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Image of the satellite Envisat (September 2007):
Orange: The most direct ship and trade route to the North Pole , the " Northwest Passage "
Light Blue: Only slightly blocked by ice " Northeast Passage "
Satellite image of the Arctic (caption: Russian )

The Arctic is the region of the earth around the North Pole . It includes the northern polar cap , the Arctic Ocean , which is largely covered by ice, and the northern foothills of the continents of North America , Asia and Europe . Opposite the Arctic on the globe is its antipodin, Antarctica .

The term Arctic is derived from the ancient Greek word ἄρκτος árktos for " bear ". The adjective ἄρκτικός arktikós was used to indicate the direction "north", but also referred to the region under the constellation Great Bear , which was closer to the North Pole in ancient times than it is today. The North Star , which today stands almost vertically above the North Pole , belongs to the constellation Little Bear .

Geological history

From fossil record , so those of Margaret formation of Ellesmere Island or a mummified forest on Axel Heiberg Island , it appears that in the Arctic in the lower to middle Eocene before 40 to 50 million years ago warm temperate ruled temperatures and here sequoia trees up to 50 meters high grew. At this time, the Arctic Ocean even had subtropical water temperatures limited locally and seasonally. Remains of freshwater plants were discovered in drill cores, which are now found in rice crops, among other things. It is therefore assumed that more than 40 million years ago the Arctic Ocean could have been an inland sea that was almost completely isolated from the ocean , the uppermost water layer of which was comparatively low in salt due to precipitation-related freshwater inputs. Other finds bear witness to violent biological upheavals and the sudden extinction of many organisms in the period that followed.

At the beginning of the Oligocene , about 33 million years ago, the earth cooled down and ice caps formed on the poles. The glaciation reached Antarctica 25 million years ago and Greenland 6 million years ago. 6000–7000 years ago the Arctic was possibly periodically free of ice for a long time.


The Arctic as an area north of the Arctic Circle (green)

In the past, the Arctic was simply defined as "the region north of the Arctic Circle " (66 ° 34 ′ north latitude). Today, its extent is often determined by climatic and vegetation-geographical criteria, e.g. B. via the July isotherm of 10 ° C or the tree line . In the social sciences, the Arctic is delimited by political regions and socio-economic factors. In politics is often on such a definition from the Arctic Human Development Report of the Arctic Council resorted.

In the center of the Arctic there is no ice-covered continent (as in Antarctica), but a year-round frozen sea, the Arctic Ocean . At the geographic North Pole , the ice is four meters thick and the ocean is 4,261 meters deep. To the south, the ocean is bounded by the continents of North America, Asia and Europe .

High arctic

The northernmost part of the Arctic is sometimes referred to as the "High Arctic". The term is not clearly defined; often the Arctic Ocean , the Canadian-Arctic archipelago , the northern half of Greenland , Svalbard and the islands in the far north of Russia (e.g. Franz-Joseph-Land and Nowaja Zemlya ) are understood. The regionally different delimitation is due to the different climatic conditions that are caused by the distribution of warm and cold ocean currents in the northern hemisphere. The north of Scandinavia and the adjoining European Arctic Ocean do not have any high Arctic conditions due to the Gulf Stream , while the Beaufort Sea , which is at the same latitude, is not exposed to any warm currents and is included in the high Arctic. The global warming shifts the boundary of the High Arctic slowly northward.

Meteorologically and climatologically , the high Arctic coincides to a large extent with the polar region . Their climatic and ecological conditions are among the toughest and most hostile to life on earth and can only be compared with those of Antarctica and the highest regions of the Himalayas and Karakoram . Snow and ice cover a large part of the sea and land surface all year round, while in the more southern Arctic regions larger areas thaw in summer and are more life-friendly. In these regions, pingos - round hills formed by ice lenses - are a typical landscape phenomenon.

Protected areas

The end of 2016, US President declared Barack Obama shortly before leaving office, together with the incumbent Government of Canada large areas of the Arctic and the Atlantic Ocean to protected areas , for the first five years no new oil and gas drilling - licenses are more forgiving. The new protected areas in the Arctic are roughly the size of Spain . By far the largest permanent marine reserve in the Arctic is Tuvaijuittuq in Canada .

Flora and fauna

The plants of the Arctic are predominantly related to the species that occur in the Alps , but their life cycle is shaped by the much more extreme environmental conditions of tundras , cold and ice deserts . Arctic environmental factors are strong temperature differences, permafrost , extremely changing solar radiation and violent snowstorms , which affect the vegetation through abrasion.

The Arctic is home to a limited number of mammalian species , and it is also poor in fish species . In terms of bird species, on the other hand, it is extremely rich, which is also due to the fact that many migratory birds come here to breed.

It is estimated that there are around 1,000 species of insects in the Arctic regions , particularly biting mosquitoes and black flies , but also bumblebees and butterflies . In addition, a large number of spider species occur in the tundras .

Land vegetation is almost completely absent in the high Arctic , which is why it is also referred to as polar desert . Only a few species of land mammals can be found here , including the polar bear, which however mainly feeds on the sea. The marine fauna, on the other hand, is relatively rich in species.

exemplary selection


One of the two terrestrial polar eddies , which is subject to the " Arctic oscillation ", forms over the North Pole in polar winter ; their characteristics and thus possible weather effects are described with the "AO index".

Climate change

The smallest directly measured extent of the Arctic sea ice from September 2007 compared to the previous record minimum in 2005 and the mean minimum from 1979 to 2000
Decrease in Arctic sea ice between 1979 and 2010, an indicator of global warming
Graphic animation of the relationship between CO 2 emissions and the melting ice in the Arctic

A decrease in the sea ice area has been observed for over half a century. It has accelerated significantly in the recent past, so that natural fluctuations seem increasingly unlikely as the reason and global warming is now seen as the main cause. As of 2015, the Arctic is showing the first signs of irreversible changes; Among other things, a temperature rise between 1 ° C and 4 ° C could trigger the almost complete melting of the Greenland ice .

Measurements from 2007 show a decrease in the ice surface compared to the average for 1978 to 2000 by 40–45% to 3 million km². In 2007 alone, over a million square kilometers of ice melted. If this development continues, the Arctic could be ice-free as early as 2030. The Northeast Passage and Northwest Passage could be temporarily suitable for commercial shipping from around 2019.

In the fall of 2008, temperatures of 5 degrees above normal had reached a new warming record for this time of the year, according to a report by the American weather and ocean authority NOAA . One reason for this is the steady decline in sea ice, which means that less sunlight is reflected into space. This in turn leads to a further increase in air temperature. This feedback mechanism is called ice albedo feedback .

At the beginning of February 2017, the temperatures in the Arctic were around 30 degrees above the average values ​​for the years 1979 to 2000, which are usual there at this time of year, and thus in the range of the values ​​reached in Central Europe around this time or even above.

Temporal course of the volume of the Arctic ice cover from a measurement-based numerical simulation. You can see the seasonal fluctuations on which a downward trend is superimposed.

The thickness of the Arctic sea ice is also decreasing. Together with the reduction in area, there is a drastic shrinkage in volume and area, which, if the trend continues linearly, leads to the expectation that the ice cover will completely disappear during the summer in the period 2030–2035. However, this process can be accelerated or delayed. In contrast, in its 2007 report , the IPCC did not anticipate a complete disappearance of the ice around 2090.

According to the US National Snow and Ice Data Center , the ice cover of the Arctic Ocean in January 2017 was lower than ever since records began in 1979 at this time of year: It was 13.38 million square kilometers, 260,000 (almost 2%) less than in January of the previous year 2016, where a negative record had already been set. The summer ice cover decreased by more than a third within 36 years. In 2015, the ice surface during the period of minimal ice cover in September was a good 4 million km². At the beginning of the satellite measurements in 1979 it was about 7 million km².

The ice cover is also decreasing on Greenland : In 2007 the island lost a volume of 101 cubic kilometers. This has helped sea levels in the Arctic rise 0.25 centimeters per year. The consequences can already be seen in the ecosystem: The geese population is increasing while herds of reindeer are becoming smaller.

In June 2011, ESA published a new map of the Arctic ice layer, which was created with the help of CryoSat-2 . For the first time in the history of Arctic ice observation, the thickness of the ice can now also be measured precisely. The operators of the satellite therefore speak of the beginning of a new series of measurements.

Since 2016, with the exception of 2017, new negative records have been set every year up to and including 2019: Once again, the ice surface in the Arctic was lower than ever before (since measurements began in 1978). In addition, the trend of the Arctic ice melt can now be put into figures: The decrease in area (in February) is around 2.8% per decade; There is also a negative trend in ice thickness.


Sami reindeer keepers at the Arctic Circle (December 2018)
The US Congress -Abgeordnete Ruben Gallego with indigenous members of the Gwich'in in protest against the environmental policy of the incumbent US President Donald Trump in the Arctic (Dec 2018)

The entire Arctic is sparsely populated and practically does not allow agriculture, which is primarily due to the hostile climate that has prevailed here since around the middle of the 2nd millennium. Before this time, smaller human groups of the Pre-Dorset, Dorset and Thule cultures lived here , who were able to withstand the extreme conditions with the help of adapted lifestyles and techniques. The lighting conditions also stand in the way of human settlement. The polar night (like the time phase of the midnight sun ) increases with increasing proximity to the geographic North Pole

A total of around four million people currently live in the Arctic, with a small portion of the population recognized as indigenous . The polar peoples include a. Eskimos (approx. 150,000), Nenets (formerly called Samoyed , approx. 40,000), Yakuts (approx. 330,000), Sami (approx. 70,000) and Evenks (approx. 35,000). In addition, numerous Scandinavians , Russians and North Americans live in the Arctic , including members of the First Nations and the Alaska Natives , i.e. the Indian peoples of northern Canada and Alaska. Indigenous people only make up the majority of the population in the region in Greenland and some parts of Canada.

Large parts of the Arctic were among the last blank spots on the world map until well into modern times . Some regions, especially the North Pole, were not accessible until the 20th century and were only reached and researched with enormous technical effort. Today, however, they are not only the destination of participants in extreme walking and ski expeditions, but also of tourists who let themselves be flown to the North Pole.



Arctic political map, the red line is the 10 ° C July isotherm
Proposed sector division of the Arctic at the beginning of the 20th century.

Parts of the national territories of Russia and the USA , of ( Alaska ) and Canada , the dependent areas of Greenland (administered by Denmark ) and Svalbard (to Norway ) as well as the region of Lapland (on the national territory of Norway, Sweden and Finland ).

With the exception of a few small islands such as B. Hans Island there are no territorial disputes over the Arctic land areas. In contrast, the maritime boundaries in the Arctic have not been conclusively clarified . In view of the available natural resources (especially oil and natural gas), Arctic sovereignty has attracted increasing media attention in recent years, especially after Russia placed the flag on the seabed of the North Pole in 2007 using two submarines. While the media mostly interpreted this event as the start of a "race" for natural resources, this view is difficult to hold scientifically, since the sovereignty of the sea ​​is regulated by the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea . With the exception of the USA, all Arctic states are also members of this convention, and even the USA has repeatedly asserted that it accepts the Convention on the Law of the Sea. In this context, the legal extent of the continental shelf is of particular relevance , since the coastal states within this area u. a. have sovereign rights to exploit the resources. If a country wishes to claim the continental shelf beyond 200 nautical miles, it must do so scientifically and submit it to the Commission for the Limitation of the Continental Shelf. The expedition, during which the Russian flag was placed, was primarily used for scientific research. Russia itself has never claimed that by placing the flag it is making legally binding claims to sovereignty on the North Pole, but has compared this to hoisting the US flag on the moon, as this is the first time humans have reached the seabed under the geographic North Pole. In order to demonstrate to the world that there is no conflict over the delimitations in the maritime Arctic, the five countries bordering the Arctic Ocean reaffirmed their cooperation in the Ilulissat Declaration and once again emphasized the importance of the Convention on the Law of the Sea. Therefore, in science, the thesis is more likely to be advocated that there is no race for resources in the Arctic, but rather that there is cooperation between the Arctic states and that sovereign claims develop in an orderly manner within the framework of the international legal system.

Even more important for Arctic cooperation than the meeting in Ilulissat is the Arctic Council , which was founded in 1996 as the successor organization to the Arctic Environmental Protection Program: Within this council, the Arctic states also work together on the extraction of mineral resources.


According to a message from the Alfred Wegener Institute (AWI) published online in October 2015 in the magazine Polar Biology , plastic waste can already be found on the water surface of the Arctic: its origin is unclear; corresponding data was collected for the first time during an expedition in 2012 between Greenland and the Svalbard archipelago to the east .

See also

Portal: Arctic  - Overview of Wikipedia content on the subject of the Arctic


  • Wolf Dieter Blümel: Physical geography of the polar regions. BG Teubner, Stuttgart 1999, ISBN 3-519-03438-7 .
  • Robert M. Bone: The Canadian North - Issues and Challenges. Oxford University Press, Don Mills ON, 3rd edition 2009, ISBN 978-0-19-542718-9 .
  • Marco Nazarri: The Arctic - Life in Eternal Ice. Karl Müller Verlag, Erlangen 1998, ISBN 3-86070-745-0 .
  • Brando Quilici: Arctic. vgs, Cologne 2001 (2nd edition), ISBN 3-8025-2829-8 .
  • Lyre Manfred: World Atlas of the Oceans - with the depth maps of the world's oceans. Frederking and Thaler, Munich 2001, ISBN 3-89405-441-7 , depth maps p. 210–217, relief map p. 40–41.
  • Matthias Hannemann: The new north. The Arctic and the dream of departure. Scoventa, Bad Vilbel 2010, ISBN 978-3-942073-02-8 .
  • Joan Nymand Larsen, Gail Fondahl, Nordic Council of Ministers (Eds.): Arctic Human Development Report II. Regional Processes and Global Linkages. Nordic Council of Ministers, Copenhagen, 2014, ISBN 978-92-893-3881-3 , ( PDF file; 13.2 MB).

Web links

Commons : Arctic  - Collection of images, videos and audio files
Wikisource: Arctic  Sources and Full Texts
Wiktionary: Arctic  - explanations of meanings, word origins, synonyms, translations

Individual evidence

  1. Jaelyn J. Eberle, David R. Greenwood: Life at the top of the greenhouse Eocene world - A review of the Eocene flora and vertebrate fauna from Canada's High Arctic . In: Geological Society of America Bulletin . tape 124 , 1/2, January / February, 2012, pp. 3–23 ( [PDF; 3.1 MB ; accessed on December 11, 2013]). ( Memento from December 15, 2013 in the Internet Archive )
  2. ^ Regional Association Westphalia-Lippe: Climate and people. Life in extremes. Book accompanying the exhibition. Westphalian Museum of Archeology, ISBN 978-3-00-019383-5 , 2007, p. 25.
  3. Gudmund Løvø: Less ice in the Arctic Ocean 6000-7000 years ago. ( Memento of October 27, 2008 in the Internet Archive ), Geological Survey of Norway, October 20, 2008.
  4. ^ Oran R. Young and Niels Einarsson: Introduction: Human Development in the Arctic . In: Arctic Human Development Report. Akureyri: Steffanson Arctic Institute . 2004, p. 15–26 ( online [PDF; 1000 kB ; accessed on May 12, 2014]). Introduction: Human Development in the Arctic ( Memento from May 14, 2014 in the Internet Archive )
  5. a b c At a depth of 4261 meters. Russians set the flag at the North Pole , Spiegel online , August 2, 2007.
  6. , December 21, 2016: Obama annoys Trump about environmental protection (December 28, 2016)
  7. Tuvaijuittuq Marine Protected Area . In:, accessed on January 12, 2020.
  8. Ottmar Edenhofer , Susanne Kadner, Jan Minx: Is the two-degree target desirable and can it still be achieved? The contribution of science to a political debate. In: Jochem Marotzke , Martin Stratmann (Hrsg.): The future of the climate. New insights, new challenges. A report from the Max Planck Society. Beck, Munich 2015, ISBN 978-3-406-66968-2 , pp. 69–92, here p. 75.
  9. Die Presse : Arctic: The Northwest Passage is ice-free. , September 15, 2007.
  10. ^ "Melting ice in the Arctic - Dramatically accelerated" , , September 3, 2007
  11. Climate change in the Arctic is becoming increasingly evident.  ( Page no longer available , search in web archivesInfo: The link was automatically marked as defective. Please check the link according to the instructions and then remove this notice. , ( Leibniz Institute for Marine Sciences ), May 5, 2009.@1@ 2Template: Dead Link /  
  12. a b , February 10, 2017, Christoph Seidler: Why it is just as warm at the North Pole as it is in Berlin (February 10, 2017)
  13. Arctic Sea Ice Volume Anomaly ( Memento from July 11, 2010 in the Internet Archive )
  14. ML Parry, OF Canziani, JP Palutikof, PJ van der Linden, CE Hanson (Ed.): Polar Regions (Arctic and Antarctic) - Figure 15.3 ( Memento from February 12, 2010 in the Internet Archive ) In: AR4 WGII (Contribution of Working Group II to the Fourth Assessment Report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change.) Chapter 15. Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, United Kingdom / New York, NY, USA 2007.
  15. Mojib Latif : Are we getting the climate out of sync? , in: Klaus Wiegandt (Ed.), Courage for Sustainability. 12 ways into the future . Frankfurt am Main 2016, 80–112, p. 105.
  16. Arctic temperatures rise to record high. , Spiegel online, October 17, 2008.
  17. New ice thickness map of the Arctic published., accessed June 23, 2011.
  18. Christoph Seidler, DER SPIEGEL: Climate change in the Arctic: The ice at the North Pole can no longer be saved - DER SPIEGEL - Wissenschaft. Retrieved April 20, 2020 .
  19. ^ Arctic Sea Ice Extent / Concentration. Retrieved April 20, 2020 (American English).
  20. a b Badische Zeitung: The ice in the Arctic is getting thinner and thinner - Panorama - Badische Zeitung . ( [accessed on March 10, 2018]).
  21. a b Dmitry Bogoyavlensky and Andy Siggner: Arctic Demography . In: Arctic Human Development Report. Akureyri: Steffanson Arctic Institute . 2004, p. 27–41 ( online [PDF; 700 kB ; accessed on May 12, 2014]). Arctic Demography ( Memento from May 14, 2014 in the Internet Archive )
  22. Erik Franckx: Should the law governing maritime areas in the Arctic adapt to changing climatic circumstances? In: California Western International Law Journal . tape 43 , no. 2 , 2011, p. 397-432 .
  23. a b c Alex G. Oude Elferink: The continental shelf in the polar regions: cold war or black-letter war? In: Netherlands Yearbook of International Law . tape XL , 2009, p. 121-181 .
  24. ^ Map: Maritime jurisdiction and boundaries in the Arctic region , International Boundaries Research Unit, Durham University, April 1, 2013
  25. ^ Oil and Gas - Arctic Energy Assessment. US Geological Survey
  26. On the cap. , Zeit online, August 16, 2007
  27. a b Ilulissat Declaration. (PDF, English).
  28. a b Timo Koivurova: Power Politics or Orderly Development? Why Are States "Claiming" Large Areas of the Arctic Seabed? In: SRSilverburg (ed.): International Law: Contemporary Issues and Future Developments. Westview Press . 2011, p. 362–375 ( [PDF; 1.8 MB ; accessed on May 12, 2014]).
  29. , October 24, 2015: Plastic waste in the Arctic.