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Introduction

The Polar Regions are those areas of the world that surround the poles. The Polar Regions are also known as the frigid zones of the globe. The Earth has two poles, The North Pole and the South Pole. Both the poles are dominated by ice caps. The Polar Region around the North Pole is known as the Arctic Circle due to its location around the Arctic Sea in the north. The South Pole on the other hand is known as the Antarctic and it covers almost the entire south region on the earth. It is located around the Southern Sea.

The North Pole is located at the latitude of 60 degrees north while the South Pole is located at the latitude of 60 degrees south. The North Pole covers almost the entire northern part of the globe that includes Europe, North America, and Asia. These regions have varied cultures and living styles. There is hardly any population on the South Pole.

Day and Night in the Polar Regions

The days near the Arctic Circle and the Antarctic Circle are smaller compared to the places that are near the Equator. For the people living around these regions, there is a lesser amount of sunlight as the sun shines brightly at the Equator. For the people living near the Equator, the days are longer and there is more sunlight. Also the days are warmer  compared to the days near the North Pole and the South Pole. This is particularly true during the winter season. The people living around the North Pole and South Pole experience extreme winters. Most of the time, the areas are covered with the snow forcing people to stay indoors.

Both the poles have a time during the year when the sun does not set for the entire day and night. The North Pole experiences a day on June 21 every year when the sun does not set. For the South Pole the day when the sun does not set is December 21. Just as there is a day when the sun does not set on the two poles, there is also a day when the sun does not rise. There is a long night of 24 hours. For the North Pole, the long night falls on December 1 every year while for the South Pole; the long night is on June 21. During the winters, the number of hours of sunlight for each day keeps reducing with each passing day till the day when the sun does not rise at all. Similarly, during the summers, the number of hours for sunlight keeps increasing every day till the day when the sun does not set at all. This is due to the tilting of the earth's axis.

Right at the poles, the entire year is like a day. The sun does not set for six months and then it does not rise for another six months. In other words, the sun shines brightly for six months and it remains dark for the next half year. For such places, the rises during the spring, reaches its peak during the summers, starts setting during winters and the nights arrives during the winters. This is how the four seasons of the year are demarcated at the North Pole and the South Pole.

The Vegetation in Polar Regions

When one imagines about the life on Polar Regions, it is hard to believe that there is any kind of vegetation on those frozen lands. This is one of those common misconceptions of the people.  It is true that there are only vast lands on snow and the entire area is covered by ice for most part of the years and there is hardly any life. The ice in these areas is about 10 meters to 3 feet deep.  But it is only partially true as only the South Pole is void of any plant or human life. The Arctic or the North Pole contains some unique vegetation types. The plant life here has adapted to the climate and is able to survive the harsh conditions. The soil in this region is mostly frozen. The frozen subsoil is known as permafrost.

The Arctic Circle comes under the tundra vegetation type. Most of the area is treeless as the land is covered with snow and ice. During winters, the temperature drops as low as -94F and therefore there is hardly any vegetation during this time. During summers, the days are full of bright sunlight and the temperature can go up to as high as 54F. This leads to melting of some snow and ice thus giving a chance to support vegetation. The plans that grow in this area include the low lying shrubs, grasses, sedges, lichens, and mosses.  There are about 1700 species of plants that grow in the Arctic regions and only 400 species produce flowers. The growing season in the region lasts for about 60 days in a year.  There is a possibility of low height birch trees at the lower altitude terrains. The terrains at lower altitudes do not have the frozen permafrost and therefore these parts of the Polar Regions are able to support some vegetation.

For most plants in this tundra region, the leaves turn to red colour so that they can absorb more sunlight for their growth. The vegetation in these areas grows like the mats. The vegetation is found in large groups and is at a very low height. The grouping and closeness to each other help the plants sustain strong winds, harsh climatic conditions and equally harsh soils. As there is a very short vegetative period, the ecosystem in the Polar Regions is very weak and therefore gets impacted by the slightest changes in the climate. For example, the global warming is adversely affecting the vegetation in these regions. As a result, the animals thriving on this vegetation are also facing the dangers of extinction.  There is a constant threat to the plant and animal life in Polar Regions and that is the reason for their limited survival.

Climate in the Polar Regions

The climate in the Polar Regions is extremely dry, cold and strong winds. The layers of atmosphere in these regions are very thin and therefore the harmful UV rays often are a reason for many problems. As the Polar Regions consist of UV rays and are vast lands of snow, there are strong chances of snow blindness. Also, the UV rays can cause fast tanning of the skin. The winds in the Polar Regions are very strong. The strong winds carry snow and can cause blizzards in the Region. The strong winds carrying snow also creates snow dunes as there is too much blowing of the snow. Along with snow, the winds also carry the minute particles of vegetation thereby causing the spread of some vegetation types. The Polar Regions are extremely dry and cold.  The amount of precipitation is also very low due to cold winds.  Meteorologists also find it difficult to collect the data as there are strong winds and heavy snowfall. It is also difficult and expensive to maintain the data collecting equipments and stations in such areas.

Most of the sunlight that the Polar Regions receive is reflected back by the snow. Along with the reflections of the radiation, the heat is also reflected. As a result, there is very less heat in the region. The snow reflects about 90% of the total sunlight that the Polar Regions receive. Though the temperatures in the two Polar Regions are similar, the Arctic Region has a wide range of temperatures. The variation in the temperature on the North Pole depends on the location. And it can vary for even 100 degrees. There are, however, very less variations in the temperature of the South Pole. The average temperature around the coast in the Arctic region varies between -30 and -40 degrees Celsius during the winter months of December, January, and February. The snow starts melting during the summers and the temperatures see an upward trend around the Arctic Sea. As a result of temperature being above the freezing point, there are some chances of vegetation. It is during these days only that the North Pole gets an entire day of sunlight. The Polar Regions also receive heavy snowfall. On the North Pole, the Arctic Basin consists of ice for 320 days while the Arctic Sea consists of ice for 280 days.

The climatic conditions on the South Pole are slightly different. The winds are cold but they are light. The winds are not as strong as the North Pole. The temperatures also vary by about 30 degrees only  compared to 100 degrees on the North Pole. The summer months on the South Pole are from October till April and the winter months are from May till September. When the sun rises in September, the Polar Region gets its sunlight of 24 hours. The regions on the South Pole are comparatively warmer but they also have cold winds and heavy snowfall.

Original Authors: Shampa
Edit Update Authors: M.A.Harris
Updated On:
12/11/2009

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