Arctic Facts


What is the difference between sea ice, icebergs, glaciers and ice shelves?

Sea ice is frozen ocean water that grows and melts in the ocean. Icebergs, glaciers, and ice shelves float in the ocean but originate on land.

What is a Pingo?

It's not an arctic version of BINGO! A pingo is a soil covered hill or dome with an ice core. Pingos are about 30 to 50 m (98 to 164 ft) high and up to 400 m (1,312 ft) in diameter and can create striking landscapes in some Arctic regions. They are believed to form as a result of the freezing and upward expansion of water found in subsurface soil as well as by the rising and freezing of water trapped underneath or within the permafrost.

Where can you see the midnight sun?

The midnight sun occurs throughout the Arctic and Antarctica at latitudes higher than 67.5°. This phenomenon occurs when the sun does not set but only approaches the horizon at midnight. The effect occurs near the time of the solstice, on June 21, for latitudes north of the Arctic Circle. The same effect occurs near the time of the solstice, on December 21, for latitudes south of the Antarctic Circle. Note that when it is summer in the Arctic, it is winter in Antarctica, and vice-versa.

Weather and Climate

What is the coldest temperature ever recorded on earth?

The coldest temperature ever recorded in history was -128 degrees F (-89 degrees C) at Vostok Station, Antarctica! The coldest temperature ever recorded in the Arctic was -94 degrees F (-67.8 degrees C) at the village of Verkhoyansk, Siberia.

Wildlife and Plants

Where do penguins live?

Penguins do not live in the Arctic! Despite what many people think, penguins live almost exclusively in the southern hemisphere, from the equator to Antarctica.

Why is a Polar Bear considered a marine mammal?

Polar Bears are the only bear species to be considered marine mammals. In fact the latin name for Polar Bear, Ursus maritimus, means maritime bear. This is because they depend on the ocean for their food and habitat. They also have many physical characteristics that make them well adapted for life in the cold Arctic Ocean. They are excellent swimmers with streamlined bodies and tiny webs between their forepaws to help propel them through the water. A thick layer of blubber and a water-shedding coat keeps them warm in cold temperatures both in and out of the water.

Which bird has the longest migration?

The arctic tern makes the longest known seasonal migration. It spends the northern summer in the Arctic and the southern summer in the Antarctic, traveling over 22,000 miles (35,000 km) each year!

What's the difference between reindeer and caribou?

Reindeer and caribou are actually the same species, Rangifer tarandus, but there are substantial differences between the two. Caribou are large, wild, elk-like animals which can be found in northern North America and Greenland and have never been domesticated. Reindeer are slightly smaller and were domesticated in northern Eurasia about 2000 years ago. There are still some wild populations of reindeer found in Eurasia but they are best known as a domesticated animal. Today, they are still herded by many Arctic peoples in Europe and Asia who depend on the reindeer for almost everything in their economy including food, clothing and shelter.

What do polar bears eat?

A polar bear's favorite meal is seal. Occasionally a polar bear may kill a young whale or walrus or they will scavenge their carcasses. When their primary food sources are unavailable, polar bears will expand their diet and may eat reindeer, small rodents, seabirds, waterfowl, fish, shellfish, eggs, vegetation, berries, and human garbage if available. Polar bears do not eat penguins, since penguins live in the southern hemisphere and polar bears live in the northern hemisphere.


What Does the word "Arctic" Mean?

The word Arctic comes from the Greek word for bear, arktos. It refers to two constellations in the northern night sky: Ursa Major (Great Bear) and Ursa Minor (Little Bear), which contains Polaris, the North Star.


Who lives in the Polar Regions?

There are approximately 1.5 million people living in the Arctic, indigenous and non-indigenous, spread out over eight countries: Canada, the United States (Alaska), Denmark (Greenland), Iceland, Russia, Sweden, Norway and Finland. There are no permanent residents of Antarctica, however approximately 4,000 people from around the world conduct research on the continent at a variety of research bases. Most work only during the Antarctic summer but a few will stay for the whole winter.

What is a bunny boot?

They are not boots made from rabbit fur! Bunny Boots is the widely-used nickname for the Extreme Cold Vapor Barrier Boots, originally developed for the US military. The boots have become staple cold weather gear both in work and recreational environments in the Polar Regions. The nickname comes from the fact that the fur of the snowshoe hare, commonly found in the Arctic, changes color from brown to white in the winter, allowing it to blend in with its winter surroundings. As winter gets closer, more and more snowshoe hare appear with their new white bunny "boots".

Antarctic Facts


Is Antarctica a country?

Antarctica is a continent but not a country. The land is managed under the Antarctic Treaty, originally signed in 1959 by the 12 countries involved in scientific studies on the continent at that time. It now includes 48 countries from around the world. The treaty ensures the freedom of scientific investigation and cooperation, prohibits military activities and mining, prohibits nuclear explosions and nuclear power, and protects the continent's natural environment.

What percentage of Antarctica is ice-covered?

Approximately ninety-eight percent of Antarctica is covered with ice.

Is there such a thing as "southern lights"?

Yes, there are southern lights. The aurora australis occurs around the southern magnetic pole, much as the aurora borealis (northern lights) occurs around the northern magnetic pole. Unlike the northern lights, which are seen across northern North America, Europe and Asia where a few million people live, the southern lights are seen only over Antarctica, where fewer people spend the dark months of winter.

Wildlife and Plants

What is an ice fish?

Ice fish are a unique group of fish found in Antarctica. Ice fish have evolved a variety of interesting physiological and biochemical adaptations that allow them to survive in the freezing, ice-laden waters of the Southern Ocean at temperatures that would freeze the blood of other fish. They do not have a swim bladder, and they spend much of their time near the ocean floor. To help them survive in the very cold waters, they have antifreeze proteins in their blood and body that keep their cells from freezing. Because of the high oxygen content in Antarctic waters, the ice fish are able to survive with lower amounts of hemoglobin, the protein that carries oxygen to the rest of the body, than other fishes. They have a larger volume of clear blood instead and this gives them an unusually ghostly white color, particularly their gills.

Climate Change

What would happen if all of Antarctica's ice sheets melted?

If Antarctica's ice sheets melted, an event that would take thousands of years to occur, the world's oceans would rise by approximately 200 feet (60 meters).


Who was the first person to arrive at the South Pole?

The Norwegian explorer Roald Amundsen was the first person to reach the South Pole on December 14, 1911, following a race with the English explorer Robert Scott. Scott made it to the South Pole shortly after Amundsen but he and his four companions all died on the return journey.