Tuesday, December 20, 2016

The North Pole and The Arctic

Say "North Pole" and most people think of Santa, but did you know that the region is a hotbed for international intrigue? 

A Polar Bear
There's more to the North Pole than just snow and Santa. Ever since it was discovered by Robert E. Peary, Matthew Henson, and four Eskimo companions back in 1909, the North Pole has been a place of international intrigue - did you know several countries are now fighting over vast underground oil reserves in the Arctic Circle? You can go see for yourself with expedition voyages or even spend the night in a hotel made entirely of ice - try the Ice Hotel in Jukkasjärvi, Sweden, or stay overnight at the Aurora Ice Museum in Fairbanks, Alaska, for a unique twist on the average igloo.

A Room In The Ice Hotel

Aurora Ice Museum

Unlike the South Pole, which lies over the continent of Antarctica, there is no land beneath the North Pole but more of a floating Arctic ice sheet that expands during colder months and shrinks to half its size in the summer.

To complicate things even more, there are two different definitions of the North Pole. The first is the north magnetic pole, which is, quite literally, a magnetic phenomenon which changes daily depending on changes under the Earth's crust. Additionally, there is a north terrestrial pole, which is the fixed point that references the top of the Earth.

Regardless of how you define the North Pole, global warming continues to be a problem here - as the polar ice caps melt, the sea levels rise, eliminating the land that polar bears and other wildlife depend on for survival

The North Dip Pole is the spot where the geomagnetic field is perpendicular to the Earth’s surface, “dipping” to meet the big, rotating ellipsoid that is our planet.

The North Dip Pole isn’t stationary. Just in the last century, it has migrated northward from a point in Canada at about 71 degrees latitude to its current position, about 85 degrees north, in the Arctic Ocean.

There’s a South Dip Pole, too, but the North Dip Pole doesn’t have to be antipodal, or diametrically opposed, to it. Right now they’re off by more than 20 degrees latitude.

When your compass points north, it’s pointing to the North Dip Pole, which is also called the magnetic North Pole.

The geomagnetic North Pole is a different thing altogether. It’s calculated using mathematical models based on an imaginary line running through the geomagnetic center of Earth.

Over the past century, the geomagnetic North Pole has migrated from Greenland to Canada.

So who cares about geomagnetic North? Aurora hunters, for starters. The most spectacular views of the Northern Lights occur in an oval ring centered around the geomagnetic North Pole.

The Northern Lights

Auroras are interesting, but if you want to have some real fun, position yourself at the magnetic North Pole with a compass. If you hold the compass horizontal, the needle will do one of three things: point to the same spot as the last time you used it, spin slowly before stopping at a random point or point to anything magnetic that you happen to be wearing.
There is a fourth North Pole. That would be North Pole, Alaska, which became part of the U.S. in 1953. The Fairbanks suburb is hundreds of miles south of the other three North Poles

While the Alaskans who live in North Pole don’t live near any of the real North Poles, a globe-hopping do-gooder beloved by many does. We’re talking, of course, of pulp fiction hero Doc Savage, Man of Bronze. Since 1933, the scientist with superpowers has starred in a long line of comics, magazines, paperbacks, radio series and even a 1975 B-movie. Savage’s Arctic retreat, the Fortress of Solitude, is said to be near the terrestrial North Pole.

Staking out a different kind of property claim, a Russian submarine planted that nation’s flag at the bottom of the Arctic Ocean, at the terrestrial North Pole, in 2007.

Russian Flag at the North Pole

The Russians may have planted a flag, but American submariners got there first: The USS Nautilus did a polar drive-by in 1958.

U.S.S. Nautilus

Robert E. Peary beat the Nautilus by nearly half a century. His team made what he claimed was the first recorded trip to the terrestrial North Pole in 1909 by dog sled. But. physician and Arctic explorer Frederick Cook said he reached the pole in April 1908. Subsequent research has cast doubt on both claims, but Peary had the better PR machine and is generally considered the guy who (probably) got there first.
Fred Cook

Robert E. Peary

When he arrived, Peary made the bold decree that he’d “formally taken possession of the entire region, and adjacent,” for the United States. It didn’t stick. A century later, what country owns which piece of the Arctic is still a contentious issue. 

This new cold war is all about trade and resources: According to a 2008 study by the U.S. Geologic Survey, the Arctic has 20 percent of the planet’s undiscovered and recoverable oil and natural gas deposits. Most of the oil and gas deposits are likely within 200-nautical-mile exclusive economic zones belonging to countries with Arctic coasts. Analysts believe the seabed at the actual terrestrial North Pole - located some 2.5 miles beneath the waves - is probably bereft of resources. 

The North Pole’s future is unclear. However, NASA launched ARISE, a program to measure how cloud cover may be accelerating sea ice melt around the pole.

Thirty percent of the world's untapped oil reserves are located in the Arctic Circle. The U.S. Geological Survey says that amount could actually be higher, since so much of the region has yet to be explored.

Complicating matters is the fact that multiple countries lay claim to the Arctic Circle - Russia, Canada, Norway, Denmark (via Greenland), and the United States (via Alaska). Each country is allowed to explore potential oil reserves within 200 miles of their coastlines.

Just like everywhere else on Earth, the temperature varies here depending on the time of year. The North Pole is warmest in July, if by warm you mean it's actually freezing - 32 degrees.

Temperatures in February drop to a bone-chilling 31 degrees below zero.
The amount of light each day depends on the time of year, too. Alaska as well as Norway and the other Arctic Circle countries each face six months of broad daylight and six months of almost total darkness because of the angle at which this top portion of the Earth receives sunlight.
It might come as a shock, but even with temperatures with a high of just 32 degrees, the North Pole is not the coldest place on Earth. The South Pole is (in winter temperatures average -76 degrees F).
Unlike the North Pole, the South Pole sits on top of a thick sheet of ice, which in turn sits on top of a piece of land - Antarctica. At more than 9,000 feet above sea level, Antarctica is also the world's tallest continent.
The North Pole, on the other hand, is made up of a thin Arctic ice sheet that sits barely a foot above sea level - a fact that allows the landscape to absorb heat from the surrounding Arctic Ocean.
While the conditions may be considered too tough for most humans, there are native Inuit tribes living in northern Canada and Alaska.
The outer reaches of the Arctic Circle are a great place to see polar bears in the wild. There are other Arctic dwellers like Orca, Humpback, and Beluga whales, the arctic fox, and Svalbard reindeer.

Orca Whale

Beluga Whale

Humpback Whale

                                                                  Svalbard  Reindeer.

Arctic Fox
One animal you won't see in the North Pole is the penguin. They live in the South Pole. However, several species of flying penguin-like birds called auks, guillemots, and puffins can be seen in the Arctic Circle.


The narwhal, a small whale that lives in the chilly waters of the Arctic Circle, has a six-to-10-foot long tusk, a trait that earned it the nickname "unicorn of the sea." Back in the 16th century, they were often believed to possess magical powers that could be used to cure diseases. Demand was high, and legend has it that Queen Elizabeth I spent 10,000 pounds to get her hands on her very own narwhal tusk. Nowadays, narwhal populations are on the decline, due to hunting (Inuit peoples use the meat, tusks, and vitamin-C-rich skin in their everyday lives), climate change, and fishing for halibut, their main source of food.
Narwhal Whale

While not exactly a budget destination, anyone can embark on your own Arctic adventure. Quark Expeditions offers a wide variety of cruising expeditions ranging from the Spitsbergen Explorer, an 11-day cruise around the Norwegian island (from $4,995 per person) to The Ultimate Arctic Adventure, which sails from Russia to the 90-degree north spot that represents the North Pole, visits Franz Josef Land, and tours the Arctic Ocean (from $23,995 per person).

If you are in the frigid Arctic Circle, you'll need to find a way to warm up. Chena Hot Springs, located about an hour outside Fairbanks has a natural geothermal hot spring in a rock lake surrounded by nature. The hot springs are open from 7 a.m. to midnight, giving you plenty of time to soak and get a front row seat for the Aurora Borealis (best viewed between August and May).
You can also stay at the Chena Hot Springs Resort ($65 a night to room in a Mongolia-style yurt, or stay in a room at the resort for from $189 a night). A number of hot springs can also be found in Norway's Svalbard Islands, in Iceland (the Landmannalaugar Hot Springs is well-known), and in Russia. Scientific American profiled the hot springs in Oymyakon, Siberia, the coldest town on Earth.

Chena Hot Springs Resort

The North Pole Marathon bills itself as the World's Coolest Marathon, and with an average wind chill temperature of 22 degrees below zero, they'd be right. It has happened every year since 2002. For example, in 2011, 255 people from 38 nations around the world braved the conditions to compete in the 26.2-mile marathon race on top of a floating Arctic ice shelf. Competitors are transported to an international North Pole Camp on the polar ice shelf to start the race. And they layer up-thermal layers, windproof pants, gloves, two pairs of socks, and even goggles are necessary..
North Pole Marathon

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