Encyclopedic Entry

Reindeer feed on mosses, lichens, and any other hardy vegetation that grows in Arctic regions.

Photograph by Bjorn Anders Nymoen, MyShot

Oil in ANWR
The Arctic National Wildlife Refuge (ANWR), situated on Alaska's northeastern coast, is the largest protected wilderness in the United States. Extractive activities are allowed in the refuge, as long as the U.S. Congress approves. Some geologists estimate that there may be between 5 billion and 16 billion barrels of oil and natural gas beneath the coastal plain of the refuge. People have debated since the 1970s about whether to develop this pristine area, but Congress has not given any approval to drill or mine there.

Icebreakers
An icebreaker is a very powerful ship capable of breaking up kilometers of sea ice, sometimes several meters thick. Icebreakers are necessary for winter navigation in the Arctic and Antarctic. Icebreakers are most often powered by nuclear fuel, but can also run on gas and steam. They can be uncomfortable to travel in, as their shape allows them to roll back and forth more easily than other heavy ships. Russia manufactures the most powerful icebreakers.

The Arctic is the northernmost region of the Earth. Most scientists define the region as the area within the Arctic Circle, which is the line of latitude about 66.5 degrees north of the Equator. Within this circle are the Arctic Ocean and the northern parts of Scandinavia, Russia, Canada, the U.S. state of Alaska, and Greenland.

Many communities and cultures have thrived for centuries in this frigid region, living off fish, seals, and other animals. Some indigenous people native to the Arctic include:

  • Eskimos, composed of several groups spread across northern Russia, Alaska, Canada, and Greenland
  • Aleuts, who live on islands off Alaska and Russias Kamchatka Peninsula
  • Sami, (sometimes called Lapps or Laplanders) from Scandinavia and Russia
  • Yakuts, from Siberia

Although some forests lie near the Arctic Circle, plant life is limited mainly to tundra vegetation such as mosses and lichens. These plants have the ability to survive despite being covered in snow and ice for most of the year.

Animals of the Arctic include polar bears, caribou, reindeer, muskoxen, arctic foxes, puffins, snowy owls, seals, and walruses. Many animals of the Arctic are white. This coloring helps camouflage them in the heavy snow.

Marine animals thrive in the Arctic. The cold water is rich in nutrients such as plankton and algae. Blue whales, killer whales, crabs, shrimp, and many varieties of fish are native to the Arctic Ocean. One whale, the beluga, takes the same form of camouflage as land animals: It is entirely white.

The Arctic is also rich in nickel and copper ore. Some of these deposits are underground, while others are buried beneath the Arctic Ocean. Onshore mines are sometimes not able to operate during the winter. Machinery freezes, and the frozen ground becomes too hard to drill.

The Arctic also has enormous amounts of oil and natural gas. In the U.S., many oil companies work with indigenous groups known as native corporations to drill and export millions of barrels of oil every year. Oil wells in Alaska produce about 14 percent of all the oil drilled in the U.S.

Arctic Water

The Arctic is almost entirely covered by the Arctic Ocean, some of which remains frozen all year. This frozen seawater is called sea ice.

Due to the current period of global warming, the amount of sea ice in the Arctic is shrinking. Most climatologists estimate that by the year 2100, most Arctic sea ice will melt every summer. This would devastate many marine habitats, but provide clear shipping routes for trade and travel.

Icebergs and glaciers are not sea ice; they are frozen fresh water. The glaciers and icebergs in the Arctic make up about 20 percent of Earths supply of fresh water.

Vocabulary

Term Part of Speech Definition Encyclopedic Entry

Aleut

Noun

people and culture native to the Aleutian Islands of western Alaska and eastern Siberia.

algae

Plural Noun

(singular: alga) diverse group of aquatic organisms, the largest of which are seaweeds.

Arctic

Noun

region at Earth's extreme north, encompassed by the Arctic Circle.

Encyclopedic Entry: Arctic

Arctic Circle

Noun

paralell of latitude that runs 66.5 degrees north of the Equator.

beluga

Noun

white whale native to the Arctic Ocean.

camouflage

Verb

to hide or disguise by blending in to surroundings. Also called cryptic coloration.

caribou

Noun

large deer native to North America.

climatologist

Noun

person who studies long-term patterns in weather.

comprise

Verb

to contain or be made up of.

copper

Noun

chemical element with the symbol Cu.

culture

Noun

learned behavior of people, including their languages, belief systems, social structures, institutions, and material goods.

devastate

Verb

to destroy.

enormous

Adjective

very large.

Equator

Noun

imaginary line around the Earth, another planet, or star running east-west, 0 degrees latitude.

Encyclopedic Entry: equator

Eskimo

Noun

people and culture native to the Arctic region of eastern Russia, the U.S. state of Alaska, Canada, and Greenland.

forest

Noun

ecosystem filled with trees and underbrush.

freshwater

Noun

water that is not salty.

frigid

Adjective

very cold.

glacier

Noun

mass of ice that moves slowly over land.

Encyclopedic Entry: glacier

global warming

Noun

increase in the average temperature of the Earth's air and oceans.

Encyclopedic Entry: global warming

habitat

Noun

environment where an organism lives throughout the year or for shorter periods of time.

Encyclopedic Entry: habitat

iceberg

Noun

large chunks of ice that break off from glaciers and float in the ocean.

Encyclopedic Entry: iceberg

indigenous people

Noun

ethnic group that has lived in the same region for all of their known history.

island

Noun

body of land surrounded by water.

Encyclopedic Entry: island

latitude

Noun

distance north or south of the Equator, measured in degrees.

Encyclopedic Entry: latitude

lichen

Noun

organism composed of fungus and algae.

machinery

Noun

mechanical appliances or tools used in manufacturing.

mine

Verb

to extract minerals from the Earth.

moss

Noun

tiny plant usually found in moist, shady areas.

native corporations

Noun

business organizations concerned with economic decisions for a region of Alaska in which native Alaskans own all the stock. Also called ANCSA corporations, after the 1971 law that created these units, the Alaska Native Claims Settlement Act.

natural gas

Noun

type of fossil fuel made up mostly of the gas methane.

Encyclopedic Entry: natural gas

nickel

Noun

chemical element with the symbol Ni.

nutrient

Noun

substance an organism needs for energy, growth, and life.

Encyclopedic Entry: nutrient

oil barrel

Noun

unit of measurement for oil and other petroleum products in the United States equal to 159 liters or 42 gallons. Abbreviated bbl.

oil refinery

Noun

industrial plant where raw, crude oil is processed into useable products such as gas or kerosene.

ore

Noun

deposit in the Earth of minerals containing valuable metal.

Encyclopedic Entry: ore

peninsula

Noun

piece of land jutting into a body of water.

Encyclopedic Entry: peninsula

plankton

Plural Noun

(singular: plankton) microscopic aquatic organisms.

plant

Noun

organism that produces its own food through photosynthesis and whose cells have walls.

puffin

Noun

sea bird with a large, brightly-colored bill.

reindeer

Noun

type of large arctic deer. Also called caribou.

Sami

Noun

people and culture native to northern Scandinavia.

Scandinavia

Noun

region and name for some countries in Northern Europe: Iceland, Norway, Sweden, Finland, and Denmark.

sea ice

Noun

frozen ocean water.

seawater

Noun

salty water from an ocean or sea.

shipping route

Noun

path in a body of water used for trade.

Siberia

Noun

region of land stretching across Russia from the Ural Mountains to the Pacific Ocean.

thrive

Verb

to develop and be successful.

trade

Noun

buying, selling, or exchanging of goods and services.

travel

Noun

movement from one place to another.

tundra

Noun

cold, treeless region in Arctic and Antarctic climates.

vegetation

Noun

all the plant life of a specific place.

Yakut

Noun

people and culture native to eastern Siberia.

Credits

Media Credits

The audio, illustrations, photos, and videos are credited beneath the media asset, except for promotional images, which generally link to another page that contains the media credit. The Rights Holder for media is the person or group credited.

Writers

Kim Rutledge
Melissa McDaniel
Diane Boudreau
Tara Ramroop
Santani Teng
Erin Sprout
Hilary Costa
Hilary Hall
Jeff Hunt

Illustrators

Tim Gunther
Mary Crooks, National Geographic Society

Editors

Kara West
Jeannie Evers

Educator Reviewer

Nancy Wynne

Producer

Caryl-Sue, National Geographic Society

Sources

Dunn, Margery G. (Editor). (1989, 1993). "Exploring Your World: The Adventure of Geography." Washington, D.C.: National Geographic Society.

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