Polar Husky A to Z

Arctic

Over two thousand years ago, Greek philosophers and astronomers guessed at the existence of a land far to the north, which they called Arktikos, where the sun never set in summer or rose in the winter.
They named the land Arktos, the Great Bear, which is the constellation of stars that appears above the Arctic all year long (we know it as the Big Dipper). They called the region at the other end of the world anti-Arktikos, "opposite to Arktikos."

Today we call the two Polar Regions Arctic and Antarctica. Though many people think the two regions are very alike, they are actually almost polar opposites! Antarctic -home to the South Pole- is a continent of land and glacier surrounded by ocean. The Arctic -home to the North Pole- is an ocean, the Arctic Ocean, but its southernmost limits reach into the bordering lands of Europe, Asia, North America and Greenland.

Trees cannot grow above the tree line, due to the limited growing season (hours of sunlight in the summer time), cold temperatures and year-round frozen ground.


So what are the borders of the Arctic?

Well, it really depends on who you ask!

The simplest way to define the Arctic region is as the northernmost areas of the eight countries that border the Arctic Ocean:

  • United States (Alaska)
  • Russia
  • Finland
  • Norway
  • Sweden
  • Denmark (Greenland)
  • Iceland
  • Canada

Another way to define the Arctic is according to temperature, being all areas where the average temperature in July is 10° Celsius (50° Fahrenheit) or lower. The imaginary boundary line (based on temperature) that encloses these coldest areas is called the 10° Isotherm (an isotherm is a line drawn on a map that have the same average temperature for a given period).

This definition is closely linked with the tree line. The further north you travel the smaller the trees become, until you reach the tree line. Trees cannot grow above the tree line, due to the limited growing season (hours of sunlight in the summer time), cold temperatures and year-round frozen ground. The tree line is not a circular line, but has great variation depending on the land and weather in the specific areas, and it many areas the tree line is not easily drawn. Above land above the tree line is covered in scrubs and lichen. It is known as barren land, tundra or taiga.

Dwarf willow trees can grow on Arctic tundra, but not much -they stop when they are about four inches tall!

The Arctic can also be defined according to climate zones. Climate Zones are large areas of Earth that have similar weather patterns. The coldest of these zones are the Polar Zone and and the Subarctic Zone, both of which define the Arctic region. If you look at a globe, these zones are above the Temperate Zone which includes most of North America, Europe, and Central Asia.

The Polar Zone is considered a "cold desert" and receive very little snow, a year!

The astronomical definition of the Arctic is the Arctic Circle at latitude 66.32° North.

The territory above the Arctic Circle, experience at least one day in summer when the sun never sets, and one day in the winter when the sun never rises. However this is a strictly mathematical definition. For example, the Arctic Circle runs right through Greenland, leaving a large portion of that country's polar ice-sheet to the south of the defined Arctic.

The geomorphologic viewpoint defines the Arctic according to the region that has continues and discontinues permafrost (permanent frozen soil). Geophysicists would place the Arctic boundary around the area of the Aurora Borealis and magnetic storms.

So, as you can see defining the Arctic is all a matter of perspective. Our perspective here at PolarHusky.com, is that the Arctic is a tremendously exciting, vast and fragile region, of great diversity, eco-regions, plants, animals, culture and people. We believe it is a region from which through careful study we can learn valuable lessons of great importance to the rest of our world.