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Earth's Polar Regions

Do you wonder what Earth's Polar Regions are like? Where do polar bears live? Where do penguins swim? Why does the Sun never shine in winter in the Arctic? Why does aurora occur near the Earth’s Poles? How big are the Earth’s ice caps, and are they changing? The Earth’s Polar Regions are hosts to unique phenomena and ecosystems – both fascinating and beautiful. Explore the Earth’s Arctic and Antarctic through the links in this section.
A group of
  Emperor penguins wait their turn to dive into the ocean near <a
  href="/people/postcards/jean_pennycook_11_29_0.html&edu=elem">Ross
  Island, Antarctica</a>
  on November 3, 2004.
Emperor penguins routinely dive to 500 meters in
  search of food.  Scientists are interested in understanding how they can
  endure the stress of these dives in such an <a
  href="/earth/extreme_environments.html&edu=elem">extreme
  environment</a>.<p><small><em> Image courtesy of Emily Stone,   National Science Foundation</em></small></p>A sinuous glowing band of <a
  href="/earth/Magnetosphere/aurora.html&edu=elem">aurora</a> (the Aurora Australis
  or Southern Lights) loops around the <a
  href="/earth/polar/polar_south.html&edu=elem">southern polar</a>
region in the
  distance as viewed by astronauts onboard the space shuttle on <a
  href="http://www.nasa.gov/mission_pages/shuttle/shuttlemissions/archives/sts-39.html">STS-039</a>.   
   <a
  href="/earth/Magnetosphere/aurora/aurora_colors.html&edu=elem">Aurora are produced</a>
  when <a
  href="/physical_science/physics/atom_particle/particle_radiation.html&edu=elem">energetic particles</a>
 entering the Earth's
  atmosphere from space interact with <a
  href="/physical_science/physics/atom_particle/atom.html&edu=elem">atoms</a> and <a
  href="/earth/geology/molecule.html&edu=elem">molecules</a> in the atmosphere and
  release energy, emitted as light. <p><small><em>Courtesy of NASA, Astronaut Overmeyer and Dr. Hallinan</em></small></p><a href="/earth/polar/inuit_culture.html&edu=elem">The
  Inuit</a> are the native cultures that continue to live on coastal areas of <a
  href="/earth/polar/arctic_tundra.html&edu=elem">Arctic
  tundra</a> in Canada, Alaska (USA), Siberia (Russia), and Greenland. This
  picture shows several Inuit constructing an igloo with blocks of <a
  href="/earth/polar/cryosphere_snow1.html&edu=elem">snow</a>
  in November, 1924. Traditionally, Inuit lived in igloos during the coldest
  months and tent-like huts during the warmer months.<p><small><em>   Library of Congress Prints and Photographs, Photograph by Frank E. Kleinschmidt</em></small></p>Did you know that the Earth’s <a
  href="/earth/polar/polar_geog.html&edu=elem">geographic
  North pole</a> is not in the same place as the Earth’s <a
  href="/earth/Magnetosphere/earth_north_magnetic_pole.html&edu=elem">North
  magnetic pole</a>?  They are actually several hundred kilometers apart,
  making navigation with a compass impossible near the poles.  This picture
  illustrates where they were in 2005.  Right at the geographic poles, the <a
  href="/sun/sun.html&edu=elem">Sun</a> shines for half
  the year and it is dark for the other half of the year. This makes a year
  like one long day.<p><small><em>Image courtesy of Windows to the Universe</em></small></p>Icebergs floating near Cape York, Greenland
  in September 2005. Icebergs are large pieces of ice floating in
  the <a href="/earth/Water/ocean.html&edu=elem">ocean</a>
  that have broken off of <a
  href="/earth/polar/cryosphere_glacier1.html&edu=elem">ice
  shelves or glaciers</a> in <a
  href="/earth/polar/polar.html&edu=elem">Earth's polar
  regions</a>. They are a part of the <a
  href="/earth/polar/cryosphere_intro.html&edu=elem">cryosphere</a>. 
  Approximately 90% of an iceberg's <a
  href="/glossary/mass.html&edu=elem">mass</a> is below
  the surface of the seawater. Because ice is less dense than water, a small
  portion of the iceberg stays above the seawater.<p><small><em>Image courtesy of   Mila Zinkova, Creative Commons Attribution ShareAlike license</em></small></p>Greenland’s <a href="http://www.windows2universe.org/earth/polar/cryosphere_glacier1.html">ice sheet</a> saw a record <a href="http://www.windows2universe.org/headline_universe/olpa/greenland_10dec07.html">melt</a> in July 2012.  Scientists studying this event have found that this melting event was triggered by an influx of unusually warm air and amplified by the presence of a blanket of thin low-level <a href="http://www.windows2universe.org/earth/Atmosphere/cloud.html">clouds</a> which pushed temperatures up above freezing.  For more information see the <a href="http://www.news.wisc.edu/21638">press release</a> from the University of Wisconsin Madison.<p><small><em>Image courtesy of University of Wisconsin-Madison</em></small></p>

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Windows to the Universe, a project of the National Earth Science Teachers Association, is sponsored in part by the National Science Foundation and NASA, our Founding Partners (the American Geophysical Union and American Geosciences Institute) as well as through Institutional, Contributing, and Affiliate Partners, individual memberships and generous donors. Thank you for your support! NASA AGU AGI NSF