Antarctic vs. Arctic Pole Comparison

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While the Earth's polar regions are similar in many ways, the North and South Poles also display stark differences. Here is a brief comparison of the two poles.

Natural Features


  • The Antarctic is a continent surrounded by ocean.

  • Icebergs are calved from glaciers and shelf ice year round, and may measure in excess of 25 cubic miles.

  • The sea ice accumulates annually and more than doubles the size of the continent.

  • Over 97% of the Antarctic landmass is covered by the unbroken South Polar ice sheet.

  • Elevation at the South Pole is 9300 feet above sea level, although the bedrock is only 100 feet above sea level the annual mean temperature at the South Pole is -58°F.


  • The Arctic is an ocean surrounded by continents.

  • Icebergs are calved from glaciers and are seasonal. The icebergs are measured in cubic yards.

  • Sea ice accumulates over several years.

  • Land ice is found in limited areas, the largest being the Greenland ice sheet.

  • The elevation at the North Pole is 3 feet of sea ice. The bedrock is located 1400 feet below sea level.

  • The annual mean temperature at the North Pole is 0°F.

Plants and Animals


  • No tundra or tree lines. The subantarctic zone is marked by the Antarctic Convergence.

  • No terrestrial mammals.

  • Marine mammals include whales, porpoises and seals.


  • The Tundra is well developed and marked by a tree shrubline.

  • Terrestrial mammals include musk ox, reindeer, caribou, fox, hare, wolf, lemming, bears, and more.

  • Marine mammals include whales, porpoises, seals, and amphibious mammals.

Human Activities


  • No record of primitive humans and no native groups.

  • The population south of 60°S is sparse and occurs at scattered scientific stations.

  • There is no exploitation of terrestrial resources.

  • First crossing of the Antarctic Circle was by James Cook on January 17, 1773.


  • There are native people with a long cultural record and ethnic groups on continents all around the Arctic.

  • Human population north of 60°N is in excess of 2 million with modern settlements.

  • There is widespread exploitation of natural resources and technological development.

  • The first crossing of the Arctic Circle is prehistoric.

Adapted from: United States National Science Foundation. The United States in Antarctica: Report of the U.S. Antarctic Program External Panel. 1997 [Washington, D.C.]