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Polar Geography


The Arctic and Antarctica: Two Different Worlds

Literally on opposite ends of the earth, the Arctic and Antarctica are vast, icy, and cold, but beyond that they’re very different. Antarctica, in the south, is a continent surrounded by ocean; the Arctic is an ocean surrounded by continents. There are no native people in Antarctica (but lots of research scientists); the Arctic’s native populations stretch back for centuries. And unless you’re at a zoo, you’ll never see a polar bear and a penguin living in the same neighborhood. Polar bears live only in the Arctic; penguins live in Antarctica, and other parts of the Southern Hemisphere. Some of the major differences between the two regions are listed below.

Natural Features
Antarctic Arctic
Continent surrounded by ocean Ocean surrounded by continents
97.6 percent of land ice is covered in an almost unbroken
South Polar ice sheet
Land ice is in limited areas; the largest is the Greenland
Ice Sheet
Icebergs are derived from glaciers and shelf ice year round Icebergs are derived from glaciers, seasonally
South Pole mean annual temperature: -58 degrees
North Pole mean annual temperature: 0 degrees Fahrenheit
Plants and Animals
No tundra, no tree line Tundra well developed, extensive, and marked by a tree shrub
No terrestrial mammals Terrestrial mammals including polar
, ox, reindeer, caribou,
lemmings, and more
About 18 bird species (including penguins) About 107 bird species (but no penguins)
No record of primitive humans; no native groups Native peoples with long, rich cultural record
Population south of 60° S. latitude sparse, scattered at scientific
Human population 60° N latitude in excess of 2 million; modern
settlements, widespread exploitation and technological development
Crossing of Antarctic Circle by James Cook, January 17, 1773 Crossing of Arctic Circle, prehistoric
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