About the Arctic Polar Region

The Arctic region is well known for its breathtaking scenery made up of high rising fjords, immense glaciers, and breathtaking flora and fauna. The Arctic invites you to explore its pristine wilderness, bright mid summer nights, and pulsating lifestyle of world's far North cities.



The North Polar region includes those areas of Eurasia and North America that lie within an invisible boundary surrounding those areas that maintain an average temperature of 10C during July, the region's the warmest month. This line is generally very close to the tree line as well. The Arctic is home to various northern islands including Spitsbergen, Greenland, Franz-Josef-Land, Ellesmere, Baffin, Wrangell and various others. The vast landscape is dominated by treeless tundra and tremendous glaciers reaching far down to the ocean from the immense ice caps. Tremendous ice bergs drift through the fjords dwarfed by the surrounding mountain ranges.



Due to the well below freezing winter conditions, much of the surrounding Arctic Ocean freezes to create pack ice that extends the coastline to 15 million square kilometers while this number is only 5 to 6 million square kilometers during the summer months. The 2 to 3 meter thick ocean ice begins to melt starting in March creating drift ice which is visible in various parts of the Arctic. This usually last until late summer when temperature begin to fall once again.



One of the Arctic's most common characteristics is the year round permafrost, one of the main reasons that lush vegetation cannot exist in these icy areas. During the Arctic summer months, only a small portion of the soil on the surface thaws while the underlying permafrost remains solid. The two main seasons of the Arctic are clearly defined. The winter is characterized by nearly nine months of dark weather and temperatures that rarely rise above the freezing point. The summer, on the other hand, arrives suddenly with three months of nearly 24 hour sunlight from May to July and relative warmth compared to the bitter winter months.



Human roots in some regions of the Arctic date back thousands of years. For example, Greenland shows signs of human activity that reach 4,500 years into the past while Spitsbergen's history dates back only 400 years and Franz Josef Land even fewer with 140 years. Around 4 million people live in the Arctic today, a tenth of which belong to indigenous ethnic groups such as Inuits, Jakuts, Yupiks, Inupiats and various other that reside in small villages along the coast. The largest city in the Arctic is Murmansk with around 330,000 inhabitants, and many small research and weather stations are located throughout the Arctic region.



The Arctic Tundra is rich with animal life. However, these animals are rarely seen in large groups as in Antarctica. There are some exceptions such as various species of sea birds which live in immense colonies. Also, walrus are often seen in large groups searching for resting places along the shores of the coast.



GEOGRAPHY



The Arctic Ocean of the North Polar sea is a semi-enclosed body surrounded by the region's huge land masses and islands. In the center of the Arctic Ocean lies the geographical North Pole which is located directly over the pack ice that reaches 4,000 meters below the surface to the seabed. The Arctic is home to immense mountain ranges such as Gunnbjorn Field in Greenland rising 3,700 meters as well as stunning fjords and treeless tundra.



This natural wilderness is home to 280 bird species, 75 different mammals, and 1,500 plant species. Depending on the latitude in the area, the sun will not set for months during the Arctic summer and likewise will not rise for months during the winter. Frost and snow will sometimes come even in the summer time thus reducing the already short growth period to only 50 to 100 days. The fragile ecosystem is being protected by numerous wildlife sanctuaries though it has become more and more difficult to avoid the pollution from the southern industrial zones.



North American Arctic


The Arctic region extends into Beaufort, Yukon, Northwest Territories, and Nunavut in northern Canada and into the Canadian Arctic archipelago which includes some 36,000 different islands such as Axel Heiberg, Baffin, Banks, Cornwall, Ellesmere, Victoria, and Devon, the worlds largest uninhabited island covering 55,000 square kilometers. This archipelago is commonly associated with the big names from the time of discovery in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries such as Sir John Franklin and Roald Amundsen whose goal was to conquer the Northwest Passage.



Many of these islands as well as those of the Alaskan coast are home to oxen and caribou herds. The region is inhabited by many different indigenous groups such as the Inupiat Eskimos in the North and Northwest of Alaska, the Inuvialuit Eskimos near the Alaska-Canada boarder and the Amundsen Golf, and the Wich'in Indians, a tribe of roughly 7,000 people in northeast Alaska and the Mackenzie Delta.



Franz Josef Land


This is the northernmost archipelago on the planet and covers an area of 16,000 square kilometers. The chain of islands was discovered and measured relatively recently in 1873 by the Austrian-Hungarian North Pole expedition led by Julius Payer and Karl Weyprecht. In 1926 Franz Josef Land became part of Russia and for 60 years was sealed by the Soviets because of the highly valuable research that was conducted in various research stations during that time.



Travel to Franz Josef Land has only been possible since 1990. Straits and bays are often frozen even during the arctic summer, and 85% of the islands is made up of glaciers. Polar bears, walrus, and seagulls are often seen along the coasts of the islands. The vegetation in the area is generally lacking and is made mostly of lichens and only 57 vascular plant species. Only 10% of the islands provide conditions that allow the growth of such plants.



Greenland


With an area of 2.4 million square kilometers, Greenland is the largest island on the planet. An incredible 85% of the surface is covered with glaciers. The islands have been inhabited for 4,500 years and began with the Eskimo crossing of the Bering Strait from Asia, north into Canada, and finally into Greenland. Around the year 1,000CE, the Vikings arrived, and ruins of their civilization may still be seen today in the southern areas of Greenland.



Today, Greenland is home to only 57,000 people who live for the most part in villages along the west coast. The east coast of Greenland has only two distinctive populated areas that account for roughly 6% of the island's inhabitants. One is known as Ammassalik with a population of just over 3,000 people while the other is Itoqqortormiit with only 550 inhabitants. For that reason, travel in the island's western region involves a more cultural experience with visits to the different towns, while an eastern visit includes mostly landscapes and visits to the area's stunning wilderness.



One of the most breathtaking sights in the eastern region is the Scoresbysund Fjord, the largest on the planet, as well as the Kaiser Franz Josef Fjord, the King Oscar Fjord, and the Kangerlussuaq Fjord. The largest national park on the planet covering a total of 1 million square kilometers is located in the north and northeastern parts of the island. Also scattered along the coastline of the entire island are colossal rock walls rising out of the ocean. The largest icebergs are generally found in the central western region near Illulissat or in the deep fjords in the East around Scoresbysund or Kaiser Franz Josef fjords. The icebergs in Spitsbergen, Svalbard, and Franz Josef Land do not reach the greatness of those found in Greenland. The waters surrounding the capital Nuuk are well known for their great whale watching opportunities. In 2005, Greenland welcomed 67,300 foreign visitors to the south and west coast and 6,100 visitors to the north eastern region of the island.




Svalbard




The northern Norwegian archipelago of Svalbard covers 63,000 square kilometers and stretches from roughly 700 kilometers northwest of the North Cape and reaches nearly 81 degrees north latitude. Spitsbergen, one of the three populated islands of the archipelago is nearly 60% covered by glaciers and is the easiest Arctic area to reach due to the Golf Stream influence.



Compared to eastern Greenland, the landscapes of Spitsbergen exist on a much smaller scale with its highest mountains reaching 1,700 meters. The island has a steep coastal mountain range as well cold deserts and flat table mountains that reach hundreds of meters toward the sky. The island is also home to a vast tundra which is the location of great excursions and various nature studies.



This tundra area is a great spot to find polar bears, walruses, and reindeer. It is also home to around 170 species of flowering plants.



The main city, Longyearbyen, is located at 78 degrees north and has a small airport and several hotels making it an excellent getaway for travel to Spitsbergen. This island is home to various research stations operated by various countries throughout the world.



Other islands in Svalbard include Nordaustlandet, Barentsoya, and Edgeoya. By the twelfth and thirteenth centuries, Russian hunting folk had already reached the Svalbard archipelago. However, the official discover of the region has been given to Willem Barents who explored the region in 1596. Shortly after this discovery, this region became the popular hunting ground for whale hunters who were soon followed by trappers, miners, entrepreneurs, polar researchers, and eventually tourists.

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