If you are planning a cruise to the Arctic, it is important to note that unlike the South Pole, the North Pole is not located on any land mass. Rather, it is found in the Arctic Ocean, covered by a three-meter-thick drifting polar ice pack that grows and diminishes according to the seasons. If you take an Arctic tour in the summer, this ice pack is surrounded by open water, but by wintertime the ice pack can spread to the solid land of the northern countries. In the winter and spring, the snow cover is about 8-20 inches deep on the ice pack, and is generally present 10 months out of the year.
The Arctic Ocean is the smallest of the world’s oceans, and has two important waterways—the Northwest Passage north of the U.S. and Canada, and the Northern Route, north of Norway and Russia. These waterways are seasonal, open only in the warmer summer months. Other ocean routes, as well as land and air routes, are sparse.
Half of the area beneath the Arctic Ocean consists of a continental shelf, which surrounds a central basin divided by three underwater ridges. The ocean’s salinity changes from season to season, which can influence the marine wildlife viewing opportunities on your tour of the region. When the ice pack expands during the winter months, the water has a high salinity level, which decreases in the summer when the ice melts.