Arctic region

The Arctic is a circumpolar region centered on the North Pole, home to diverse human populations, landscapes, vegetation, and wildlife. The climate is harsh supporting a fairly restricted range of occupations, including fishing and hunting, service industries and resource development.

A seedvault hidden in the snow at night
The Svalbard Seed Vault by night. Photo: Mari Tefre/Global Crop Diversity Trust (CC BY-NC-SA 2.0 - photo lighter than original).

The Arctic continues to thrill and fascinate visitors and armchair travellers alike. For researchers it remains a vital laboratory for the study of weather and ice conditions, marine life, oceanic influences, the aurora borealis, and a host of other research endeavours. Seen as beautiful and alluring, fragile and overwhelming, the Arctic will figure prominently in future discourse on the interface of humans with their natural environments. 

Geographical features of the Arctic

The Arctic region straddles the Arctic Circle, roughly defined as the northern limit of tree growth, or the 10 degree C July isotherm. The region includes the Arctic Ocean, northern Atlantic Ocean and Bering Sea as well as northern portions of Canada, Alaska, Russia, and the Nordic region.

Physiographic features range from the Brooks Range of Alaska to the ice sheet of Greenland, the Innuitians of Canada, and the coastal plains and Urals of Russia. Tundra dominates the land masses with mosses, lichens, and sedge grasses in the north transitioning to dwarf trees in the south. Fox, caribou, reindeer, and wolf are among the many species of land animals, along with a half dozen species of marine mammals, including the walrus and whales. The tundra is a delicate ecosystem and an important breeding ground for insects and migratory birds.

Climate of the Arctic

The polar climate of short, cool summers and long, bitterly cold winters, is of two distinct types: tundra and ice cap; precipitation is light, less than 21 cm annually, and falls mainly in the form of snow. Coastal areas are warmer and receive more snowfall than the drier areas of the interior. There is great seasonality of daylight and limited insolation due to the sun’s low angle, but the aurora borealis can be seen in the night sky. Areas north of the Arctic Circle experience varying degrees of darkness in the winter season, depending upon latitudinal location, but receive the midnight sun in summer.

Human inhabitants and impacts

The human inhabitants are mostly of Mongolic stock, with examples being the Sami of Europe, the Yakuts of Russia, and the Inuit of North America. While nomadic by heritage, most people are now sedentary and employed in fishing, hunting, reindeer husbandry, arts and crafts, and service industries. Resource discovery, arctic exploration, and the use of the Great Circle route in air navigation drew attention to the region in the last century. Parts of the region, especially arctic Russia, are rich in oil and gas and minerals such as nickel, copper, gold, and uranium. Studies in the Arctic region of magnetism, ozone depletion, arctic haze, and global warming engage the scientific community. Members of the scientific community generally agree that global warming is melting the area’s ice, contributing to a rise in global sea levels.

Arctic Imagination

In 2017 Arctic Imagination was created as an online collaborative effort between six international libraries and five cities to draw attention to the impacts of global warming on the Arctic region. Arctic photographs, illustrations, maps, film, diaries, letters, and other materials constitute the online Arctic collection, a potpourri intended to stir discussion on the Arctic’s past, present, and future. The participating libraries include:

  • the Royal Danish Library;
  • National Library of Norway;
  • Central Library of Greenland;
  • National Library of Sweden;
  • New York Public Library; and,
  • the Consulate General of Denmark in New York. 

Arctic Imagination brings together artists, writers, researchers, diplomats, adventurers, and a host of other thinkers and creatives to participate in the public discourse. The Arctic is shown to be a culturally diverse region with threatened animal species and an immensely powerful place in the popular imagination.  This “multi-year journey to the heart of the Arctic” is expressed through four themes:

  • Traveling Towards Tragedy;
  • Mapping Myths;
  • Tales of Heroes; and,
  • Through the Looking Glass. 

Further reading:

  • E. Conde and S. Iglesias Sanchez, Global Challenges in the Arctic Region: Sovereinty, environment, and geopolitical balance (Ashgate Plus Series in International Relations and Politics; Routledge Press, 2016).
  • R. McGhee, The last imaginery place: a human history of the Arctic world (New York: Oxford University Press, 2005).