Characteristics of the Arctic Nature

Light Conditions
As the largest part of the Arctic is located north of the Arctic Circle or just south of it, extreme light conditions do prevail in these regions. In summer, the sun does not set and and stays above the horizon permanently, though partly at a low angle. These hours of light increast form a couple of days just north of the Arctic Circle up to the Pole with about 6 months of permanent light. Just south of the Arctic Circle, there is still light twilight at midnight. Especially in regions of the high Arctic, like Spitsbergen, northern Greenland, the North of Nunavut or the northern Russian island, there is practically no difference in between day and night. Based on these circumstances, the traveler experiences the freedom of individual timing in the Arctic. In contrast to this is the polarnight of the winter, during that time the sun does not rise over the horizon. In southern regions of the Arctic twilight prevails at least during noon. But in the areas of higher latitude 24 hours of night dominate the day - one of the most faszinating experiences that in comparison to the nidnight sun only a small number of Middle Europeans could witnesses.
These extremly seasonal variations bear a great challenge for the nature and causes in coorporation with the extreme climate a relativ poverty of speecies: only a small number of species discovered ways to survive the long, dark and cold winter period, e.g. by long migrations into the South.

Northern Lights
The northern ligths are a phenomenon that is noth only limited to the Arctic, but it is especially intensive in these areas. Particles of the sun that are deflected by the magnetic field of the Earth to the direction of the Poles, collide with particles of the upper atmosphere and cause this light phenomenon. Thes so-called arora borealis appears all year round, but it can only be seen during the darkness, due to its low intensity.
The greatest intensity of northern lights is located in a belt between 65°N and 75N. However, positions more to the North have the possibility of observation all day round, like Longyearbyen for example where it is dark enough for 24 hours during the deep of winter.

Climate
In contrast to the prevailing opinion, the Arctic is not the coldest area of the northern hemisphere. This is due to the fact of the warming influence of the ocean. Arctic records of low temperatures may fall exeptionally to -60°C in the center of Canda. In comparison to this, a minimum temperature of -77,8°C has been measured in Central Sibiria measured are, which is distinctly located much further south. In arctic regions close to the sea temperatures below -40°C occur very seldom, especially in the European Arctis with a residual influence of the Gulf Stream. A more crucial factor for the travaler is the wind: -10°C during strong gale in the usually quite open landscape are much more dangerous than -40°C with dead calm.
An other wrong conclusion is an Arcitc that very rich in snow and covered year-round with it. In fact, most of the Arctic area is characterised by low precipitation and during the short polar summer snow melts, at least in regions with low elevation and no glacial ice cover. In the very high latitudes the precipitation is so low that not even glaciers can develop (polar desert), like e.g. great parts of Northern Greeland.

Permafrost
In regions with a mean annual temperature below 0°C, the ground stays frozen all year round, at least in the depth. This is due to the fact that summer warmth cannot compensate for the loss of heat during the rest of the year. Only the uppermost soil layer melts - the so-called active layer - during the summer for a short time and permits higher plants to develop. The underlying soil layer is frozen perennial and can reach depths up to 1000 m. Here the internal heat of the Earth melts the ice. Permafrost is located practically in the entire Arctic and Antarctic but as well behind these borders: e.g. in non-arctic high mountain ranges or especially in great parts of the boreal forest of the centers of Sibiria and Northern America. Frozen grounds show a number of special properties and partly spectacular phenomenons, like patterns caused by freeze- and thaw movements, even though it might not be visible at the surface. The frozen ground prevents melt water and precepitatin to penetrate into the depth. This often causes soaked terrain with unpleasent well-camouflaged boggy ground included. Therefore, a specific experience with this kind of condition might be important.

Fauna and flora
Due to the harsh conditions of the polar regions, especially to the extensive stagnation during the dark winter, the existing species have to  undergo a specific adaption. Only a relatively small amount of species on land are succesfull in this project. Therefore, only a small amount of species exists on land, however, some species occur with a lot of individuals, e.g. for the verteberates some Alk species. This relative poverty of species causes the arctic nature to be more vulnerable to changes, also anthropogenetic. The diversity of species in the Arctic Sea is greater than on land, as long as the sea is only partly or occasionally covered by sea-ice. And in addition, the sparse life on land depends not seldom on the supply from the sea, like e.g. on the nutrients transfer from the ocean to the land by marine birds. Verteberates adapt to the cold often by a relativaly round and big shape of body, as a great and compact volume does not cool as rapid as fine-boned bodies.
The arctic living nature seems to be pure and untuched. However, in reality it is influenced by humans since millenia, as all other parts of the Earth are. Almost all of the species of the great mammals have vanished, like the mammoth, wolly rhinoceros, wild horse, steppe wisent. Other species on contrast, benefited of the disapearence of the earlier food competitors. Their numbers of individuals increased, like the reindeer, but those species of marine birds as well that occur now en masse. The latter fill up the gap of the arctic baleen whales that have been decimated during the last millenias, as consumers of the microbes of the sea.
Lately, the arctic ecosystem has been severely influenced by from adjacent areas: like especially overfishing or pollution of the sea and the athmosphere by agglomerations more to the south. The latter inparticular might cause further changes in the arctic nature in the future. Therefore, the arctic nature that is experienced as a tourist is to a certain part a result of human activity, even in the most remote areas. And that is not realised by most of the visitors.


Last Modification: 01.04.2010