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The Arctic vs Antarctica: 5 differences between these two frozen lands


Unlike anywhere else on earth

Almost 12,500 miles separate the Arctic from the Antarctic, two “ends of the world” lying at opposite extremes of the planet. Though these regions of the North and South Poles resemble each other, they present very different and unique natural spectacles to the visitor. So if your heart can’t decide between the Arctic and the Antarctic, follow our guide!

1. On solid land or out on the sea?

The primary difference between the Arctic and the Antarctic is a geological one. The Arctic is a sea of ice surrounded by land and located at the highest latitudes of the northern hemisphere. A region with vaguely defined limits, it extends over six countries that border the Arctic Ocean: Canada, the USA (Alaska), Denmark (Greenland), Russia, Norway and Iceland.

Antarctica, by contrast, is an entire continent to itself located in the southern hemisphere and 98 percent covered by an ice cap. There are mountains reaching a maximum of just over 16,000 feet in height to be found there. Though it is home to dozens of scientific bases, Antarctica does not belong to any country.

2. Terrain: long-inhabited or inhospitable?

Numerous populations of native peoples live at the North Pole. The Inuits of North America, the Sami of Northern Europe and the Yakuts at the edge of Siberia have long inhabited this vast territory. Each in their own way, they manage to cope with the wild and extremely harsh natural environment.

Inaccessible prior to the modern era, the South Pole remained untouched by human presence until 1821. Today still, this southern continent does not have any permanent inhabitants, just scientific teams that rotate on a regular basis.

3. Animals: tame and fearless or shy and enigmatic?

‘Arctic’ comes from the Greek word ‘arktos’, meaning ‘bear’ – the northern polar region is the sacred land of the polar bear, one of the largest land predators on the planet. Arctic foxes, caribou/reindeer, snowy owls and musk ox: the Arctic showcases a wonderful range of native fauna, though the animals are shy and fearful in the presence of humans.

In Antarctica, the marine fauna boasts sea lions, whales, seals and elephant seals, amongst other creatures. In addition, there are also around forty species of birds that inhabit the southern polar region. With human contact being both recent and extremely limited, the animals of the South Pole are quite fearless, making them a wonderful spectacle for visiting observers.

4. Cold or very cold?

Temperatures at the North Pole can vary quite significantly, with the thermometers dropping particularly low in February. In Norway and North America, it is not unusual for it to be over 50°F during the warmest months.

In Antarctica, the mercury can easily drop below -67°F, especially in mountainous areas. It was also on the frozen continent that the lowest natural temperature on Earth was recorded: -128.56°F!

5. Icebergs: small or large?

Literally mountains of ice – ‘isberg’ in Swedish and Norwegian –, the icebergs of the North Pole come from parts of the ice sheet that flow down to the sea. They are normally irregular, torn and jagged in shape, and relatively modest in size.

The largest icebergs in the world are found in the South Pole. Veritable mountains of frozen freshwater, they are an almost unbelievable sight to behold. In 2017, an iceberg measuring 2,200 m² in area broke off from an ice shelf in West Antarctica.

Amidst these two immense, frozen and barren landscapes, you quite simply get the sensation of being a tiny molecule standing remote and isolated from the real world. From the North to the South, a fantastical, dreamlike escape awaits you!

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