The Arctic is the area North of 66 degrees latitude – The Arctic Circle. Home to Santa, Mrs Claus and their team of helpers. It’s made up of the mostly frozen Arctic Ocean surrounded by northern Canada, Alaska, Russia and Greenland. There is no land at the North Pole.
The Arctic Circle is an imaginary line that marks the latitude above which the sun does not set on the summer solstice (21st June) and does not rise on the winter solstice (21st December). North of this latitude, continuous day or night lasts around six months at the North Pole. The reverse is true of the South Pole in Antarctica.
Antarctica is the 5th largest of the seven continents. It’s South of The Antarctic Circle at 66 degrees latitude and covers the South Pole. Antarctica is roughly twice the size of Australia. In the dark of winter the ocean around Antarctica freezes and doubles it’s size.
What are The Arctic and Antarctica?
The Arctic and Antarctica are the last two great frontiers on the surface of our planet. They hold a place in our minds as being otherworldly, hostile and beautiful places. They may provide great riches for those who can unlock their secrets. The ancient Greeks predicted that Antarctica must exist to act as a counter balance to the lands in the Northern Hemisphere. Traders and explorers tried for centuries to find the fabled ‘North West Passage.’ This passage through the Arctic Ocean could link the Atlantic Ocean with the Pacific Ocean. Both places are almost pristine wilderness and their isolation and freezing temperatures has largely kept humans out. This is changing.
How do greenhouse gases affect The Arctic and Antarctica?
The greenhouse gases warming our atmosphere and oceans impact greatly on The Arctic. As the Arctic Ocean warms, the ice become thinner and covers less area. Sunlight would normally be reflected back into space by the snow and ice. It is now absorbed by the dark ocean, warming the ocean and melting more ice. Increased temperatures in The Southern Ocean are causing ice-sheets to break up and fall into the ocean. Although the interior of East Antarctica is showing some gains in land ice, overall Antarctica is losing land ice at an increasing rate.
How do The Arctic and Antarctica help us?
The Arctic and Antarctica are the air-conditioners for our planet. They take the hot air from the Tropics, cool it and send it back to the Tropics again. An increase of 0.5 degrees in average temperature at the Equator would mean an increase of as much as 4-6 degrees at the poles. This movement of heat from the equator to the poles has been following the same pattern for 10,000 years – since civilization began. Changing these patterns will affect our economy, people, crops, water supplies, and pretty much everything we do.
Is Australia doing a good job protecting The Arctic and Antarctica?
The reality is that short of stopping the world burning fossil fuels, Australia can’t do much to protect The Arctic and Antarctica. Canada, Russia, and the USA want to drill for more oil in the recently unfrozen parts of the Arctic Ocean. The Russians have planted their flag on the ocean floor at the North Pole. Australia claims around 40% (the largest claim) of Antarctica. While Australia has three bases, the Russians also have three, the Chinese one, Romania one, and there is another ‘European’ base. Australia has signed the Antarctic Treaty that has established a legal framework for the continent’s management, setting it aside as, ‘A natural reserve, devoted to peace and science.’
Australia has signed a Protocol on Environmental Protection (a part of The Antarctic Treaty). This bans oil and mineral exploration until 2041, and when this expires, it could be changed. How can you help extend this treaty? The Sea Shepard organization sends ships down to Antarctica every summer to stop the Japanese from killing whales. Why do you think this action has been controversial? How else would you protect the whales of the Southern Ocean?