The frozen land within the Arctic Circle has been an attraction for the tourists and researchers for a long time. The Arctic landscape is equally eerie and captivating. The landscapes typically consist of the arctic glaciers, icebergs, Snow Mountains, the arctic tundra and Northern lights. However, the artic offers its inhabitants and tourists with completely different landscapes in winter and summer. The experiences in the arctic literally only remain in the arctic since no other places on earth offers such distinctive patterns of spectacle, minerals, animals, fishes and plants.
Locations of Arctic Landscapes
Located in the Northern polar region of the Earth, the Arctic has fascinated tourists, travelers and cultural cognoscenti for hundreds of years. But before going on an expedition to an uncharted region, it’s a good idea to do a little bit of research on where to go exactly in the Arctic to find the best possible landscapes. Here’s a list of locations for those who don’t want to miss the chance to enjoy the precious Arctic landscapes:
- Norway: Nordland County (coordinates: 66°34′N 12°48′E)
- Sweden, Norrbotten County (coordinates: 66°34′N 15°31′E)
- Finland, Lapland Region ( coordinates: 66°34′N 23°51′E)
- Russia: Murmansk Oblast (coordinates: 66°34′N 31°36′E)
- Russia: Kandalaksha Gulf (coordinates: 66°34′N 33°25′E – 66°34′N 34°38′E)
- United States: Alaska- Seward Peninsula ( coordinates: 66°34′N 164°38′W)
- Canada: Northwest Territories (coordinates: starts from 66°34′N 133°36′W- 66°34′N 115°56′W)
- Greenland: a little after Kangerlussuaq Fjord in the Kingdom of Denmark ( coordinates: 66°34′N 53°16′W)
- Iceland: Grímsey Island ( coordinates: 66°34′N 18°1′W)
Facts about Arctic Landscape and Polar Regions
The Arctic is one of the two polar regions of earth with the other being the South Pole that is located in Antarctica. But here are some lesser known facts about the arctic and the Polar Regions in general:
- The Arctic belongs to the north of the Arctic Circle
- The Arctic got its name from the northern constellation “arktos” (Greek) which translates to “Bear” in English
- The sun is seen for 24 consecutive hours at least once a year and isn’t seen for 24 hours at least once a year in the arctic
- The temperature in Greenland can be as low as –70°C
- The arctic has the strongest ethnic groups
- The entire arctic population is only 4 million
- The Arctic has “unicorns” that live in the sea, except they’re called narwhal
- More than 10% of the Earth’s fresh water is reserved in the Arctic ice
- The Arctic doesn’t face a lot of precipitation
- The scientists have discovered that the summer ice of the Arctic won’t exist by 2040
What makes the arctic landscape?
We’ve talked about the locations and some facts about the arctic. But what makes an arctic landscape so unique? The main components that give arctic landscapes their idiosyncrasies are the immeasurable amount of ice, the birch and fir trees in the Southern arctic, very unusual animals, the northern lights, the arctic tundra, polar barrens and tons of other things that will be discussed below.
The climate in the arctic landscape
The arctic landscape comprises unendurably long winter and very short summer that’s cooler than most countries’ winter. However, the weather today is not like how it used to be for many hundreds of years. Also, the arctic tundra, which is one of the important attractions of the arctic, takes completely new looks with the change of seasons.
Summer in the arctic stays from June to September. The seaside areas still remain in 0°C temperature while the southern part faces a temperature rise as high as 20°C. But the usual summer temperature in the arctic is between 6-13°C. Due to the greenhouse effect, the temperature in the arctic has seen a voluminous change. The summers are longer than before and the heat waves which used to comfort people now linger for so long that causes panic among people.
It’s no surprise that winter in the arctic would be one of the lowest in temperature. The winter generally runs from December to March. Temperature getting as low as -50°C is not uncommon in the arctic landscape. But the average winter temperature is around -20°C.
Recent Arctic heat wave
This year, the Arctic has suffered from an intensely dramatic heat wave during February. This caused the temperature to rise as high as 15°C in the central arctic whereas the average temperature always remains, at least, below 0°C. Although the arctic has faced warm weather patterns and mild heat waves before but this is the first time winter has been so warm in the arctic. The climate scientists are saying that the receding of the sea ice and the resulting rise in the sea level are the reason for this calamity.
Taste the singularity of the arctic landscape
Once you go to the Arctic, there are certain landscapes that would trail you even in your dreams and in a good way. These dreamlike landscapes can be so colossal that most people tremble and revere in awe before Mother Nature. The Arctic has these spellbinding marvels that you should look out for:
- Glaciers and Ice Caps
- Ice Fields
- Snow Mountains
- Lakes and Rivers
- Northern Lights
- Arctic Tundra
Glaciers and Ice Caps
Glaciers and ice caps belong to the same category of ice- polar ice. But there are various kinds of polar ice, each of them playing important roles in the global climate. Below is an introductory guide to the different variants of polar ice in the arctic landscape.
The majestic glaciers are a sight to behold and can also be a great hindrance while travelling. What starts as tiny snowflakes grows as huge piles of dense ice by the processes of accumulation and condensation. Glaciers are always moving down the slopes very slowly in a “glacial pace”, weigh millions of tons and they constantly change the landscapes they move on from. They are also the finest reservoirs of fresh water on earth, storing about 69% of the world freshwater. The eastern arctic, especially Canada, has the largest and the oldest glacial landscapes.
Icebergs are smaller versions of glaciers and they originate from glaciers as well. The icebergs of the Arctic are more fragile and tinier than the ones in the Antarctic. They are prone to get fractured easily and always oozes. The color “blue” in icebergs are markers of their old age.
Ice fields are like smaller ice caps. Glaciers flow over the ice fields and ice caps. In summer, the ice in the polar areas gets shattered and forms fields of ice sheets that float around the surface. These are called ice fields and as the name suggests, they are literally a field of ice, and not dome-like structures like ice caps. Imagine standing in a perpetual land of ice or look at a photo of an ice field. Don’t you already find yourself cherishing the ice landscape already?
The Arctic is not just a space of wintry atmosphere and icy landscapes. Many tourists and researchers have been going to the Arctic for the valuable rocks it contains. A research from about ten years ago shows that the arctic has rocks that bear signature of 4.45 billion years whereas the earth is 4.54 billion years old. All three types of rock can be found in the arctic: metamorphic rock, igneous rock and sedimentary rock.
Snow mountains are the most common feature of arctic landscapes. You can find a snow mountain in each side you look. There are these snow mountains popular for its peaks and tourist accessibility:
- Mount Thor, Baffin Island, Nunavut, Canada
- Mount Asgard, Cumberland Peninsula of Baffin Island, Nunavut, Canada
- Mount Odin, Baffin Island, Canada
- Arctic Cordillera, northern Quebec, Canada
- Denali, Alaska, U.S.
- Ural Mountains, Russia
Lakes and Rivers
The arctic landscape mostly consists of water. There are countless lakes, ponds and rivers in the Arctic like Lake Taymyr, the Great Bear Lake, Yukon River, Yenisei River, the Great Slave Lake, etc. These are all freshwater water reserves and sometimes consist about 80% of an area. Fishes like arctic char and trout are in abundance in the arctic lakes and rivers.
Northern lights (or Aurora Borealis) are another polar area phenomenon. Collision between earth’s gaseous particles and charged particles from the sun’s atmosphere cause this miraculous view of lights. Any fixed definition of the characteristics of the northern lights is impossible. They can vary in colors, areas where they are seen and when they will be visible. They can be red, yellow, green, blue or violet in color and appear like clouds, rays, curtains or patches.
How can you see northern lights in an arctic landscape?
Contrary to what the name suggests, the northern lights can be seen both in the northern and southern poles of the earth. It’s mostly seen on Alaska, Canada, Norway and Greenland. But even Antarctica is prone to this miracle of nature. In Norway, the Northern lights are visible from October to March and in Greenland, they’re seen from late-September to April. Northern lights are only observable in clear and dark nights. There are dedicated services for tourists that arrange witnessing polar bear safely to observing the northern lights. Some of those services are:
- Polar Bear Migration Fly-In Photo Safari
- Spring Polar Bears and Icebergs of Baffin
- Private Polar Bear Migration Safari
- Northern Lights Fly-in Lodge
Exclusive to the northern hemisphere, arctic tundra is the permafrost land of barrenness. There is also another type of tundra which is called the alpine tundra. The arctic tundra is the region on top of mountains where no tree can grow due to the land being frozen for about 25 to 90 cm. Arctic vegetation like moss, heath and lichen grow in the tundra region but only during the summer which hardly lasts for 60 days. Facts and characteristics of the arctic tundra described in the following paragraphs.
Fun facts about Arctic Tundra
Here are some interesting facts about arctic tundra
- The condition of rainfall in the arctic tundra is the same as that of deserts- rare
- The word “Tundra” derives from “Tunturia”- Finnish word for “treeless plain”
- The arctic tundra is the coldest biome in the world
- The temperature in the tundra only allows musk ox, the polar bear, the Arctic fox, the Arctic hare, the caribou and the snowy owl to live there
- The tundra is now facing a very frail existence due to the melting of the permafrost
The arctic tundra is located in the northern regions of Europe, Asia and North America. It belongs to the north of the taiga belt. The arctic is divided into two zones: high arctic and low arctic. The tundra is prevalent in the low arctic.
Characteristics of Tundra
The distinguished nature and elements of the arctic tundra attest to its uniqueness. The elements of distinction are described below.
Permafrost (Frozen Ground)
Permafrost refers to the permanently frozen grounds. It’s not the surface of the ground that’s frozen but it’s beneath the surface where permafrost occurs. The outer surface of land is just a thin layer beneath which layers of permanently frozen soil, rock or sediment lie frozen forever. About 20% land of the earth are permafrost and nothing grows on them.
The barrenness of tundra is inscribed in its name of origin (treeless plain). Due to permafrost, nothing grows on tundra lands and the short summer also doesn’t help. Whatever little plant life is seen during summer lasts hardly for two months owning to the ephemeral length of the summer in the arctic. But still small shrubs, dwarf birch and willow trees, etc. can be seen in the arctic tundra.
Cold and Dry Climate
The climate in the tundra is one of the harshest and coldest in the world, and there is hardly any rainfall. Due to its positioning in the North Pole, the arctic tundra stays in complete darkness for half a year. The summer and winter in the arctic tundra are completely different.
Summer in the tundra is almost non-existent. There are common cases of the sun not going down for days. The permafrost defrosts during the summer which allows the plants to grow and the animals to roam in the tundra. Sometimes little precipitation of 6-10 inches is seen in the tundra. The summer temperature ranges between 3-12° C.
Winter never ends in the arctic tundra and the living things either die or go on hibernation during this winter of 8-10 months. Some animals fly to the south for shelter and returns back when summer comes. The average winter temperature in the arctic tundra is -34° C and there are several occurrences of the temperature stooping as low as -45° C.
Life in the Arctic Landscape
So far we’ve discussed about the arctic landscape in a way that almost makes it a harrowingly beautiful and exotic tourist spot where no life can sustain. While that might be true for the most of us, there are people living in the arctic for generations with their own cultures, traditions and heritages. Now is the time we get to know the people in the arctic landscape in an illustrative manner.
Anthropologists and archaeologists have discovered that humans have been living in the arctic for more than 20,000 years. The arctic people go by different names in different regions. They’re known as the Inuit in Greenland and Canada; there are Iñupiat, Athabascan and Yu’pik in Alaska and many others. There are around four million arctic people around the world. Arctic residency consists of both arctic people and people from the southern side of the latitude. These southern people have brought in their own methods of living in the arctic. Now they’re living in modern cities or towns. The detailed description of the arctic people will follow this paragraph.
Fun facts about arctic people
- In the Arctic, indigenous people consist only 10% of the whole population
- More than 40 divergent ethnic groups live in the Arctic
- The arctic people have adopted “change” as part of who they are due to their dynamic habitat
- Indigenous arctic people have their own forum for all sorts of issues called the Arctic Council
- The first Arctic people were not the Inuit but ‘Paleo-Eskimos’- a group from Siberian origin
The Inuit had to shape their food habit very exceptionally based on the scarcity of food. Since the Arctic doesn’t produce any vegetation, the Inuit has to solely rely on meat or fish for survival. The food habit of the arctic people hardly includes any spices or other ingredients and most of what they eat is raw, boiled or frozen. Some popular arctic dishes are:
- Akutaq: a preparation made out of fat, berries, tundra greens, fish and roots
- Bannock: prepared with white flour, water, sugar, lard, milk and sometimes dried fruits, spices and vegetable oil
- Igunaq: a type of fermented meat
- Whale’s bone
- Suaasat: a soup made out of whale, reindeer or seal, and potatoes and onions
Source of Life
The arctic people live like people from any other country. Traditionally, the arctic people have been engaged in professions like fishing, herding and hunting. These professions still hold their reputation among the arctic people but very few people still opt for these jobs in such a turbulent atmosphere. There are also mineral, renewable and biological resources from where the arctic people can live off pretty well.
The arctic people can be categorized in geographical and linguistic ways. The most common categorization, based on these two factors, is as follows:
- Koryaks- Siberia (Kamchatka Krai), Russia
- Chukchi- Siberia (Chukotka Autonomous Okrug), Russia
- Yakuts- Siberia (Sakha), Russia
- Evenks- China (Inner Mongolia and Heilongjiang), Mongolia, Russia
- Yupik- Alaska and the East Russian
- Inuit: Greenland, Northern Canada, Alaska and United States
- Iñupiat: Northwest Arctic
- Mansi, Yugra, Siberia, Russia
- Sami: Finland, Russia, Northern Norway, Sweden
- Yukaghirs, East Siberia, Russia
- Karelians, Finland and Russia
Arctic natives include different indigenous groups and people from the south have also settled in for quite some time. The natives have changed their lifestyle with the progress of globalization. The value of the different arctic cultures is something the arctic people still hold dear. They still live in extended families and tell folklore and myths to children.
The European discovered the Scandinavian arctic areas about a thousand years ago. Around 930 A.D., the Scandinavian Vikings went on an expedition in the southern parts of Greenland. The weather was temperate and they settled in. But in the little ice age of the 1300s, they got totally trapped in the land and ceased to navigate between Greenland and their Scandinavian origin. Russians started their exploration into the arctic during the 11 -12th centuries. In 1800, the Northwest Passage was discovered and in 1909, an American explorer reached the North Pole for the first time.
Modern arctic people live in modern towns and cities. They are engaged in the oil and the gas industry that are abundant in the arctic under the permafrost pressure. The tourism business is also thriving in the arctic landscape. More researchers and scientists are coming in and researches are made on how to turn the resources to full usage, how to make the arctic more livable for other people and how to make the arctic a more commercial place for tourism.
Since plants can’t grow in the usual manner in the arctic due to permafrost, they have adapted different methods of growing in such a barren land. The plants in the arctic are hardly detectable due to their small sizes. They grow in bulk and remain close to the ground. Some of these plants grow a fuzzy layer on top of them to keep warm. Some common plants of the arctic are described below.
Also known as Arctic Cotton, these are plants that produce white, wooly, round fruit on every stem. The caribou and the snow geese eat cottongrass. It’s also used as a wick inside the traditional arctic lamps known as Kudlik and clumps of cottongrass are used as an alternative to baby diapers.
This is more like a dwarf willow tree. Arctic willows grow 15-25 cm in height, have green leaves and are round. There are many uses for this particular plant. It keeps insects like arctic wooly bears away by producing a pesticide. It’s a great food source for nearly all the arctic animals- caribou, arctic hares, Muskoxen, lemmings, etc. The plant is also used as fuel, medicine and food for humans.
Lichen and Moss
Lichen can grow on rocks and thus an ideal plant for the tundra. Lichen is a fungi-algae combo. Lichens have the most sustainable life in all of the tundra where it can remain alive even after being under ice for 3 years or more. They are the most important food source for caribou. There’s also Reindeer lichen that got its name from the tiny antlers on top of them. Mosses grow in bulk and look like a single plant covering a wide area. They grow on moist grounds and can even grow underwater with enough sunlight.
There are different beautiful flowers in the arctic landscape, most of them being in the tundra. The flowers have a very short span of life and can only bloom in summer. Some of the arctic flowers are characterized as below.
Pasque flowers are mostly found in the tundra regions of Alaska and the U.S. It can be 5-20 cm long and has silky hairs as protection against the cold climate. The flower stays for one month only.
Even in the bleak surroundings of the arctic, the purple saxifrage brings beauty. The leaves of this flower are purple and leathery. They are the first plant to grow in the arctic and they grow in clumps. They’re as small as 1 cm and the star-shaped leaves add to their elegance.
The arctic poppy has the toughest stems in all of the arctic but their petals are pretty delicate and are either yellow or white in color. The highest they can grow is 10-15 cm long. They thrive on energy from the sun and they’re constantly whirling their heads towards the sun. As adaptation methods, the arctic poppy grows black hairs, camouflages in white and grows on rock while remaining moist.
The toughest animals in the world can be found in the arctic regions due to the extremely harsh weather. They’ve adapted different methods for surviving in the winter like hibernating, growing thicker fur in winter than summer, fat reserving, etc.
Fun facts about arctic animals
- Animals like arctic foxes can change the color of their fur for camouflaging
- Many birds and animals go to the south when the winter is coldest
- Snowy owl is the of the only owls that hunt in during daytime
- Arctic hares runs at 40miles/hour
- The wolverine is only a weasel but the largest in the species
The name “arctic” itself has its root in the white polar bears found in the area. Polar bears are only found in the Arctic and not in the Antarctic. They can smell their food (mostly seal) from more than half a mile away. Arctic bears live in the sea ice since they hunt there for seals.
Also known as the Arctic Elk, moose are the largest and heaviest of the deer family. There are 6 subspecies of moose in the arctic. The male moose have huge antlers that they shed each year after mating and the female moose have no antlers. Moose are herbivorous.
These hares have smaller ears than regular hares. They have thick fur and 20% of their bodies are made of fat. They’re mostly available in the tundra region of North America. They remain under the snow in groups to share warmth during winter.
Arctic foxes can live under -50°C. They are the only member of the canid family with the ability to change fur color. In summer, they have grey or brown coat and in winter, it’s white. Even their paws have furs which allow them to walk in the coldest of winter with ease.
A subspecies of the grey wolf, arctic wolves are found in the arctic regions of Canada and Greenland. They’re around 3-6 feet tall and with their small ears, they conserve body heat. They hunt in groups and musk oxen and Caribou are their usual prey. In winter, they grow a second fur.
Caribou are also known as reindeers and are found in the northern arctic zones of Greenland, Europe, Asia and North America. Caribou go to the north after traveling more than 600 miles in summer for food in the tundra. Their foods include mosses, lichens, mushrooms and grasses.
Walruses are found near the Arctic Circle. They’re distinguished for their tusks, fatty body, whiskers and pinkish brown skin. They can “tooth-walk” with their iconic tusks and breaks holes into the ice to breathe.
Mostly found on the southern coast of Russia, they’re considered the most beautiful of all the pinnipeds. They have black skin with four white markings all over the skin. Their movements are like that of a snake’s. Ribbon seals remain in the water during summer and autumn. In winter, they haul-out to give birth.
The white colored and yellow-eyed predator hunts during daytime. Lemmings, tiny rodents, hares, squirrels are snowy owl’s favorite preys. They breed in the arctic tundra. They fly at a great speed and can even knock over a human.
Lemmings belong to the rodent family and are only found in the Arctic. They’re 13-18 cm and have soft fur of brown and black color. Even in winter, they hunt for food. They live inside burrows under snow for protection from both the climate and the predators.
Arctic waters have more than 240 species of fishes. Most of the arctic fishes live at the bottom of the water with a few exceptions of living in the open water. The major arctic fishes will be described in the following paragraphs.
Fun facts about arctic fishes
- The Arctic Ocean houses the highest number of fishes in the world
- There are 4 whale and 6 seal species in the arctic waters
- The arctic fishes have the most congenial food cycle in the world
- Arctic fishes use the Arctic Refuge to breed and stay in winter
Also known as Orca, killer whales are one of the most dangerous predators. They have four inches long teeth and they use them to hunt down squids, sea birds, sea lions, seals and other whales. Their special black and white color and high intelligence make them distinguished.
Arctic Refuge was founded in 1960 and it presently holds a space of 79,000 square km. There are fishes of freshwater species, anadromous species and marine species in the refuge. These fishes include
- Round whitefish
- Lake trout
- Northern pike
- Arctic char
- Alaska blackfish
- Pink salmon
- Rainbow smelt
- Arctic lamprey
- Pacific herring
- Saffron cod
- Bering wolffish
These are a freshwater fish that belongs to the salmon family. They can grow up to 76 cm in length. They don’t feed on other fishes but on aerial insects during early summer. Arctic graylings are found in Canada, Siberia and Alaska.
With a belly that looks like a flaming fire, Dolly Varden has attracted a lot of people. They live and breed where there is abundance of springs. Their lifespan can be up to 16 years and they are 12-20 inches in length.
Although not quite popular internationally, Arctic Cisco has local value in terms of providing food and bringing in capital. They eat invertebrates in the water and can be as long as 20 inches.
Current State in Arctic Landscapes
The arctic landscape is not the same today as it was even 10 years ago. More towns and cities are growing in the region with commercial success. The natives don’t have to forcefully immigrate to other countries and moreover, people from other countries are coming to live in the arctic. But with the massive impact of global climate change, the arctic landscape is facing both challenges and opportunities at the same time.
- The Arctic will gain more economic outcome with the warmer winters
- Tourism will increase in the region if it becomes more inhabitable
- Many people might even settle in the arctic, thus creating a balance in the world population
- The native people don’t have to worry about surviving winter throughout the year
- Permafrost thawing releases carbon dioxide in the atmosphere
- The arctic will be facing threat of exploitation once the lands become accessible
- If the arctic snow starts melting, the sea level of the whole world will rise to a catastrophic level
The arctic landscape is booming with all sorts of beauties and perils. The rawness of the arctic landscape is probably the only natural place on earth that humans could not taint with artificiality. The Arctic works as a balance in the world climate and the recent increase in the arctic temperature is a sign that the condition of the environment depends on our actions. Not only for the sake of the arctic landscape or the arctic people but for the very sustenance of life in general, we should start being careful about our actions as to the environment.