Shop Windows to the Universe

Science, Evolution, and Creationism, by the National Academies, focuses on teaching evolution in today's classrooms. Check out the other publications in our online store.
Earth's Arctic and Antarctic Regions showing location of the Arctic and Antarctic Circles and the geographic North and South Poles.
Original Windows to the Universe artwork by Lisa Gardiner using images from NASA.

Geography of Earth's Polar Regions

Location
The polar regions are the areas that surround Earth’s geographic North and South Poles. The area surrounding the geographic North Pole is called the Arctic and includes almost the entire Arctic Ocean and northern areas of Europe, Asia, and North America. The area surrounding the geographic South Pole is called the Antarctic and includes the continent of Antarctica and parts of the surrounding Southern Ocean. Earth's geographic poles are in a slightly different location than the magnetic poles.

Day and Night
Because of the tilt of Earth’s axis, the Sun shines for half the year and it is dark for the other half of the year right at the Poles. This makes a year like one long day; the Sun rises in spring, reaches its highest point in the sky in summer, and sets in autumn. So the Sun is only visible only during the warmer months of the year. When the Sun is visible during summer at the South Pole, it is the dark winter months at the North Pole.

At the Arctic and Antarctic Circles there is just one day when the Sun does not set and one day when it does not rise. The Sun does not set on the summer solstice (June 21 in the north and December 21 in the south) and does not rise on the winter solstice (December 21 for the north and June 21 for the south). In the weeks prior to the winter solstice, the number of hours with daylight become fewer and fewer until on the winter solstice day when the Sun does not rise at all for a day. After the winter solstice the amount of daylight increases each day until the summer solstice when the Sun does not set at all for one day.

The time when the Sun is continuously in the sky is called Polar Day. In locations that are between the Arctic Circle and North Pole, or between the Antarctic Circle and South Pole, the length of the Polar Day is between one day and six months long depending on how close the location is to the Pole.

Last modified April 29, 2008 by Becca Hatheway.

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

News

Opportunities

You might also be interested in:

Traveling Nitrogen Classroom Activity Kit

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

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...more

The Antarctic Region

What Will You Find There? South of the Antarctic Circle (at 66.5°S latitude) you will find the continent of Antarctica surrounded by the Southern Ocean, the geographic South Pole and the magnetic South...more

Antarctica

Antarctica is unique. It is the coldest, windiest, and driest continent on Earth. The land is barren and mostly covered with a thick sheet of ice. Antarctica is almost entirely south of the Antarctic Circle...more

The Southern Ocean

The Southern Ocean is a bit different. Many mapmakers do not even recognize it as an ocean. The Southern Ocean (sometimes known as the Antarctic Ocean or South Polar Ocean) surrounds Antarctica in the...more

NSF Dedicates New South Pole Station

The United States has dedicated a new scientific station at the geographic South Pole--the third since 1957--officially ushering in a new support system for sophisticated large-scale experiments in disciplines...more

Joanna Hubbard

This is my 10th year with the Anchorage School District as a science teacher, currently working with K-12 teachers around the district rather than in a classroom. My most recent classroom time was as a...more

Antarctic Weather

Antarctica is the southernmost continent on Earth, and since it’s home to the South Pole it is probably no surprise that the weather here is very cold—in fact, Antarctica is quite a bit colder than even...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