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Also known as the South Pole and the North Pole, Antarctica and the Arctic are the earth's polar regions. Antarctica is covered in ice, and surrounded by the Southern Ocean.

If you are unfamiliar with that term, that is because prior to 2000, the Southern Ocean was a traditional mariner's term, considered by most to be the location where the Atlantic, Pacific and Indian Oceans met. In 2000, the Southern Ocean was made official by the International Hydrographic Organization. The Southern Ocean includes the Amundsen Sea, Bellingshausen Sea, Drake Passage, Ross Sea, Weddell Sea, and a portion of the Scotia Sea.

About ninety-eight percent of Antarctica is covered by ice, which formed about twenty-five million years ago. The ice shrinks during the summer, and Antarctica gets smaller.

Antarctica is the only continent that is virtually uninhabited, except for as many as fifty thousand people staffing research facilities. In 1959, a treaty was signed, setting the Antarctic region aside for research purposes, with no country claiming it as its own. The treaty also bans nuclear testing. One of the research facilities in the Antarctic is the McMurdo Station, which resembles a small city.

The continent is not without animal life, however. About eight-five different types of crustaceans are in the Southern Ocean, collectively known as krill. The South Pole is also home to penguins, seals, and whales. The Arctic is not actually a continent but includes the Arctic Ocean and parts of Alaska, Canada, Greenland, Iceland, Lapland, Norway, and Russia. Like the South Pole, the Arctic is covered by ice. Despite a lack of trees and a frozen ground, the North Pole is home to birds, fish, marine animals, land animals, and people who have adapted to living under its extreme conditions, although Santa Claus has not actually been sighted.

The Arctic is sometimes known as the Land of the Midnight Sun because it is night there for half the year, and day for the remainder of the year, depending on whether the North Pole is facing away or towards the sun. In the winter, the temperatures in the Arctic may reach as low as 22 degrees Fahrenheit, while in the summer they are seldom higher than the freezing point of 32 degrees, much colder than the Antarctic. The number of months in which the average daily temperatures never rise above freezing increases the farther north you go. The cause of the Arctic cold, even during the months when the sun is up, is due to the sun's failure to rise high in the sky. Rather, its rays strike the ground obliquely, spreading solar energy thinly, but over a larger patch of ground.

Although the Arctic has four seasons, as in temperate latitudes, the Arctic winters are long, the summers short, and the seasons in between are less dramatic. When the Arctic sky is fully dark, which it never is in high summer, the chances are very good for viewing a spectacular display of the aurora borealis, otherwise known as the northern lights.

Nevertheless, the North Pole is home to such animals as the musk ox, polar bears, grizzly bears, sheep, caribou, moose, wolves, arctic foxes, wolverines and weasels, arctic hares, ground squirrels, beaver, walruses, and several species of birds.

Like the Antarctic, the Arctic is not a place where most people would like to live, but scientists have undertaken expeditions to the Arctic for centuries, and in more recent years the region has seen cruise ships, scientific vessels, ice camps, and permanent research facilities.

Unlike the Antarctic, the Arctic has long been populated by humans, including several indigenous people who make up more than half of its current population, chief among them being the Indians, Inuit, and the Métis. Although both are cold areas with a lot of ice, there is a difference between the Arctic and the Antarctic, particularly in their environment, animal life, plant life, and human activity.

The Antarctic is a continent surrounded by the planet's stormiest seas, while the Arctic is a frozen ocean with masses of land within the circle. Much of the reason why there is more human activity in the Arctic is that it was discovered long before the Antarctic. Also, Antarctica is covered by ice throughout the year, while the Arctic supports trees and flowering plants during its summer season. Web sites whose topics are focused on either the Arctic or the Antarctic are appropriate for this category.



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