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A polar bear in the Arctic
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US Minerals Management Service, Alaska Region

The Arctic: Earth's North Polar Region

North of the Arctic Circle (at 66.5°N latitude) you will find the Arctic Ocean surrounded by the northernmost parts of the continents of Europe, Asia, and North America. You will find the geographic North Pole and the magnetic North Pole there; both are in the Arctic Ocean, in an area that is currently covered year-round with sea ice. The aurora, called the Northern Lights in the Northern Hemisphere, can be visible in the night skies. There is ice on land, in the form of glaciers and the Greenland ice sheet, and ice in the Arctic Ocean, especially during winter, called sea ice.

On the sea ice you will find wildlife such as polar bears looking for their favorite food, seals, which live in the Arctic Ocean. Other types of marine creatures live in the water under the sea ice. On land, you will find a landscape where small plants and lichens can grow even in harsh and cold conditions, and soils are frozen most of the year. This is called Arctic tundra. On the tundra, it is usually cold, often windy, and there is little precipitation. There are only a few species of mammals that can survive the harsh conditions of the tundra including reindeer (caribou) and arctic foxes. Many insect and bird species live in the Arctic tundra during the summer months, but migrate south in the winter. Trees cannot grow in the tundra. Just south of Arctic tundra areas, the climate is slightly less cold and trees can grow in taiga forests. In areas with taiga forests, the summer is quite short, but temperatures do get above freezing.

Several cultures inhabit the lands that border the Arctic Ocean including various groups of Inuit people in coastal areas of northern North America, Greenland, and the Siberian region of Russia. The Inuit migrated to the North American continent about 1000 years ago, probably from East Asia. People from Nordic countries, such as Sweden, Finland, Norway, Iceland, and Greenland, also inhabit lands that border the Arctic Ocean. People from Nordic countries are mainly descendants of the Norsemen or Vikings who explored, raided, and settled in coastal areas, including places within the Arctic and Sub-Arctic, between the eight to the eleventh centuries.

Last modified February 27, 2007 by Lisa Gardiner.

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