Antarctica vs. the Arctic

How well do you know your ice-world geography? Here’s a test:

  • Do polar bears at the South Pole?
  • Do penguins live at the North Pole?
  • Can you see the Aurora Borealis in Antarctica?

No, No & Nope!

(Actually this last one is a bit of a trick question. The Aurora Borealis (Northern Lights) are visible near the North Pole, while the Aurora Australis can be seen in the southern bit of Antarctica.)

Ship in Icy WatersVive la Difference

As I made my way up to Finnish Lapland, about 200 miles north of the Arctic Circle, I had no idea where I was going. (Literally, I got lost on the bus ride from the airport and ended up going about 4 hours out of my way!)

And before heading down to the southern hinterland of Antarctica I didn’t know one whit about that frozen continent. Nada. (Although, oddly, this is sort of how I like to travel because I get to learn all about a place right on the spot.)

For instance, I didn’t know the answers to those questions above. In all honesty, I didn’t even think to ask those questions before I went. As a result, one of my favorite parts of my expedition to Antarctica was the lectures by scientists on board the ship (in addition to the unrivaled snowscapes and incredible wildlife viewing opportunities!).

So it was after attending several Antarctic briefings, researching and writing a dozen articles when I returned, and swapping stories with other travelers (especially the crew on the expedition ship) that I really started to appreciate the difference between these two winter wonderlands.

Cool Comparison

Here’s a handy grid I found at, giving us a cool comparison of the two poles:

                         Antarctica                                         Arctic
Continent surrounded by water Ocean surrounded by continents & Greenland
2% ice free Limited land ice
Sea ice mainly annual, salty, and less than 2 meters thick (6 ½ ft.) Sea ice mainly multi-year, low in salinity and more than 2 meters thick (6 ½ ft.)
Marine mammals (whale and seal); no terrestrial mammals Terrestrial mammals (reindeer, wolf, musk ox, hare, lemming, fox); marine mammals (whale, seal, polar bear, walrus)
Penguins & less than 20 bird species More than 100 bird species


Arctic Exploration

This is the Lapland Coat of Arms (kinda funny!)

This is the Lapland Coat of Arms (kinda funny!)

Now that I’ve visited both Antarctica and the Arctic Circle (up as far as Inari, getting near the Finnish-Russian border), you’d think I would have had enough of ice-centered exploration. Wrong!

I’m just getting started. Not only do I want to return to Antarctica, but I also want to travel on a North Pole voyage to check out Greenland, Spitsbergen and the Canadian Arctic! What can I say? Dog-sledding is calling my name. Mush!

Bonus Question

Which is colder: The Arctic or Antarctica?

Right! Antarctica. The Southern Ocean which surrounds the continent foments fierce storms which, in turn, create strong winds and currents. This frigid weather reduces the amount of warm water that can reach the land, making Antarctica the coldest place on earth.

For more about my cold-weather adventures, check out:

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This entry was posted on Sunday, March 17th, 2013 and is filed under South America, Travel Favorites.

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