Along the way, we’ll learn about the Arctic Circle, the Midnight Sun, the Arctic Ocean’s animal inhabitants, and some of the explorers who preceded us to this difficult-to-reach and inhospitable location.
A Trip to the North Pole
You are finally here: the North Pole. Temperatures are between 25 and 35 Fahrenheit, (-1.5° and -4°C) with wind conditions that make it seem colder.
You’re floating on an ice floe with Arctic seabirds soaring overhead, knowing that everyone else on the planet is precisely south from where you are standing.
The North Pole is at the exact intersection of the Earth's axis and the Earth's surface. If you were to look at a globe, you would see that its latitude is 90 degrees north and its longitude is 0 degrees west.
The North Pole lies in the middle of the Arctic Ocean, on ice-covered water. Directly overhead is Polaris, or the North Star. Ancient explorers have used Polaris to navigate the Northern Hemisphere for thousands of years.
Today’s ships have sophisticated tools to break through the ice of the North Pole. According to scientists, fewer icebreakers will be needed in summer months, as the North Pole becomes ice-free due to global warming within the next 50 years.
Who Lives at the North Pole?
Constant movement of the ice makes habitation of the North Pole nearly impossible. The countries of Canada, Greenland, and Russia nearly encircle the pole, but have never made homes there.
Outside the territorial claims of any country, a special council resolves any issues faced by nations and indigenous people within the Arctic Circle.
This Arctic Council is made up of nations with territory in the Arctic Circle, including Canada, Denmark, Finland, Iceland, Norway, Russia, Sweden, and the United States.
24 Hours of Day
The Arctic Circle is always tilted toward the sun in the summer and away from the sun in the winter. This results in up to 24 hours of sunlight in the summer and 24 hours of darkness in the winter.
Above the Horizon
At the Pole, the sun is always above the horizon in the summer and below the horizon in the winter. During the summer months, the Arctic Circle is always tilted toward the sun, while in winter it’s tilted away.
Land of the “Midnight Sun”
Don’t count on a photograph of a spectacular sunrise or sunset at the land of the "Midnight Sun." The North Pole experiences only one sunrise at the Spring Equinox in March and one sunset at the Fall Equinox in September.
The North Pole is in the middle of the smallest of Earth’s oceans, the Arctic. The ice stays in nearly continuous motion by the wind and the water. The wind and water cause the formation of cracks in the ice called leads and open wider expanses of water called polynya.
They also create pressure ridges, where great sheets of ice collide, causing ice to pack up in high stacks, reaching down into the ocean as far as 80 feet.
Swimming Below the Ice
The sea ice becomes thinner in the warmer summer months, and becomes thicker during the long 6-month winters. As the ice shrinks and grows, it releases cold water into the ocean, which then circulates into the ocean system.
Icy water helps to reduce the overall temperature of the sea, making it livable for the oceanic creatures of the North Pole, including the rare narwhal whales. Without ice, these species would have to survive the increased temperature.
Floating on Top of the Ice
Polar bears sometimes wander across the ice packs in search of food, such as ringed and bearded seals. Polar bears don’t raise their young at the North Pole because the drifting ice is too unpredictable.
Birdwatchers enjoy spotting the Arctic’s many avian species, including the Arctic tern, which has the longest yearly migration of any species on Earth. From the Arctic Circle, it flies 18,641 miles south to the Antarctic Circle every year!
An Abandoned Station
You can recognize some of the old mechanical equipment in this abandoned polar station, even though the building has been worn by the elements.
From 1929 to 1959, this was a fully operational research station on Hooker Island in Franz Josef Land, an archipelago comprised of 192 islands in the Arctic Circle.
The Russians came to the island for the first time in 1913, during a failed attempt to reach the North Pole by the Soviet navy officer Georgiy Sedov.
Despite early claims, many alleged voyages to the North Pole were disputed for lack of proof. Finally, on May 12, 1926, the international team of Roald Amundsen, Lincoln Ellsworth, and Umberto Nobile indisputably made it to the pole.
Since the late 1950s, many have tried to capitalize on the natural resources of the North Pole. Ships carrying valuable cargo save money by taking a “short cut” past the North Pole, making possession of its waters desirable.
The North Pole’s isolated location, ice cover, and stormy climate make this exploration and development difficult. These same adverse conditions make studying the North Pole a challenge, especially since there’s no land for permanent laboratories.