arctic map


The Arctic is a very cold place in the most northern part of the world. It begins at the North Pole and ends at the Arctic Circle (an imaginary line on maps). The Arctic includes the Arctic Ocean, parts of Canada, Greenland, Iceland, Russia, the United States (Alaska), Sweden, Norway and Finland. In Canada, the Yukon, Northwest Territories and Nunavut are in the Arctic region. (see map ). Arctic researchers also think of the Arctic as the area north of the tree line or the region where summer temperatures do not rise above 10 degrees Celsius.


tundra, Arctic National Wildlife Refuge; Brooks Range; USFWS;  license public domain
tundra means "barren land"

In the southern part of the Arctic you will see plains (flat land) and small rounded hills. There are many lakes, rivers and streams. In the northern part of the Arctic there are mountains, glaciers (mountains of ice ), plains and many islands. The sea ice stays frozen all year.

If you travel from the south, the farther north you go, the smaller the trees become and the farther apart the trees grow. Where the trees end, the tundra begins. Trees do not grow on the tundra because it is too cold. The ground is frozen. Only a thin layer of soil (permafrost) thaws in the summer and the growing season is short.


Although the ground is covered with snow until June, there are approximately 1700 different kinds of plants that grow on the tundra. There is a very short growing season and only plants with shallow root systems are able to grow. You will find plants that grow close to the ground, small flowering plants, grasses, mosses, lichens (flowerless plants that grow on rocks and trees) and dwarf shrubs (low-growing woody plants).



At the edge of the polar lands are the cold polar seas, full of moving chunks of ice called pack ice or sea ice. Many kinds of animals live in the polar seas.

Plankton are tiny plants, animals and bacteria that float on the surface. Fish and many sea creatures feed on plankton. Krill are tiny lobster-like creatures that are food for fish, clams, seabirds, whales, walruses and seals.


Winter in the Arctic is long and very cold.
Tiniteqilaaq, Greenland; Anouk Stricher,, creative commons license
image credit: Anouk Stricher; license : Creative Commons
Summer in the Arctic is short. In the middle of the summer the sun does not set. This is why the Arctic is called the Land of the Midnight Sun. In some areas of the Arctic summer temperatures range from 3 degrees C to 10 degrees C but can reach 16 degrees C.

Winter temperatures average -35 degrees C. The farther north you go, the colder and darker it gets. On Ellesmere Island in Canada's far north, the temperatures drop as low as -50 degrees C. Depending how far north you go, there can be little or no daylight for nearly six months. Snow covers the ground for eight months of the year. There are places where the ice and snow never melts.


caribou, courtesy of the US Fish and Wildlife Service
(image credit : Bob Stevens, US Fish and Wildlife Service; license - public domain)
Some people of the north still rely on the caribou for food and clothing.

Many animals live on the tundra, including caribou. lemmings, musk oxen, arctic foxes and wolves. Some animals stay all year round, others migrate to warmer places for the winter. Arctic animals have thick coats to keep them warm.

Those living in the icy water have blubber (a thick layer of fat under the skin). Many Arctic animals live in the ocean. Some of these animals are called mammals. Polar bears, walruses, seals and whales are mammals that live in the ocean. There are also many kinds of fish ( Arctic char, trout and grayling ). To survive in the icy water, fish produce an "antifreeze" protein that keeps their blood ice-free.

rock ptarmigan, Dave Menke, US Fish and Wildlife Service, license - Public Domain
(image credit - Dave Menke, US Fish and Wildlife Service
license - public domain)

The ptarmigan remains in the Arctic year round

In May and early June hundreds of thousands of birds migrate to the Arctic to nest and raise their young. The steep cliffs of the Arctic islands are nesting sites for murres and other sea birds. Loons, snow geese, snowy owls, tundra swans and many other birds nest on the tundra. In the fall birds fly south. Some birds, like the ptarmigan, stay in the Arctic all year round


Kimmirut, small community in Nunavut, 2006
Kimmirut, a small community of 400 on Baffin Island. (image source - wikipedia )

How can anyone survive in such a cold place? The people have to dress well to protect themselves in the cold winters. They live in small communities where there are stores, churches and schools. The larger communities have health centres to care for the sick. They watch television and play video games. Children go snowmobiling, skating, snowboarding, ice fishing and play hockey and ski. Some of the food they eat is different - seal, walrus, whale, caribou, musk ox, bear, Arctic hare, geese, ducks, ptarmigan, Arctic char (fish), wild plants and berries.


The people of the north rely on wildlife for food, clothing and shelter. There are deposits of uranium, nickel, copper, zinc, silver, gold and diamonds in the Arctic. Oil and natural gas have been found onshore and offshore (under the Arctic Ocean).

stone marker, Rankin Inlet, Nunavut
an inunnguaq at Rankin Inlet photo taken by Ansgar Walk
(photo by Ansgar Walk, Creative Commons license)


Inuit built stone figures called Inuksuit as markers for hunters and to show the way for travellers. Each inuksuk is unique and varies in size and shape. (more about Inuksuit)


image credit - Jan Curtis; from Images of the Aurora


Northern lights look very beautiful as the colors spread across the night sky. These lights , called aurora borealis, are formed by gases that glow in many colors. The gases look like curtains in the sky. The best time to view the northern lights is when the sky is clear and dark.


TEACHER links and resources

J.Giannetta -
updated April 2017
Web Pages for Students

information from What is the Arctic? | University of Guelph - Canada's Arctic | Natural Resources Canada - Canada's Arctic |
public domain images from US Fish and Wildlife Service National Digitial Library

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