Polar Habitat

Weddell seal in Antarctic Sound
suraark/Moment Open/Getty Images

The polar regions are the ends of the Earth - the areas surrounding the North and South Pole. These regions are known as the Arctic and Antarctic. Both of these regions experience extremes in cold weather and availability of sunlight. Here you can learn more about these polar, icy habitats and who lives there.



While both the Arctic and Antarctic are cold and at the poles of the Earth, there are many differences between the two regions.


Location and Countries in the Polar Regions

The Arctic surrounds the North Pole, which isn't ever officially marked because it is covered by shifting, floating ice. There are several countries within the Arctic region - the United States, Canada, Denmark, Iceland, Norway, Sweden, Finland and Russia. Humans have lived in the Arctic since prehistoric times, and millions of people live in this region today.

In stark contrast, the only land mass in the Antarctic is the continent of Antarctica, which is owned by no country, but is governed by a treaty that states that the continent can be used for peaceful, scientific purposes. The South Pole is marked with a brass and copper marker placed in the ice. As far as humans are concerned, the population is much less than in the Arctic. There are no indigenous (native) Antarctic populations. However, the region is visited by thousands of tourists annually, and various countries have set up scientific research stations, that are inhabited temporarily.



The polar regions receive less sunlight than other parts of the Earth, and at times, there is no sunlight at all. During the winter, some regions experience full darkness or twilight - the sun never fully rises. During the summer, there may be light for the entire 24-hour day. The Arctic is called the "Land of the Midnight Sun" because at the North Pole, the sun is up all summer long.

The Arctic is cold (mean temperature is -40 degrees F in winter and 32 degrees F in summer), but the Antarctic is really cold - the mean temperature is -76 degrees F in the winter and only -18 degrees F even in summer.




Challenges in these regions can include extreme cold and lack of sunlight at some times of year. As the planet warms, lack of ice will become a challenge for some marine life (such as ice seals, who need ice for resting and giving birth), and an advantage to others (such as killer whales, who would be able to expand their range and possibly find more prey).


Types of Marine Life:


Marine life in the polar regions include:

  • Birds, such as the emperor penquins, which lives in the Antarctic, but not the Arctic
  • Whales
  • Pinnipeds, such as seals and walruses
  • Polar Bears (in the Arctic, but not the Antarctic)
  • Invertebrates
  • Fish
  • Plankton (zooplankton and phytoplankton)




Polar regions, especially the Arctic, are threatened by climate change. Warmer weather would mean less ice, and thinner ice, giving animals such as seals and polar bears less habitat. Warmer water may also increase productivity of some species, such as plankton. However, that, combined with a decrease in ice coverage, may allow other species to move into Arctic regions, having an effect on the habitats, prey availability and predation of native Arctic and Antarctic species, many of which have evolved to live in their unique habitat.

Other threats include pollution, increased oil and gas exploration and shipping, and possibly overfishing.


References and Further Information:


  • Census of Marine Life. Arctic Ocean Diversity. Accessed January 31, 2013.
  • Munro, N. 2009. Polar Oceans: the Biological Ocean. Accessed January 31, 2013.
  • NOAA. Arctic Theme Page. Accessed January 31, 2013.
  • ScienceDaily. 2012. The Challenges Facing the Vulnerable Antarctic. Accessed January 31, 2013.
  • Smith, T. 2012. “Significant Challenges” for Life in the Arctic Ocean, Says Report. Responding to Climate Change. Accessed January 31, 2013.
  • The Pew Environment Group. Arctic Challenges. Accessed January 31, 2013.
  • Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution. Compare the Poles. Accessed January 29, 2013.
  • WWF. The Arctic. Accessed January 31, 2013.


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Your Citation
Kennedy, Jennifer. "Polar Habitat." ThoughtCo, Mar. 21, 2016, thoughtco.com/polar-habitat-overview-2291767. Kennedy, Jennifer. (2016, March 21). Polar Habitat. Retrieved from https://www.thoughtco.com/polar-habitat-overview-2291767 Kennedy, Jennifer. "Polar Habitat." ThoughtCo. https://www.thoughtco.com/polar-habitat-overview-2291767 (accessed November 23, 2017).