10 Common Misconceptions about the Arctic
The Arctic is a big place. Like, really big – the Arctic spreads out over 14.5 million km2, and makes up part of eight countries – Canada, Finland, Greenland (Denmark), Iceland, Norway, Russia, Sweden, and the U.S. Yet despite its impressive size the whole of the Arctic often gets painted with the same brush – it’s always dark, it’s always cold, and so on.
The truth is the Arctic is a region sporting some wonderful diversity… and more than its fair share of myths. Let’s break down 10 misconceptions and take a look at some of the beauty the area has to offer to its adventurous visitors.
1. The Arctic is always freezing.
Nope! Winters are certainly longer than those of regions found closer to the Equator, but during summers Arctic temperatures can reach a balmy average of up to 10°C. Sometimes temperatures over solid land areas (as opposed to over melted ice areas) can actually soar as high as 30°C!
2. The Arctic is an uninhabited wasteland.
There are certainly big swatches of the Arctic with nary a human soul to be seen. A large portion of the Arctic’s “land” is actually ice which tends to melt in the summer, making it a bit tricky to set up a permanent home.
That being said, the Arctic region is actually home to about 4 million hardy souls spread through the eight countries mentioned above.
3. The Arctic is always dark.
Au contraire! During the summers the Arctic becomes “the land of the Midnight Sun” where there is at least some light for pretty much the entire day.
So what happens during the winter? Daylight hours are definitely shorter from about mid-November through mid-January. However it’s rarely ever completely dark. Instead the mid-day hours receive non-direct sunlight, giving the noon hour a twilight or just-before-sunrise feel.
4. It’s going to be easier to get around the Arctic thanks to global warming.
Actually, it turns out that the opposite is true, as least as far as land-based travel is concerned. A lot of land-based travel in the Arctic is based on “ice-roads” that are exactly what they sound like – highways across frozen ground. As the ice gets thinner, or disappears altogether, those travel lanes also disappear, taking vehicular access with them.
5. The Northern Lights are constant.
While the natural phenomenon that creates the Lights can happen the year round (solar bursts interacting with the Earth’s protective atmosphere) they can’t be seen during daylight. So if you’re taking an Arctic cruise for the express purpose of viewing the Aurora Borealis make sure you book either very early or very late into the cruise season when you still get some dark nighttime hours.
6. The Arctic is a hotbed of international contention.
There are a lot of resources still lying untapped in the Arctic, as well as security concerns. It’s understandable that you’d think that international representatives would be shaking their fists at each other over Arctic boundaries.
However the Arctic is actually the cause for some quite congenial conversations. The concerned nations regularly get together to talk things out via the Arctic Council and they adhere to international treaties. Where there is some polite head-butting you’ll usually find scientific exploration at the heart of the matter, rather than a big brouhaha over resources or borders.
7. There are penguins everywhere.
Negative! Penguins are purely a south-of-the-Equator kind of bird. The majority of them are found in the Antarctic and sub-Antarctic islands, with a couple of species found as far north as off the coasts of South America, New Zealand, and Galapagos.
The Arctic bird you’re probably thinking about is actually the puffin, Common Guillemot or Brünnich’s guillemot, which do indeed look fairly penguin-like although there is no relation, and boast the added ability to fly.
8. Raised sea-levels are the only problem presented by Arctic-related climate changes.
All that fresh water ice being permanently melted from the glaciated parts of the Arctic (primarily Greenland) would indeed create raised ocean-lines around the rest of the world. But that’s not the only problem presented by climate change.
The Arctic’s decreasing sea ice levels will also mean smaller sun-shields. The ice-shields of the Arctic and Antarctic act as shields for the Earth; they bounce back sunlight into space aiding to keep the temperatures at the current level. With those shields reduced in size more sunlight is going to be impacting the Oceans and may well contribute to our overall temperature.
We’re also going to be experiencing increased greenhouse gas levels as they’re released from the thawing permafrost soils.
9. The Arctic is all ice, snow, and rock.
If that was true herbivores like reindeer and Arctic hares wouldn’t stand much of a chance, not to mention the thousands of birds that come north during the summer for their breeding seasons.
People in the Arctic region definitely do get to see green for part of the year. Most of the Arctic’s plant-life is stuff that stays low to the ground – shrubs, herbs, mosses, lichens, and the like. There is even the occasional splash of other colours thanks to brave little flowers like the Arctic poppy.
10. There’s nothing to do in the Arctic.
Absolutely untrue. An Arctic cruise delivers up all sorts of Arctic activities – polar bear safaris, whale-watching, kayaking, scuba diving, Northern Lights experiences and visits to historical hotspots from Viking, whaling, mining, and explorer days.