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Arctic

north ocean northern century

Arctic, region north of the Arctic Circle (66°30' N); alternatively, regions north of the tree line.

Land and climate

The Arctic comprises the Arctic Ocean, Greenland, Spitsbergen and other islands, extreme northern Europe, Siberia, Alaska, and northern Canada. The area's central feature is the Arctic Ocean, opening south into the North Atlantic Ocean and Bering Strait. The Arctic Ocean comprises 2 main basins and has a shallow rim floored by the continental shelves of Eurasia and North America. Much of the ocean's surface is always covered with ice.

The Arctic climate is cold. In midwinter the sun never rises and the mean Jan. temperature is -33° F (-57.6° C), far lower in interior Canada and Siberia. Snow and ice never melt in the high altitudes and latitudes of the Arctic, but elsewhere the short mild summer, with 24 hours of sunlight a day, thaws the sea and the topsoil. In spring, melting icebergs floating south from the Arctic Ocean endanger North Atlantic shipping. Vegetation in the Arctic is varied but confined mainly to shrubs, flowering herbaceous plants, mosses, and lichens. Wild mammals include polar bears, reindeer, musk oxen, moose, wolves, weasels, foxes, and lemmings. Geese, ducks, gulls, cranes, falcons, auks, and ptarmigan all nest in the Arctic, and its seas harbor whales, seals, cod, salmon, and shrimp.

People

Inuits (Eskimos), Lapps, Russians, and others make up a human population of several million. Eskimos have lived in the Arctic for at least 9,000 years. Once exclusively hunters and fishers, Eskimos now also work in towns and on oil fields.

Economy

The Arctic is home to scattered agricultural, mining, and fishing industries, and the United States, Canada, and the Russian Federation maintain air bases and meteorological stations there. In 1978, oil production began at Prudhoe Bay, an inlet of the Arctic Ocean in northern Alaska, the oil moving south to Valdez, Alaska, through the Alaskan Pipeline.

History

Vikings were the first recorded Arctic explorers. Norwegians visited the Russian Arctic in the 9th century and the Icelander Eric the Red established a Greenland settlement in A.D. 982. In the 16th and 17th centuries exploration was encouraged by the search for a northwest passage (a water route along the northern coast of North America, between the Atlantic and Pacific oceans) and a northeast passage (a water route between the same oceans but along the northern coast of Europe and Asia). In the 16th century Martin Frobisher reached Baffin Island, and Willem Barentz explored Novaya Zemlya and saw Spitsbergen. Henry Hudson probed eastern Greenland and the Hudson Strait in the early 17th century. But the longed-for passages remained undiscovered, and interest in Arctic exploration declined until Canadian and Russian fur traders revived it late in the 18th century. Early in the 19th century the British naval officers John and James Ross, W. E. Perry, John Rae, and Sir John Franklin traveled to unexplored areas, and James Ross discovered the north magnetic pole. N.A.E. Nordenskjöld of Sweden navigated the Northeast Passage (1878–79) and R. Amundsen the Northwest Passage (1906). In 1909 Robert E. Peary reached the North Pole. Richard E. Byrd and Floyd Bennett flew over the Pole in 1926, pioneering polar air exploration and transpolar air travel. In 1958 the U. S. nuclear submarine Nautilus reached the Pole.

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