Shop Windows to the Universe

Become a nitrogen atom in the nitrogen cycle in our Traveling Nitrogen Classroom Activity Kit/Game. See all our games, activity kits and classroom activities.
Aurora in the night sky
Click on image for full size
University Corporation for Atmospheric Research

The Polar Atmosphere

Stuff in the Polar Atmosphere

There are some special things that happen in the atmosphere near the Poles of the planet. Here are a few of them.

Particles from the Sun follow Earth’s magnetic field and this brings them high in the atmosphere above the Poles. All the energy from these particles makes the sky light up like in the picture at the left. This is called the aurora.

High in the sky above where clouds usually are found there are special clouds in the polar regions. They are called noctilucent clouds. They glow blue as the Sun is setting.

The ozone layer of the atmosphere, shields our planet from some harmful rays from the Sun. Some types of air pollution break the ozone apart. This lets more of the harmful rays get to Earth. There are now a number of holes in the ozone layer, including a very large hole over Antarctica.

Less energy from the Sun gets to the poles. That’s why it is cold there. Antarctica is the coldest continent on Earth. It has some of the the harshest weather on the planet with high winds and low precipitation. Arctic weather can also be extreme.

Patterns of the Polar Atmosphere

Near both the north pole and the south pole there is an area of high pressure in the atmosphere. High pressure in the atmosphere means that the little particles, the air molecules, are a bit closer together. Exactly where this place of high pressure is found can change over time. Sometime it can be found right near a pole. Other times it can be found in a ring around a pole. As the high pressure area moves around, patterns in the weather change too. In the north polar region this changing location of high pressure is called the Northern Annular Mode. In the south polar region it is called the Southern Annular Mode.

Last modified July 9, 2007 by Jennifer Bergman.

Shop Windows to the Universe Science Store!

The Summer 2010 issue of The Earth Scientist, available in our online store, includes articles on rivers and snow, classroom planetariums, satellites and oceanography, hands-on astronomy, and global warming.

Windows to the Universe Community



You might also be interested in:

Cool It! Game

Check out our online store - minerals, fossils, books, activities, jewelry, and household items!...more

Noctilucent Clouds

There is a special kind of cloud that is found in the mesosphere, which is the third layer of the Earth's atmosphere. These clouds are called noctilucent clouds (NLC’s) or polar mesospheric clouds (PMC’s)....more

Ozone in the Stratosphere

Most of the ozone that we know about is found in the the stratosphere, the second layer of the Earth's atmosphere. Ozone forms a kind of layer in the stratosphere. This layer shields us from the Sun's...more


Antarctica is the coldest, windiest, and driest continent on Earth. It is about one and a half times the size of the United States. Almost all of Antarctica is covered with a thick layer of ice called...more

Antarctic Weather

Antarctica is the coldest place on Earth. It is even colder than the Arctic! Temperatures as low as -129 degrees F (-89 degrees C) have been recorded. Near the South Pole, the average temperature is only...more

Arctic Weather

The Arctic or the area around the North Pole has pretty extreme weather! Ok, so you know the Arctic is cold, right? Did you know that it can be -90°F (-68° C) in the winter in the Arctic? That's SO cold!...more

Exploring the Poles

Polar exploration includes the exploration of the Arctic and the Antarctic. The Arctic is the area around the Earth's north pole. Antarctica is a continent that surrounds the South Pole. When you think...more

The Antarctic Region

What Will You Find There? If you travel to the South Pole, you will find the continent of Antarctica surrounded by the Southern Ocean. The geographic South Pole is marked by a large sign that scientists...more

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