The Arctic Ocean is a seperate ocean around the North Pole, almost entirely cut off from the other oceans of the Earth. It is connected with the North Atlantic by the Fram Strait between Greenland and Spitsbergen and via the very narrow and shallow Bering Strait with the North Pacific. The depths of the Arctic Ocean reach below 4000m, but along its rims, there are huge much more shallow shelf areas of the adjascent continents, but also down to shallow shelf areas of 200 m at its margins. Large areas of the Arctic Ocean are covered by sea ice (about 75% in average, with a declining tendency) with large seasonal and extrem annual fluctuations: in general the sea ice reaches its largest extent in May and its smallest in September.
The ice pack in the central area of the Arctic Ocean consists of perannial, usually about 3.5 m thick ice. As this so-called multiyear ice is moved by ocean currents and wind pressure, it is always under movement, which cause both ice hummocks piling up to 30 m or elsewhere only tear the ice sheet into pieces.
The outside margin of the ice pack is built up of young ice, typically less than one year old, which grows during the winter half-year and melts during summer.
Huge variations of ice cover: With temperatures around Zero Celsius and thereby around the freezing point of water, temperature changes in the area of the Arctic lead to much more dramatic environmental changes than in warmer marine zones, because of the resulting increase or decrease of ice cover. The mean ice cover of the Arctic Ocean has retreated faster and faster during the last approximately 150 years, due to climate warming. Some simulations based on climate models show an Arctic Ocean that may be mostly free of sea ice in summer in 10-30 years. There have been other periods of a marked retreat of the northpolar ice pack since the end of the last great iceage, with possibly even almost no summer ice for several centuries.
While we witness a clear decrease of arctic sea ice cover at the moment since mid 19th century, its extent on the Arctic Ocean had increased significantly before, during the so-called Little Ice Age from 14th to 19th century, resulting probably in the maximal sea ice extent of all the last 10000 years since the latest big ice age.
North Pole: The geographic north pole is the northern crossing point of the 360 degrees of longitude thought around Earth as an East-West coordinates system, and at the same time pretty exactly the northern end of Earth´s rotation axis. The pole is situated in the Arctic Ocean, which is about 4260 m deep there, and usually covered all year by a thick layer of ice swimming on the ocean surface, moved by wind and currents, which makes impossible to mark the pole position permanently on its surface, but only on the sea bottom far below (done by russian submarine in 2007). The magnetic north pole of the magnetic field of Earth in contrast is very mobile, and currently moving slowly through the Canadian Arctic, more than 1000 km south of the geographic North Pole.
North Pole tourism: Since the 1990s, a considerable north pole tourism has developed, which has brought already thousands of tourists to the geographic north pole. Currently, the main options are:
» Flights from Longyearbyen/Spitsbergen with a special Russian jet plane to the Barneo drift ice station, which is installed every March anew on the drifting ice with heated tents, close to the pole, and then utilized for numerous tourist groups flown in and moving from here the last kilometres to the pole by helicopter, dogsledge or on skis. Prices start at about € 10000, with a total duration including waiting (weather, etc.) in Longyearbyen and Barneo of about 8-14 days.
» Nuclear icebreaker cruises from Murmansk (3-4 departures of about 14 days each in July/August) - on board of a Russian nuclear icebreaker 2 days across the Barents Sea, then breaking 4-5 days through the ice sheet of the Arctic Ocean, North Pole celebration, 4-5 days back through ice and then 2 days across the open Barents Sea back to Murmansk, eventual short landing in Franz Josef Land on the way up and down. Prices from € 18000 upwards.
To avoid disappointments, those considering a North Pole tour, should be aware of that the main aspects are: a lot of almost only ice for many days, the experience of all the impressive polar technology involved to make this possible, and the feeling of having been on the pole as one of thousands over the last decades. It is then an individual evaluation, whether this is worth the price and the substancial amount of ressources spent on this kind of tours - for some, this is the dream of their life, others see it as an image question and still others find it an absurd use of ressources.