We tend to think of the Artic and Antarctic as mirror images areas of ice, snow, glaciers, ice flows, and blizzards populated by polar bears, penguins, seals and walruses. There are many similarities between the Artic and Antarctic but there are also many differences.


The Ancient Greeks derived names of the far north from the northern stars. Polaris or the North Star is the brightest star in the constellation of Ursa Minor. Another northern constellation Ursa Major was called the Great Bear and Artikos was the country of the Great Bear. The Ancient Greeks also realised that there would be an opposite to balance the world, and this was Antarktikos, the opposite of the Bear

The north and South Pole, true north and true south are fixed geographic points of 90 degrees at the location where the earth’s axis of rotation meets the Earth’s surface.

The Artic/ Antarctic are usually defined as the areas 90 to 60 degrees latitude Above this latitude there is at least one day per year without a sunrise and another without a sunset, below it there is a sunrise and sunset every day.

At the poles the sun is permanently above the horizon in summer and permanently below the horizon in winter. This is because top of the Earth is tilted towards the Sun in northern summer and away from the Sun in northern winter.
Both the Artic and Antarctic have a frigid climate and are treeless.

However the Artic and Antarctic are quite different in many ways.

The Artic is an ocean surrounded by landmasses. The North Pole is a point in the middle of the Artic Sea; the sea is covered by several metres of permanent sea ice.  The Artic encompasses a vast region of tundra (treeless plain) The Artic land areas is basically flat terrain.

There are no glaciers in the Artic.

The Antarctic is the coldest, driest, windiest continent on Earth. It contains the world’s largest desert but also contains 90% of the Earth’s ice and 75% of the Earth’s fresh water. There are mountains over 5300 metres high and valleys over 2700 metres deep.

The Antarctic is much colder than the Artic. The coldest temperature ever recorded was in Antarctica –89.6 degrees C.  Average Artic summer temperature is 0 degrees C, average Antarctic summer temperature is –32 degrees C.

Many species of mammals, birds and insects live in or migrate to the Artic ocean, coast and tundra including caribou, seals, musk ox, walrus, Artic fox, lemmings and polar bears, but there are no penguins in the Artic. Although there are no trees there are vascular plants, lichens and mosses.

The Antarctic continent is hostile to all forms of life only a few microbes survive. Wildlife including penguins and seals live on the outlying coast and in the surrounding ocean.

This explains why polar bears never catch penguins, because they live poles apart.

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