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Arctic or Antarctica? Defining the Poles…

March 03, 2016 | Holli Sodomlak

They’re both cold, remote, inhospitable, and deservedly on most people’s bucket-list…but is there really much to choose between the Arctic and the Antarctic, the North and the South pole? I can tell you that there certainly is! In fact, the Arctic and the Antarctic are only similar at first glance – look just below the surface and you’ll immediately see that the poles are almost polar opposites (pun intended). Here’s how:

The Arctic is an ocean surrounded by land, and the Antarctic is a landmass surrounded by ocean. This means that the wildlife is hugely different from one pole to the other.

Catching sight of some of the world’s hardiest, most adaptable, and beautiful wildlife is probably the number one reason why most people dream of one day taking a trip to one, or both, of the poles.

If you picture majestic polar bears, herds of caribou or reindeer sweeping across the boundless tundra, silent snowy owls drifting above the snow-covered canopy of the boreal forest, and quick little arctic foxes scurrying about their business, then you’re thinking of the extensive landmasses that surround the Arctic. A great diversity of land animals call the Arctic home for some or all of the year.

Alternatively, if you dream of watching the supreme agility of penguins flashing through the waves, then giggling politely at the comical waddle of the same birds as they make land on a barren-but-beautiful coastline, or observing vast colonies of seals, then what you dream of is the endless coastline and productive ocean that surrounds the continent of Antarctica. Antarctica actually has only one land animal (a small insect), but a plethora of marine based animals who come onto shore for part of their lives. There are places in Antarctica where the wildlife reaches incredible densities, the more so for not suffering any human hunting.

4 million people live in the Arctic. Antarctica has no permanent residents at all.

The Arctic region is huge, and touches on many different nations. Nomadic people have lived in the Arctic for thousands of years, and still make their home their today. Traditional arts and crafts can be found, and a fascinating way of life is waiting to be discovered. None of these people live actually at the true North pole, because this is located under ever-shifting sea ice. However, they do live above the Arctic Circle on the landmasses that enclose the Arctic Ocean.

By comparison, the Antarctic has no permanent residents, and a seasonal transient population of up to 45,000 people in summer. This consists of 30-40,000 tourists, who generally stay just a week or two, and up to 5000 scientists and researchers. In winter, there are generally no tourists and only about 1000 scientists on the entire continent.

Plant life abounds in the Arctic, while Antarctica is more about the marine life.

In the Arctic, vast stretches of tundra provide summer growing conditions for a huge variety of Arctic vegetation. Colourful flowers and shrubs bloom vigorously for a short time in the warmth of the summer months.
The Antarctic is 98% covered with ice and snow, so conditions for plant growth are not ideal. Instead, there are dramatic mountains ranges and some of the largest glaciers on the planet.

Polar Fast Facts:

  • Antarctica has just one species of land animal – a wingless midge. There are no flying insects as they would get blown away!
  • The sea ice over the North Pole is sometimes moving as fast as we can walk. So if you were walking towards it on the ice, you could walk all day and not get any closer!
  • -89.2C is the coldest temperature ever recorded on Earth – it was on July 21st 1983 at the South Pole.
  • The boreal forest, or taiga, encircles the Arctic region and is the largest biome in the world. The boreal forest of Canada is also known as the largest intact forest ecosystem in the world.
  • Antarctica is the highest continent in the world, with an average height of 2300m above sea level.