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The Arctic is the region around the EarthNorth Pole. It includes the northern onespolar cap, which was largely covered by iceArctic Oceanand the northern foothills of thecontinents North America,AsiaandEurope. Opposite the Arctic on the globe is theirsantipodin Antarctic.

The term Arctic is from theancient greekWord ἄρκτος árktos for "bear" derived. The adjective ἄρκτικός arktikós was used to indicate the direction "north", but also denoted the region belowconstellation Big Bear, which in theantiquitywas closer to the North Pole than it is today. TheNorth Star, which today is almost vertically above theNorth Polestands, belongs to the constellationLittle Bear.

earth history

Out offossil finds, so those ofMargaret FormationtheEllesmere Islandor onemummified foreston theAxel Heiberg Island, shows that in the Arctic in the lower to middleEocene40 to 50 million years agowarm-temperateTemperatures prevailed and sequoias grew up to 50 meters high here. At that time, the Arctic Ocean even had subtropical water temperatures, limited locally and seasonally. Remains of freshwater plants were discovered in drill cores, which are now found in rice cultures, among other things. It is therefore assumed that the Arctic Ocean was almost closed off from the world ocean more than 40 million years agoinland seacould have been, whose uppermost water layer was comparatively low in salt due to precipitation-related freshwater inputs. Other finds bear witness to violent biological upheavals and the sudden extinction of many organisms in the period that followed.

At the beginning ofOligoceneAbout 33 million years ago the earth cooled and ice caps formed at the poles. Glaciation reached Antarctica 25 million years ago and Greenland 6 million years ago. 6000-7000 years ago, the Arctic may have been intermittently ice-free for extended periods.



The Arctic used to be referred to simply as "the region north of thearctic circle“ (66° 34′ north latitude). Today, their extent is often determined by climatic and vegetation-geographical criteria, e.g. B. about the Julyisothermof 10 °C or thetree line. In the social sciences, the Arctic is delimited by political regions and socio-economic factors. In politics, such a definition from the Arctic Human Development Report of theArctic Councilresorted to.

In the center of the Arctic there is no ice-covered continent (as in Antarctica), but a year-round frozen sea, thearctic ocean. On geographicNorth Polethe ice is four meters thick and the ocean is 4261 meters deep. South the ocean is divided by the continents of North America, Asia andEuropelimited.


high arctic

The northernmost part of the Arctic is sometimes referred to as the "High Arctic". The term is not clearly defined; often including thearctic ocean, theCanadian Arctic Archipelago, the north half ofGreenland,Spitsbergenas well as those in the far northof Russialocated islands (e.g.Franz Joseph LandandNovaya Zemlya) understood. The regionally different demarcation is due to the different climatic conditions, which are caused by the distribution of warm and coldocean currentsin the northern hemisphere of the earth. So point the northScandinaviaand the adjacentEuropean Norwegian Seathrough thegulf streamno high arctic conditions, while those on the same latitudesBeaufort Seais not exposed to warm currents and is assigned to the High Arctic. Theglobal warmingis slowly shifting the boundary of the High Arctic further north.

Meteorologicalandclimatologicalthe High Arctic largely coincides with thepolar region. HerclimaticandecologicalConditions are among the harshest, most hostile to life on earth, rivaling only those of Antarctica and the highest regions ofHimalayasandKarakorumcomparable.Snowand ice covers much of the sea and land surface all year round, while in the more southern Arctic areas larger areas thaw in summer and are more habitable. In these regions arepingos– round hills formed by ice lenses – a typical landscape phenomenon.

protected areas

In late 2016, US President declaredBarack Obamashortly before the end of his term together with the incumbentGovernment of Canadalarge areas of the Arctic and in theAtlantictoprotection zones, for which no new oil and gasdrilling-licensesmore to be given. The new Arctic protection zones are roughly the size ofSpain. By far the largest permanent marine reserve in the Arctic is CanadaTuvaijuittuq.

Flora and fauna

TheArctic plantsare mostly related to the species in theAlpsoccur, but their life cycle is affected by the significantly more extreme environmental conditions oftundras,Cold-andice desertsshaped. Arctic environmental factors are strong temperature differences,permafrost, extremely changingsun exposureand violentblizzardsthat affect vegetation through abrasion.

Only a limited number ofmammalian speciesis native to the arctic, and also tofish speciesis she poor Bothbird specieson the other hand, it has great wealth, which is also due to the fact that manymigratory birdscome here to breed.

According to estimates, around 1000 come in the arctic regionsinsect speciesbefore, especiallypiercingandblack flies, but alsobumblebeesandbutterflies. In addition, in the tundras a greater number ofspider specieson.

In the high arctic one is missingland vegetationalmost completely, which is why it is also calledpolar desert. There are only a few species hereland mammals, including the polar bear, which, however, mainly feeds on the sea. The marine fauna, on the other hand, is relatively rich in species.



Above the North Pole forms in thepolar winterone of the two terrestrialpolar vortex, which theArctic Oscillationsubject to; their expression and thus possible weather effectiveness is described with the "AO Index".

climate change

The lowest directly measured extent of Arctic sea ice from September 2007 compared to the previous record minimum in 2005 and the mean minimum from 1979 to 2000

A decrease in sea ice cover has been observed for more than half a century. In the recent past, it has picked up speed so that natural fluctuations appear increasingly improbable as a reasonglobal warmingnow considered the main cause. As of 2015, the Arctic is showing the first signs of irreversible changes; among other things, a temperature rise of between 1 °C and 4 °C could result in the almost complete melting of theGreenland icetrigger.

Measurements from 2007 show a decrease in the ice surface by 40-45% compared to the average of the years 1978 to 2000 to 3 million km². In 2007 alone, more than a million square kilometers of ice melted. If this development continues, the Arctic could be ice-free in the summer as early as 2030.Northeast PassageandNorthwest Passagecould temporarily become suitable for merchant shipping from around 2019.

In the fall of 2008, temperatures reached 5 degrees above normal, a new warm record for this time of year, according to a report from the US Meteorological and Oceanographic AdministrationNOAA. One reason for this is the steady decline in sea ice, which means that less sunlight is reflected into space. This in turn leads to a further rise in air temperature. Thisfeedback mechanismbecomesIce Albedo Feedbackcalled.

At the beginning of February 2017, the temperatures in the Arctic were about 30 degrees above the mean values of the years 1979 to 2000 that were usual there at this time of the year, and were therefore in the range of the values achieved around this time in Central Europe or even higher.

Time course of the volume of the Arctic ice sheet from a measurement-based numerical simulation. You can see the seasonal fluctuations, which are overlaid with a downward trend.[13]

The thickness of the Arctic sea ice is also decreasing. Together with the reduction in area, there is a drastic decrease in volume and thus also area, which, if the trend continues linearly, leads to the expectation that the ice cover will completely disappear during the summer in the period 2030-2035. However, this process can be accelerated or delayed. In contrast, he sawIPCCnor in his 2007 report for the period around 2090 does he predict a complete disappearance of the ice.

According to the US National Snow and Ice Data Center, the ice cover of the Arctic Ocean in January 2017 was the lowest it has been since records began at this time of year in 1979: it was 13.38 million square kilometers, 260,000 (almost 2%) less than in January of the previous year 2016, when a negative record had already been recorded. The summer ice cover has decreased by more than a third within 36 years. In 2015, during the period of minimum ice coverage in September, the ice surface was still a good 4 million km². At the beginning of the satellite measurements in 1979, it was about 7 million km².

On tooGreenlandthe ice cover decreases: In 2007 the island lost a volume of 101 cubic kilometers. This contributed to the fact that sea levels in the Arctic are rising by 0.25 centimeters per year. Episodes are already inecosystemascertainable: This increases the population of thegeese, whilereindeer herdsget smaller.

In June 2011 theESAa new map of the arctic ice sheet made with the help ofCryoSat-2was created. For the first time in the history of Arctic ice observation, the thickness of the ice can now also be precisely measured. The operators of the satellite are therefore talking about the start of a new series of measurements.

Since 2016, with the exception of 2017, new negative records have been set every year up to and including 2019: the ice surface in the Arctic was once again thinner than ever before (since measurements began in 1978). In addition, the trend in Arctic ice melt can now be put into figures: the area decrease (in February) is around 2.8% per decade; a negative trend can also be observed for ice thickness.

Settlement in and near the Arctic around 2009



The entire Arctic is sparsely populated and allows for virtually no agriculture, which is primarily due to the hostile climate that has prevailed here since about the middle of the 2nd millennium. Before that time smaller human groups lived herePre-Dorset, Dorset and Thule culturewho were able to defy the extreme conditions with the help of adapted lifestyles and techniques. The lighting conditions also prevent human settlement. Thepolar nightlengthens (as does the time phase of themidnight sun) with increasing proximity to the geographic North Pole

A total of around four million people currently live in the Arctic, with a small proportion of the population living asindigenousis recognized.[21]The polar peoples includeEskimos(about 150,000),Nenets(earlierSamoyedmentioned, about 40,000),Yakuts(about 330,000),seed(about 70,000) andEvenks(about 35,000). In addition, numerous live in the ArcticScandinavian,Russiansand North Americans, including members of theFirst Nationsand theAlaska natives, so thenative americanPeoples of Northern Canada and Alaska. Only in Greenland and some parts of Canada do indigenous people make up the majority of the region's population.[21]

Large parts of the Arctic were among the last until well into modern timeswhite spotson the world map. Some regions, especially the North Pole, were not accessible until the 20th century and were only reached and explored with enormous technical effort. Today, however, they are not only the destination of participants in extreme foot and ski expeditions, but also of tourists who fly to the North Pole.



Parts of the national territories of extend across the arctic regionRussiaand theUSA, from (Alaska) andCanada, the dependent territoriesGreenland(managed byDenmark) andSpitsbergen(toNorway) and the regionLapland(on the territory of Norway,SwedenandFinland).

There are no more territorial disputes over the arctic lands. The conflict that has existed since 1973 over the affiliation of theHans Islandwas settled in 2022 with a border treaty. In contrast, the maritime demarcations in the Arcticnot finally resolved. Given the existing naturalresources(mainly oil and natural gas), Arctic sovereign rights have attracted increasing media attention in recent years, especially after Russia placed the country's flag on the seabed of the North Pole using two submarines in 2007. While the media mostly interpreted this event as the start of a "race" for natural resources,[5][27]this point of view is difficult to maintain scientifically, since sea sovereignty isConvention on the Law of the Searegulated by the United Nations. With the exception of the USA, all Arctic countries are also members of this convention, and even the USA has repeatedly stated that it accepts the Convention on the Law of the Sea. The legal extension of thecontinental shelf, since the coastal states within this area have, among other things, sovereign rights to exploit the resources. If a state wishes to claim the continental shelf beyond 200 nautical miles, it must do so scientifically and at theContinental Shelf Limits Commissionsubmit. The expedition that planted the Russian flag was primarily for scientific research. Russia itself has never claimed that planting the flag would make legally binding claims to sovereignty over the North Pole, instead comparing it to raising the US flag on the moon, as this is the first time humans have reached the seabed beneath the geographic North Pole. In order to demonstrate to the world that there is no conflict over the boundaries in the maritime Arctic, the five countries bordering the Arctic Ocean have reaffirmed their cooperation in the Ilulissat Declaration and once again emphasized the importance of the Convention on the Law of the Sea.[28]For this reason, scientists tend to support the thesis that there is no race for resources in the Arctic, but rather that there is cooperation among the Arctic states and claims to sovereignty develop in an orderly manner within the framework of the international legal system. In March 2021, three Russians broke throughnuclear submarinesthe 1.5 m thick Arctic ice and held a military exercise. Even more important for Arctic cooperation than the meeting in Ilulissat is theArctic Council, which was founded in 1996 as the successor organization to the Arctic Environmental Protection Program: Within this council, the Arctic states also work together in relation to the extraction of mineral resources.


According to a statement published online in October 2015 in the magazine Polar BiologyAlfred Wegener Institute(AWI) can be foundplastic wastealready on the water surface of the Arctic: the origin is unclear; corresponding data were first obtained during a 2012 expedition betweenGreenlandand the one to the eastSpitsbergen archipelagoraised.


With the increasing geo-ecological changes in the Arctic, various economic sectors have now been able to establish themselves in the far north.

According to the will of the international community, the economic development of the Arctic should also benefit the indigenous peoples, whose traditionalsubsistence farmingincreasingly unsafe due to the effects of global warming. To this end, many peoples have already been granted far-reaching land rights. An important instrument for integrating their interests is the intergovernmental Formum desArctic Council. So far, however, their rights exist mainly on paper:Local Communitieshave no lobby, are not globally networked like the corporations and have no experience with the mechanisms of themarket economystill have sufficient financial resources to enforce their rights through the courts. The unclear political status of the Arctic also makes it more difficult to implement indigenous rights, since the states involved want to assert their national economic interests first.

agriculture and animal husbandry

Due to climatic changes, some regions of the Arctic are used for agricultural purposes. Various agricultural products such as potatoes, berries and herbs have been produced in the Arctic for commercial sale since the 1990s. In particular, livestock farming, which is traditionally mainly based on (originally more subsistence-oriented)reindeer herdingas well as the attitude ofdairy cowsandsleepbased, dominates the agricultural sector. Regulated commercial use of animal products (milk, fur, meat) has existed in some regions since 1971. However, the development of a comprehensive arctic agricultural industry is not foreseeable in the future due to the existing climatic conditions, lack of infrastructure, sparse population and risk aversion among farmers.[35]



Industrial fishing in the arctic regions is one of the fastest growing industries in the far north and has tripled its catch quota in the last ten years. The EU is an important buyer of Arctic fish: around 2008, 20% of all EU-wide fish imports came from Norway. Imports from Iceland again cover 6% and from the USA 4%. However, there are persistent warnings of oneoverfishingand negative impacts on the particularly vulnerable marine ecosystems around the Arctic ice cap, while other scientists postulate that climate change could have a positive impact on the reproduction of some fish and crab stocks. However, the extent to which the catch potential will actually increase can currently only be estimated with reservations due to a lack of research into the effects of climate change on the marine ecosystem. In addition, not all regions of the Arctic are accessible for fishing.

freight transport

The Arctic has been used intensively for freight transport by ship for decades. The melting of the north polar ice is already making it possible to develop alternative transfer routes for goods transport in the Arctic Ocean, which means that goods can be provided more quickly and reliably than has been possible with traditional sea trade routes to date. There are currently some recognized shipping routes for the risingwater traffic: theNorthwest Passage(NWP) along the Canadian island chain, theNortheast Passage(NOP) along the Norwegian and Russian coasts and the Transpolar Passage, which runs centrally through the midpoint of the Arctic Ocean. Navigating these sea lanes can result in logistical and time savings, butecologistsviewed extremely critically.

Creation of land resources

The Arctic has various non-energetic land resources such asRare earth,precious metals,iron,non-ferrous metals,gemsor natural stones. Most of these arctic deposits of non-energy resources are on land and in offshore waters; So far there are no concrete assessments of deposits located in the sea. Despite the lack of infrastructure and high extraction costs, the creation of mineral resources due to long-term increases in raw material prices and increasing global scarcity of raw materials will mean that economic extraction will become profitable in the near future despite difficult conditions. The extraction of raw materials can also have far-reaching consequences for the sensitive Arctic ecosystems.

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