By December, when the Antarctic ice breaks up, the young chicks are ready to swim and fish on their own.
Photograph by Vladimir Seliverstov, Dreamstime
The narwhal's tusk can grow to nine feet (three meters) long.
Photograph by Paul Nicklen, National Geographic Creative
This cute polar bear will grow up to be a fierce predator built for surviving in the bitter cold.
Photograph by Andreanita, Dreamstime
Polar bear moms give birth to one to three cubs.
Photograph by Flinster007, Dreamstime
A harp seal swims in the cold Arctic Ocean
Photograph by Brian J. Skerry
Belugas are toothed whales. They have bulbous foreheads and no dorsal fin.
Photograph by D. Fernandez & M. Peck, Photolibrary
Walruses have long tusks and a prominent mustache.
Photograph by BMJ, Shutterstock
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Above and Below
Polar habitats cover the top and bottom of planet Earth at the North and South Poles. The North Pole is surrounded by the Arctic Ocean. There isn’t any land here, just a group of continually shifting ice sheets. Parts of Canada and Greenland are near the North Pole. The South Pole is located on Antarctica. This area has land, but it’s completely covered with a layer of ice that’s almost three miles thick in some places.
It's cold at the poles. In the Arctic, the average winter temperature is about around minus 22°F. At the South Pole, it is even colder. The lowest temperature ever recorded—minus 129°F—was in Antarctica.
Even though it’s chilly in polar regions, they do have seasons—well, two seasons: summer and winter. In the summer, the sun shines 24 hours a day, but it never gets high enough above the horizon to warm things up, so even summers are pretty cold. It’s dark all winter at the poles, because the sun doesn’t rise during those months of the year. Fierce continuous winds make it feel even colder.
You’ll see plenty of snow at the poles, but little rain. Antarctica and parts of the Arctic are actually considered deserts because of the lack of rainfall.
It’s much too cold and dry for trees to grow in most areas of the Arctic, and there is no room for their roots, because just under the surface of the ground there is always a layer of ice, called permafrost. But in some places called tundras a thin layer of soil on the top of the permafrost thaws just a little in summer, and grasses and mosses grow above the ice for a few months. In summer Arctic poppies bloom, making the tundra bright yellow.
You won’t find trees in Antarctica, but some types of small shrubs, lichens, mosses, and algae are able to grow in the harsh climate.
Polar bears and arctic foxes are adapted to the extreme weather of the Arctic region. Walruses and humpback whales live in the Arctic ocean. Several kinds of penguins, including the emperor penguin, live in Antarctica, and so do walruses and narwhals.
The poles of the planet are places of extremes. They're extremely cold, extremely dry, and have extremely long days and nights. And if you visit, be sure to wear extremely warm clothing!
Text by Avery Hurt