkness all day, for at least 24 hours a year. This area includes the Arctic Ocean and parts of surrounding countries which are Canada, Russia, Denmark, Norway, Sweden, Finland, Iceland and the United States.
However, did you know the Arctic is actually moving? Due to changes in the Earth’s tilt, the area which constitutes the Arctic moves 48 feet northwards every year (Proctor, 2007)!
What is the Arctic like?
Think of the cold temperatures we have been experiencing this winter here in the UK… but significantly more freezing. That’s what life is like in the winter in the Arctic, with the average January temperature often dipping below -40 degrees Celsius in some parts of Siberia (NSIDC, n.d). Imagine the kind of winter coat you would need for that!
5.5 million square miles, larger than the US and 5 times the size of the Mediterranean. That’s how big the Arctic is. Despite the fact that this ocean is the shallowest of the 5 ocean basins, the Arctic Ocean has an average depth of 3406 feet (Misachi, 2021), 695 times the height of an 8-year-old child — still sounds deep to me.
On the land that constitutes the Arctic, there are 3 main landscapes; polar desert, tundra and taiga.
This landscape is at the very northern tip of the Arctic and consists of predominantly arid, barren landscapes with different ice features.
Precipitation, which is rarely received, occurs in the form of snow and fog, with just 250mm of rain a year (Wanza, 2018), compared with the 1,163.04mm UK Met Office average (Met Office, n.d)
The tundra exists in the transition zone between the polar desert, and the taiga (which will be spoken about in the next section).
The lack of trees is the main feature of this landscape, caused by the frozen soil which restricts tree growth. This frozen soil is called permafrost and refers to soil that has been frozen for at least two years.
Permafrost is a key issue in the topic of climate change, which I will explain at the end of this series.
The importance of protecting the Arctic
The Arctic is extremely important in regulating the climate of the Earth. It’s important to understand that the expanses of ice are crucial in reflecting the energy of the sun and maintaining an optimal temperature for the planet. Arctic ice melt will therefore accelerate global warming, and thus we must protect it to ensure a regulated climate for the humans, plants and animals that depend on it.
Want to learn more? Check out our teaching resources, enquire about receiving a workshop all about climate change and the Arctic for your pupils, and come back next week for the next instalment of ‘Exploring the Arctic’ where we will be discussing the animals that live in the Arctic.
Written by Catrin Lewis, Climate Change Communicator Volunteer
Met Office (n.d.) UK climate averages. Available at: https://www.metoffice.gov.uk/research/climate/maps-and-data/uk-climate-averages/gcnk62de6
Misachi, J. (2021) Arctic Ocean, WorldAtlas. WorldAtlas. Available at: https://www.worldatlas.com/seas/arctic-ocean.html
National Geographic Society (n.d.) Arctic. Available at: https://education.nationalgeographic.org/resource/arctic.
National Geographic Society (n.d.)Taiga. Available at: https://education.nationalgeographic.org/resource/taiga
NSIDC (n.d.). Arctic Weather and Climate. Available at: https://nsidc.org/learn/parts-cryosphere/arctic-weather-and-climate
Proctor, J. (2007) Lapland. Chalfont St. Peter: Bradt Travel Guides.
Wanza, S.N. (2018) What and where are the polar deserts?, WorldAtlas. WorldAtlas. Available at:https://www.worldatlas.com/articles/what-and-where-are-the-polar-deserts.html#:~:text=The%20average%20rainfall%20associated%20with%20the%20polar%20deserts,heavy%20soils%20that%20are%20known%20to%20leach%20salt.