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Arctic Circle Definition:
The Arctic Circle is the invisible circle of latitude on the earth's surface at 66░33' north, marking the southern limit of the area where the sun does not rise on the winter solstice or set on the summer solstice - a geographic ring crowning the globe. It is approximately 1,650 miles from the North Pole. Scientists say the Arctic Circle "wanders". Click that last link to find out more!
The Arctic Circle is also the outermost parallel circle counted from the North Pole where we cannot see the sun rise over the horizon in the winter solstice. This phenomena is called polarnight, or midwinter darkness, and occurs around December 21. Continuous day or night ranges from one day at the Arctic Circle to six months at the North Pole.
The Arctic Circle is also the name given the region around the North Pole. It includes the Arctic Ocean, thousands of islands, and the northern parts of Europe, Asia, and North America, including the Arctic and Subarctic regions of Alaska, Canada, Greenland, Iceland, Scandinavia, Siberia and the Russian Far East. A region of immense beauty far removed from the industrial areas of the world, it is also rich in mineral and other natural resources. Throughout this immense area, economic developers search for oil, gas, and similar marketable natural resources.
Barriers to Development
In Alaska, especially, a major problem restricting this development is land withdrawal - millions of acres having been set aside for national or regional parks, military reserves, forests, wildlife refuges, and wilderness areas. In fact, less than 1% of the land in Alaska belongs to the private citizens of the state! Is it any wonder that Alaskan's resent environmentalists from the lower 49 states who seek to tie up even more land with bureaucratic red tape?
Polar day and night
The Polar day begins round March 21 when it is vernal equinox and the sun is right above the equator and the day and night are equal. At the Arctic Circle, the Polarday reaches its climax around June 21 (see Midnight Sun) when the solar orb is so high that at no point does it drop below the horizon. If you are lucky enough to be visiting on June 21, be sure to bring your camera. You can buy postcards showing the sun set that never sets, with time lapse photography. Fairbanks schedules lots of events to celebrate the Midnight Sun in late June.
The Polarnight begins around Sept 23 when it is autumnal equinox and reach its climax around Dec 21 when the sun can no longer be seen above the horizon, even at noon.
Many people believe that the Arctic is so cold nothing can survive there, but explorers and scientists have discovered that, except for Greenland, nine tenths of all arctic lands have little snow and ice during the summer. Trees may be missing, but berries, flowers, and even vegetables, grow there. While the sun doesn't shine much during the winter, it shines on the entire region for part of the day from March to September.
Importance of the Arctic
The Arctic has great importance to more than just the native peoples who live there. Information from Arctic weather stations helps to predict weather further south. In recent years, airlines have taken more and more advantage of the shorter routes to Canada, Asia, and Europe presented by flights over the North Pole.
At one time the Arctic was only a point of interest to explorers, traders, and the Inuit. Today, the Arctic region is a central point of interest to scientists because of its strategic location. In addition to this, is the importance of wildlife habitat in that region, particularly within Alaska. A huge percentage of certain waterfowl from Russia and Canada and the lower 48 nest and/or molt there, along with many other bird species -- not to mention the caribou calving grounds--the Western Arctic herd alone currently numbers near half a million. The challenge to the state is to manage these wildlife populations in ways that allow resource development without significantly impacting the wildlife population.
By one definition, the Arctic Circle does not enclose all of the Arctic Regions. The true actual Arctic is the land in which the mean temperature for the warmest month is less than 50 deg. F. The coldest region is the "polar segment," which in the warmest month of the year does not get above freezing (which means that this area does not get much sunlight.).
The North Pole has a latitude of 90 deg. and a longitude of 0 deg. Despite its name, the North Pole is not necessarily the coldest part of the Arctic Region. The coldest part of the Arctic is the Arctic circle. The reason has to do with water absorbing heat in summer and releasing it during the winter. In addition, the lack of wind at the North Pole helps to cut down on the cold, except for the occasional blizzard.
We have added a link to an Arctic Circle map to our road maps section. It is from a government factbook site and is a 182 kb download, but an excellent map.
There is also more snowfall in the lower 49 states than there is in the Arctic Regions. The reason is that the air is very dry and that there isn't enough moisture for there to be much snow. It has been said that if Alaska did not have snow, it would be a desert.
That is not the only tour. See also the tour page.