Skip to content

Arctic and Antarctica

The term Arctic comes from the Greek term "arktos" which means "bear", referring to the constellation Ursa Minor, in which the pole star is located, the main reference to locate north at night. While the Antarctic concept comes from two words of the same language: "anti" (the opposite of) and "arktos" (the bear), that is, the "opposite of the Arctic". This refers to the fact that one is located in the north (North Pole) and the other in the south (South Pole).

The Arctic and Antarctic are two "ends of the world" located at opposite ends of the planet, separated by about 18,750 km. Both regions are quite different in terms of geography, organization, population, flora and fauna, and even temperature. Similarly, the geopolitics of the zones are not similar, as are their economic activities. In addition, the polar regions play a crucial role in the planet's climate system and have a significant impact on global circulation patterns of air mass and oceans. Small changes to their complex structures can have far-reaching consequences.

That is why international interest in the arctic and subarctic regions increased during the 20th century, particularly since World War II. There are three main factors involved: the advantages of the North Pole route as a shortcut between major population centers, the increasing realization of economic potentialities such as mineral resources, and the importance of regions in the study of world meteorology.

The Artic

Also called the North Pole, the Arctic is a sea of ice, which can reach 4 km deep. It is located at the highest altitude in the northern hemisphere, and occupies one sixth of the earth's surface with 16.5 million km². The Arctic glacial ocean is the smallest on earth and has contact with the Atlantic Ocean to the north, receiving large masses of water through the Fram Strait and the Barents Sea; and the Pacific Ocean through the Bering Strait, between Russia and Alaska.

The region is bounded by Europe, Asia and [America]( /region/north america); In addition, it is made up of the northern regions of Norway, Iceland, Sweden, Finland, the archipelagos of the great north of Canada, Greenland (Denmark), the northernmost coasts of Russia and Alaska (United States), including the Arctic Ocean.

On the other hand, its population is approximately 4 million inhabitants and it is made up of indigenous communities that have adapted to extreme conditions, as well as to live in harmony with the cold environment. Major indigenous peoples in the region include Inuit (Alaska, Canada, Greenland, Russia), Saami (Norway, Sweden, Finland, Russia), Athabascan Indians (Alaska, Canada), Aleuts (Alaska, Russia), and a few others. north of Russian territory.

In relation to cooperation between regional States, including indigenous communities and other organizations interested in environmental protection, there is a high-level forum called Arctic Council. This international organization was founded in 1996 by the eight Arctic nations: Canada, Denmark, Finland, Iceland, Norway, Russia, Sweden and the United States. In addition, it grants permanent representation, as full members, to indigenous peoples. The Council aims to promote the environmental, economic and social aspects of sustainable development in the region, by holding a meeting every two years.

In another order of ideas, its climate is characterized by cold winters, cool summers and low precipitation in the form of snow. Average winter temperatures can drop as low as -40°C, and the coldest recorded temperature is approximately -68°C. However, climate change is having enormous consequences by increasing the degrees registered in the region. The Arctic has even warmed faster than the rest of the world in recent decades. This warm environment allows the thawing of its sensitive ice cap, causing a phenomenon known as "Arctic amplification".

Regarding its local fauna, the North Pole shows a wonderful variety among which whales, cetaceans, seals, walruses, polar bears and an endless number of fish, such as cod and herring, stand out. Likewise, its seabed is rich in organisms called benthic, and its vegetation highlights the arctic tundra, made up of almost three hundred species. However, the fauna and flora are threatened by climate change, living organisms are not used to high temperatures, at the same time that the thaw in the area causes their habitat to disappear.

In relation to natural wealth, under the Arctic Ocean there are significant amounts of oil, natural gas, tin, manganese, gold, nickel, lead and platinum, estimated at 25% of world reserves. Thus, it is understood that the region is a territory coveted by the countries that delimit it, among which Denmark, Canada, the United States, Norway and Russia stand out, even by others more distant, such as China, for which the situation has multiple positive consequences. . By way of example, the opening of new interoceanic navigation routes between northern Europe and Shanghai is considered, as well as mining access in Greenland. The aforementioned reasons are why, in just a few years, the Arctic region has come to be considered a new area of economic development and commercial power.

The antartida

Also known as Antarctica, it circles the South Pole and is the most recently discovered continent of all. It ranks fourth in reference to its size, after Asia, the Americas and Africa, with a total area of approximately 14 million km² during the summer and 30 million throughout the winter, of which 98% is covered by a layer of ice. This change in its territory, the result of seasonal changes, has earned it the name "Pulsating Continent".

Regarding the geographical issue, its limit is located at the Antarctic Convergence, including the Georgias and South Sandwich Islands (near the American continent). Its shape is almost circular, 4,500 km in diameter and has two pronounced inlets that form a narrow "S"-shaped peninsula, projected over the southern tip of South America. It has an active volcano located on the eastern coast of Ross Island, called Mount Erebus. The region is divided into Western or Lesser Antarctica, and Eastern or Greater Antarctica. Both areas are partially separated by a notch that is located between the Weddell Sea and the Ross Sea, also called Sunken Antarctica.

On the other hand, it is a region that has no native population, since it separated from the rest of the continents long before human beings evolved, which is why it has been isolated for more than 35 million years. However, in the 20th century, claims from different countries to its possession began. As a result, the [Antarctic Treaty] ( was born in 1959, which establishes that the territory does not belong and cannot belong to any country (terra nullius), thus annulling any attempt at annexation. In addition, free access is granted to scientists of any nationality, as well as the exchange of their results, so today the region is not completely uninhabited. There are around 70 scientific bases from various countries that house around a thousand people in summer and 600 in winter.

A rather peculiar phenomenon of Antarctica is its days and nights, which fluctuate depending on the season. In the height of summer, the days in Antarctica have light for almost 24 hours, only until midnight does the sun go down to rise again in an apparent sinusoidal movement, which is known as white nights. On the contrary, during the long winter the days remain in a prolonged gloom. Also, south of the Antarctic Circle there is a day when the sun does not set, which begins the summer solstice, and a night when the sun does not rise, known as the winter solstice. This is due to the rotation and inclination of the plane of the Earth's orbit around the star.

From a climatic point of view, Antarctica is the coldest, driest, windiest continent and with the highest average height (more than 2,000 meters above sea level) on the planet. The annual temperature is usually -55°C, but -77°C has been recorded inside the territory. Due to this extreme climate, the existence of living organisms is very scarce. Of the little and simple vegetation that is found are algae, mosses, lichens and fungi.

On the other hand, fauna abounds in the ocean that surrounds it, where you can find leopard seals, Weddell seals, penguins and fish adapted to living below 0°C. However, as a consequence of global warming, the water temperature of the Antarctic Ocean has increased by approximately two degrees Celsius, which threatens to cause a major and abrupt ecosystem change with the irruption of predatory species that until recently were kept away by the cold.

Likewise, the Antarctic area is highly rich in fresh water, since it contains 80% of the world's reserves. It also has important oil, gas, gold, uranium, and krill crustacean deposits, which are the basis of the Antarctic ecological chain and the food source of almost all other species. At the moment, there is no intention to exploit these resources, except for scientific purposes, when the Environmental Protocol of the Antarctic Treaty or Madrid Protocol was signed in 1991.

The future of the Poles

As can be seen, although both regions turn out to be quite similar, in reality they have significant differences, especially at the international level. Antarctica, for its part, is still far from human activities, because its low temperatures make it difficult to explore and stay in the territory. Meanwhile, the Arctic without temperatures as extreme as the South Pole, is at the same time an economic zone with great potential. Adding to this, the thawing of the area has influenced the attention directed towards the area, since the development of polar maritime routes, the exploitation of mineral and energy resources, among other aspects, have improved.