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Arctic or Antarctic, what’s the difference?

It’s easy to imagine the Arctic and Antarctic as the same thing, no one would blame you as visually it might be hard to tell the difference without having any experience of either. So, we’ve put together some key differences between the two, and how this impacts expeditions to the North and South Poles and more.

There are several differences we can break down by category:

  • Climate
  • Wildlife 
  • Geography

 

Arctic and Antarctic animals

 

Arctic Fox

Arctic Fox

 

In general, there are far more species of animals living in the Arctic than in the Antarctic, including foxes, hares, birds, walrus, caribou, squirrels and lemmings to name a few. This is largely due to the Arctics connection with the mainlands of other continents, during the winter months with the sea freezes over. However, there are three celebrity animals which are exclusive to either location.

 

Polar bears and Narwhals

Perhaps most famous are polar bears, which cannot be found in the Antarctic. These creatures are only found in the Arctic and are factored into safety preparations for any expedition to the North Pole, explorers will always carry a rifle and ammunition to scare away or defend against these huge predators. Also only found in the Arctic are Narwhals, the strange looking beast with the long unicorn-esque horn.

Polar Bear

60% of all Polar Bears on Earth are found in Canada

 

Penguins

Penguins are only found in Antarctica and Southern tips of South America and Africa. This is likely because the Northern Arctic circle contains many land predators including polar bears, wolves and foxes and penguins are pretty much useless at defending themselves out of water (on account of not being able to fly or run). There was a colony of penguins manually introduced to the Arctic by researchers, but they died out or disappeared pretty quickly. 

 

Penguins in Antarctica

 

Aside from these key differences, both locations are a thriving habitat for other wildlife including seals and whales and are both excellent places for spotting wonderful creatures for most of the year.

 

Arctic Vs Antarctic climate

 

There are a few notable differences in the climates of both the Arctic and the Antarctic. Firstly, is the average temperature, which is warmer in the Arctic due to its lower altitude and warmer oceans beneath. The Antarctic on the other hand sits on average at 7500ft above sea level and has a solid base of land beneath. In any case, both places can and do reach extreme levels of cold, usually in the region of -30 to -45C in the winter months, but Antarctica holds the record for lowest ever temperature recorded on Earth, of -89.2C recorded at the Soviet Vostok Station in 1983!

Secondly is the humidity. The Antarctic is technically considered a desert, as it gets such little rain (snow) fall per year- almost any “snow” you’ll see there is likely to be ice from the ground being blown up and about by the wind. The Arctic comparatively is a lot more humid, and this is something that makes exploration there more difficult, as humidity inside tents and clothing can be deadly. 

 

Geography and Accessibility

 

Aside from literally being at opposite ends of the earth (hence, polar opposites) the Arctic is actually an ocean (a frozen one) surrounded by continents, and the Antarctic is a continent surrounded by oceans. So, they are almost opposites in terms of composition, too. The Arctic is usually defined by The Arctic Circle located at 66.5 degrees North, and the Antarctic is defined by the Antarctic Circle at 66.5 degrees south.

Due to the fact that the Arctic is actually a frozen ocean, if you want to trek to the North Pole then you’d have to attempt it in the winter months. This is because during summer, the Arctic actually shrinks to half its winter size, decapitating it from the mainlands. It also never really sits more than a few feet above the ocean, and for this reason explorers are always on alert against the risk of falling through the ice.

The Arctic Sea Ice

 

The Antarctic on the other hand, being supported almost entirely from beneath by land, and sitting at almost 3000m above sea level doesn’t pose as much of a risk of this. Interestingly enough, considering these facts, life in the Arctic is actually more plentiful, and there are human settlements including villages and roads inside the Arctic Circle (but nothing on the Arctic Ocean as is constantly moves and shifts, as oceans have a way of doing). In Antarctica there are no roads or villages, only a few permanent structures used for scientific research, including one at the South Pole. This can make for very different experiences when it comes to expeditions to either end of the Earth. Here are some tips for polar expeditions!

Antarctica

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