Arctic Land

Land area, ice cover and landscape: There seems to be a wide-spread misbelief that arctic land areas (about 11 million km2) are basically covered by glaciers and snow. In reality, just 20 % of arctic land are hidden under ice (and of these 2.1 km2, about 1.8 are located on Greenland), while on the remaining 9 million square kilometres, snow melts away at least for a short period during polar summer and on tundra, or in northernmost areas, polar deserts. And if one should describe the most frequent arctic scenery on land, then this would be flat to gently hilly endless open tundra, with extensive bogs, ponds streams and rivers scattered over it: this is the landscape of much of northernmost Siberia, mainland northern Canada and northern Alaska. Of course, there are huge mountain ranges, steep cliffs and glaciers and ice caps in between, as well, and tourism focusses mostly onto these parts of the high Arctic, with Spitsbergen and Greenland as the most frequently visited high arctic destinations, while most of the arctic land areas on the other hand is hardly ever visited.

Permafrost and precipitation: As the soil is frozen in the depth (permafrost - in Siberia occasionally more than 1000 m deep) and only the surface layer is melting during summer, water cannot drain away into the depth. This is the reason for widespread swamps, bogs and ponds, even though precipitation in arctic regions is typically very low - with extreme polar deserts in northernmost areas e.g. in Peary Land of northern Greenland, which is only glaciated in small parts, due to the lack of snow. Thanks to the barrier of the permafrost, which prevents drainage of meltwater and the little rain, hikers in Arctic regions have to be prepared for partly very wet terrain, while for the vegetation, this barrier is a blessing: it holds back the little of water which is available, close to the surface, thus helping the plants in these semi-deserts.

Northernmost land point: Off the shore of Greenlands' North coast in the shallow ice-covered shelf sea, the northernmost land point of the world is situated on a small pebble island at about 83° 40' N.

Highest mountain: The highest mountains situated entirely in the true Arctic, reaches an elevation of 3 733 m above sea level, peeking out of the inland ice of East Greenland. However, there are some higher mountain peaks in Alaska not far south of the tree line, which are considerably higher, most prominent among them Mount McKinley (Denali) with 6 193 m above sea level. 

Last Modification: 01.04.2010