The Arctic habitat is a cold area above the Arctic Circle at the top of the Earth. It comprises the Arctic Oceans and regions of the U.S., Canada, Russia, Iceland, Sweden, Finland, Norway, and Greenland. It’s a diverse habitat, meaning many different plants and animals live there.

The Arctic consists of icy glaciers, sea ice on the Arctic Ocean, and flat plains covered in ice and snow. It’s also very cold — the temperatures can reach -34°Cin the winter!

The climate in Polar Regions

Each continent that borders the Arctic Ocean, Greenland, and Antarctica is home to polar climates.

The temperature in polar climates is unsurprisingly very low. All year round, polar regions experience cold, bitter weather, with the average temperature of the warmest month never getting above ten °C. The average temperature of the entire year ranges greatly. Something that does set the winter and summer months apart in polar regions is that the summer days are very long. While polar regions are cold, they are not overly wet. The annual rainfall in the polar areas is less than 25 cm, with most rain happening in summer.

The Polar Climate in the Arctic

One of the regions that experience a polar climate is, of course, the Arctic. As a result of the cold temperatures, many areas in the Arctic are completely covered by ice in the form of sea ice, glacial ice, or snow all year round. Almost all areas in the Arctic are covered by ice in some form or another for long periods.

On average, the temperatures in the Arctic during the winter tend to sit below −50 °C. In contrast, during the summer months, temperatures in the Arctic range from around −10 to 10 °C. Therefore, you may be surprised that some areas in the Arctic can get up to temperatures above 30 °C during summer.

The Arctic Ocean is a huge feature of this polar region and plays an essential role in dictating the climate of the Arctic. While it is very cold, the temperatures of the Arctic Ocean can never drop below −2 °C, which is relatively warm compared to the temperature on land. The Arctic Ocean stops the North Pole from being the coldest place in the Northern Hemisphere. The ocean is also why Antarctica is so much colder than the Arctic.

On the other hand, Antarctica is home to the coldest climate on Earth. The lowest naturally occurring temperature ever recorded was in Antarctica at a staggering −89.2 °C.

Why is the Arctic so cold?

The reason that the Arctic circle is so cold is because of the angle of the Earth. The Earth’s angled along a diagonal axis means that as it rotates, the two Poles (both North and South) sit at an angle that limits the amount of direct sunlight they’re exposed to. The rays from the sun lose some of their energy because they have to pass through more of the atmosphere to reach the poles. During the summer months, the sun remains very low on the horizon, and during the winter months, it doesn’t even rise above the horizon when you get close to the North Pole.

Because this means that the temperatures in the Arctic circle don’t ever get as high as in regions exposed to more direct sunlight, lots of snow, and ice form, the snow and ice are extremely reflective, so it then reflects a lot of the light out. Away from the Arctic itself, which helps to make the region even colder – it’s almost a self-fulfilling prophecy! The ice and snow that form due to the freezing temperatures help to prevent the temperature from rising and help to make things even colder.

What plants live in an Arctic habitat?

Even though most plants wouldn’t be able to survive the freezing conditions of the Arctic, there are, in fact, around 1700 different plants that do thrive there.

The Arctic habitat is partly made up of frozen sea ice and partly of land covered in a layer of permafrost; on top of that, there’s a thin layer of topsoil, which thaws for a short amount of time each year. Arctic plants take root here and grow.

There isn’t much soil for plants, so they grow low to the ground and together in bunches.

Here are some plants that have adapted to the harsh conditions of the Arctic habitat:

  1. Tundra Moss

Mosses, with short stems and tiny leaves, are common in the Arctic Tundra. They grow on moist ground and in shallow underwater pools warmed by the sun. In these underwater pools, it’s protected from the cold, dry air of the Tundra.

  • Arctic Lichens

The Arctic is full of lichen. Made up of algae and fungi, these plants vary in appearance, from tiny coral-like structures to looking like ‘planty’ crusts on a rock. To survive in the cold Arctic, these plants can photosynthesize in temperatures as low as -20°C. They can also absorb water when covered in snow.

  • Arctic Willow

It is a tiny shrub with shallow roots spread out sideways because the plant can’t push down through the tough permafrost. Instead, it grows long, fuzzy hairs to protect itself from the cold winds. It’s also an essential food for various Arctic herbivores, including caribou and the Arctic hare. The Inuit people call it the “tongue plant” because of the shape of its leaves.

  1. Bearberry

Bears are very fond of eating the bearberry, hence its name! It’s an evergreen plant covered in oval-shaped leathery leaves that blooms with red berries between March and June. It grows low to the ground to stay out of the wind and is also covered in fine silky hairs to keep it warm.

  1. Cottongrass

The cottongrass thrives in the Arctic habitat because it can exploit the lack of competition. Its name comes from the cotton-like flower it grows and has thin leaves to help with water loss in the freezing tundra. As soon as the temperature rises, it produces seeds so that more of the plant can grow.

  • Arctic Poppy

The Arctic poppy blooms a yellow flower and has a hairy stem to help it retain heat in the cold and harsh conditions of the Arctic. The flower can also track the sun in the sky, maximizing the sunlight it receives for photosynthesis.

What are the animals that live in the Arctic?

Just as plant species have adapted to survive in the Arctic, so have many animals.

Animals that live in an Arctic habitat are often highly specialized to thrive in extremely cold temperatures. While they don’t all have all of these features, here are some common adaptations found among animals that live in the Arctic:

  • A white appearance – as camouflage from predators and prey on the snow and ice.
  • thick layers of fat and fur – for insulation against the cold
  • large feet – to distribute their load and increase grip on the ice
  • bigger bodies – to increase their mass-to-surface ratio and have less of their overall body mass able to lose heat to the environment
  • small extremities, like ears, tails, and noses – the smaller they are, the less exposed they are to the elements and the smaller the chance of damage to circulation or frostbite.

There is a massive range of herbivores, carnivores, and omnivores making up animals that live in the arctic, and here are just a few:

Polar Bear

It is arguably the most famous of the animals that live in the Arctic. The polar bear has a white appearance to help it blend in with the snow and approach its prey more easily, and it also has thick layers of fur and fat to protect it from freezing temperatures. They live on Arctic sea ice, the biggest land predator in the world!


Caribou (more commonly known as reindeer) live in herds (sometimes containing thousands of animals) and travel together through the forested areas of the Arctic. Their fur is made up of hollow hairs which trap air to keep the animal warm.

Arctic Hare

Unlike other hare species, the Arctic hare has shortened ears and limbs and a small nose to prevent heat loss in the cold tundra. It’s a herbivore and survives by eating woody plants, mosses, and lichens in the winter. In the summer, it’ll also eat berries and leaves. They have a white coat of fur in the winter and shed it for a grey or brown coat in the summer.

Arctic Fox

Another animal that lives in the Arctic is the Arctic fox. It is covered in thick white fur, which is used as camouflage. It also has furry soles, short ears, and a short muzzle. Like many other foxes, the Arctic fox has a varied diet of small mammals, birds, eggs, insects, berries, or anything else it can find.


The walrus is a large marine mammal with flippers to aid with swimming. They can be identified by the large tusks that protrude out of their mouths. The tusks aren’t just for show, either. They can use the tusks to pull themselves out of the sea and onto the ice or to break holes into the ice for breathing when they’re swimming underneath.

Beluga Whales

Beluga Whales are a species of Arctic and sub-Arctic whales well known for their unique color – unlike almost every other whale species, belugas are white! Belugas are medium-sized, somewhere between the size of the larger “true” whales and larger dolphins, and they’re closely related to narwhals. They are extremely pleasant animals who live in large family groups or pods, usually of about ten members. Still, they can gather in the hundreds or even thousands in estuaries and shallow coastal areas during the summer. They communicate using high-pitched twittering calls that have led to them sometimes being called “sea canaries,” They use their echolocation not only to find food in the freezing ocean but also to find breathing holes in the ice!


Narwhals, known as the ‘unicorn of the sea,’ can only be found in the Arctic Ocean. They’re medium-sized whales with tusks protruding from canine teeth. They have a thick layer of fat to protect themselves from the cold and use their powerful tails to propel themselves through the Arctic waters.

Who was the first person to reach the North Pole?

It isn’t as easy to answer as it might seem! Although it’s most commonly said that the first person to reach it was Robert Peary, there’s been an ongoing debate about it for over a century. An American Naval Officer by the name of Robert Peary claims to have been the first to conquer the unforgiving environment of the Arctic. He was accompanied only by Matthew Henson and claimed that on April 6, 1909, he was the first to reach the pole.

The speed at which he claimed to achieve this amazing feat puzzled many, as Peary had lost eight of his toes due to frostbite on previous expeditions. When he returned, it seemed that someone else had beaten him to it, a man called Dr. Frederick A Cook; however, Peary was honored by congress in 1911 despite the mystery surrounding his claims.

In April 2005, a British explorer, Tom Avery, set out to retrace Peary’s and Henson’s footsteps and prove the skeptics wrong. Traveling in a similar style to Peary’s with teams of Canadian Inuit dogs and custom-built wooden sleds, Tom’s expedition team even managed to beat Peary and Henson’s time of 37 days by 5 hours!

Keep reading to learn more about the various characteristics of polar regions.

Fun facts about the Arctic

  • Because of the way the Earth tilts, there are days in the winter with no sunlight and days in the summer when the sun doesn’t go down.
  • Temperatures are as low as–70 °C have been recorded in northern Greenland.
  • Around four million indigenous people live in the Arctic. They’re called Inuit.
  • The Inuit have influenced the English language — the words ‘kayak’, ‘husky,’ ‘anorak,’ and ‘igloo’ come from them.
  • The word ‘Arctic’ comes from the Greek word for bear, ‘Arktos.’ It’s believed that this is because of two constellations you can see in the sky there, the ‘Ursa Minor’ (Little Bear) and ‘Ursa Major’ (Great Bear).
  • In some parts of the Arctic Ocean, wildlife is more active during the lonely winter than in the summer.
  • There are four ‘poles’ in the Arctic — the ‘Geographic North Pole,’ ‘North Magnetic Pole,’ ‘Pole of the Cold,’ and the ‘Pole of Inaccessibility.’ The “Geographic” North Pole is what we traditionally think of as the North Pole – the center of the Arctic ocean; the Magnetic Pole is a wandering point on the Earth’s surface where a compass always points straight down (it only moves slightly, fortunately!), the Pole of Cold is the coldest place on Earth. Finally, the Pole of Inaccessibility is the most distant point of the Arctic, as far from land as possible wherever you look.
  • The Arctic is usually warmer than the Antarctic.
  • The Arctic only has two seasons— winter and summer.
  • Polar bears aren’t white! Instead, the fur on their bodies is made up of thousands of transparent and hollow hairs – these reflect the light and look white to our eyes.

Arctic Habitat Vocabulary

  • Hibernation —The Arctic has freezing temperatures during the winter time. To survive the cold winter, animals go into a deep sleep and wait for spring. They eat lots of food beforehand so that they can save energy.
  • Permafrost is a layer of soil that’s always frozen, even during the warmer months. However, due to climate change, some permafrost is melting.
  • Tundra — An area within the Arctic with no trees. The landscape is flat with snow.
  • Sea ice — This is where the sea has frozen solid. The edges melt away in the summer, then freeze again when the temperatures drop in the winter.
  • Iceberg — A lump of ice broken off the mainland and floating away onto the ocean. These can be very dangerous if a ship crashes into one.
  • Pack ice — An area where many smaller bits of ice are floating in the ocean. It is more common in summer when the edges of sea ice melt.
  • Polar ice cap — An area in the North and South Poles that is always frozen. It caps the top and bottom of the Earth.
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