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Polar regions

Polar regions

Sea ice in the Weddell Sea, AntarcticaSea ice in the Weddell Sea, Antarctica Both the North Pole in the Arctic and the South Pole in Antarctica are bitterly cold places, covered with ice and snow all year round. The Arctic is quite different from Antarctica in one important way. It is not land at all, but an ocean covered by a vast, frozen cap of thick ice. Antarctica is a continent: beneath the ice, which is more than 3500 metres (11,500 feet) deep in places, there is land.

Polar bears play-fighting on Arctic pack icePolar bears play-fighting on Arctic pack ice


The Arctic, in the north, is an ocean: the Arctic Ocean. Most of it is permanently covered by an ice cap. The North Pole itself is not on land but on a floating sheet of ice, 2–3 metres (6–10 feet) thick—in the middle of the Arctic Ocean. In winter, pack ice forms around the edges of the ice cap. These are slabs of ice that are constantly being broken up and crushed together by the movement of the water underneath.

The aurora borealis, or Northern LightsThe aurora borealis, or Northern LightsGreenland and some Arctic islands are also ice-covered throughout the year. In other lands bordering the Arctic Ocean, the snow melts in late spring to reveal a treeless land called the tundra. Here the deeper soils are always frozen, but plants and flowers can grow in the shallow topsoil in summer, allowing a number of different kinds of animals to live there, such as reindeer (caribou) and musk oxen.

Aurorae, the northern or southern lights, are spectacular natural light displays in the Arctic or Antarctic skies. They are caused by the collision of high-energy particles from the Sun (known as the solar wind) with the Earth’s magnetic field in the high atmosphere.

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