The Wonders of the Arctic
Photo: An iceberg in the form of an arch
The Arctic is the most extraordinary region on the planet and it is not surprising that it is called mysterious and enigmatic, because it is an area that holds many different wonders.
The Arctic has its own unique nature - vast expanses of ice and snow and enormous icebergs of the most incredible and fantastic shapes drifting in the Arctic seas. The lands are home to polar bears and reindeer, rare animals and birds and the Arctic seas are filled with precious species of fish. In the depths of the region lie the very richest reserves of natural resources. It is the only place on Earth where there are large accumulations of mammoth bones that have been in permanently frozen soil for several millennia. These findings, especially the tusks of the mammoths, are valuable fossil remains of mammoth fauna.
The Arctic is a truly special area. It is a unique region unlike any other inhabited region. There are a number of poles in the Arctic and there are no days and nights in the usual sense - in the region the polar day lasts six months, as does the polar night.
A real wonder of the Arctic are the northern lights, which can last several days and illuminate the sky in a variety of iridescent colours. There are also other surprising natural phenomena on these northern lands. You can see the «ice-blink» and find «ice flowers» for example; every phenomenon is unusual and unique. This is probably why they say that the Arctic draws you in and leaves a lasting impression for life.
The Arctic Poles
There are four poles in the Arctic: the geographic North Pole, the magnetic pole, the Pole of Cold and the Pole of Inaccessibility. These points are widely scattered in the northern hemisphere and do not coincide with the geographic pole through which the globe's axis of rotation of the globe «passes».
Photo: The North Pole
The Geographic Pole is in the central Arctic Ocean and is a special point on the planet where the meridians and all the time zones converge, meaning that there is no definition of time. Polar expeditions usually go by the time in their country.
The magnetic pole is a certain point on the Earth's surface where the Earth's magnetic field is directed toward the surface at right angles. The position of the magnetic pole is unstable and its coordinates are temporary and uncertain, as each day it moves along an elliptical path and shifts to the north and north-west. Since the second half of the twentieth century, the pole has been moving towards the Taimyr Peninsula, in «quiet» periods at a rate of one kilometre per year, and in periods of geomagnetic activity up to a dozen or so kilometres per year.
On the Earth there is a place that is colder than the North Pole. On the maps of meteorologists from all around the world it is described as the Pole of Cold of the Northern Hemisphere. It is located in the Yakut settlement Oymyakon in Eastern Siberia. The settlement has a population of 521. The relatively large distance of Oymyakon from the ocean and its location in the high latitudes create a harsh continental climate. In winter, the temperature in these areas falls below minus 50-60 degrees. The absolute minimum in Oymyakon was recorded in February 1933 (- 67.7 °C). It is the coldest place on Earth that is continuously inhabited at such low temperatures.
The Pole of Inaccessibility is an ice cluster measuring 3,000,000 km2, at the furthest distance from any of the shores of the Arctic Ocean and the furthest distance from any dry land. It is located on the 170th meridian east about 600 km from the North Geographic Pole. As this point is far from convenient transport links, the Pole of Inaccessibility is very difficult to reach. Despite this, however, in 1941, Soviet polar explorers went on the first expedition to the pole on a USSR-H-169 aeroplane led by Ivan Cherevichny. In 1986, an expedition led by Dmitry Shparo reached the Pole of Inaccessibility during the polar night on foot.
One of the most exciting and amazing natural phenomenon is the aurora polaris that appears in the sky in the form of arches, arcs and rippling curtains of different colours. The breathtaking spectacle, which has long since been known by Arkhangelsk coast-dwellers as spolokhi (flashes), can last from one hour to several days. This fluorescent glow comes from charged particles flying from the Sun colliding with molecules and atoms of gases in the clearest part of the envelope of air around the Earth.
Of all types of aurora, the most common are arches and arcs, which are usually formed at a height of 60 to 100 kilometres. Lights in the form of waving curtains occur at altitudes of 110-120 kilometres and red lights are formed at the highest altitudes of 900-1000 kilometres. Just below them their color changes to violet and in the layers closest to the Earth the lights and flashes are green.
Photo: The Northern Lights
Sometimes the aurora reach such colossal forces that they cover vast expanses of sky. An aurora in 1872 covered almost the entire northern hemisphere and an aurora in 1938 could be seen all over the European area of Russia.
However, this impressive sight also has a negative side that affects human activity. Intense aurora cause strong «magnetic storms» in the atmosphere and therefore disrupt the normal function of radio devices and compasses. However, these phenomena usually occur in winter, when geologists, polar explorers, pilots and other professionals work the least. In any case, experienced polar explorers know that if there is a strong aurora they should not operate equipment or travel.
The Polar Day and Polar Night
The polar day and polar night can also be considered as wonders of the Arctic. Even in the 5th Century BC, their existence was predicted by the Greek mathematician and astronomer, Bion of Abdera, who was the first person to say that on Earth there are places where the day lasts six months and the night also lasts six months.
Photo: The Polar Night
A polar day is considered the time when the Sun does not set on the horizon for more than one day. During a polar day the Sun may not fall below the horizon for many days, tracing a circle along the horizon line. At the North Pole it lasts from the spring to the autumn equinox - from 64 to 186 days. Its duration increases north of the Arctic Circle.
The polar night occurs during the winter in the Arctic, when the Sun does not appear over the horizon for more than one day. At the Earth’s polar circles it lasts for one day, which increases in duration north of the Arctic Circle. At the North Pole it lasts from the autumn to the spring equinox - 176 days. In Russia, the polar day and polar night can be seen in Murmansk, Vorkuta, Norilsk, Severomorsk and Apatity.
The Largest Iceberg in the Arctic
The largest iceberg in the Arctic, measuring approximately 260 km² with a thickness of up to 50 metres, was recorded in 2010. It broke away from the Peterman glacier in North-West Greenland. It was a huge block of ice with an area 4 times the size of Manhattan Island. There had not been an iceberg as big as that in the Arctic since 1962, and it certainly justified the name «iceberg» (lit. ice mountain). However, the arrival of the giant iceberg did not come as a surprise to experts, since the first six months of 2010 on the Earth were on average the warmest on record, and the year before the iceberg formed, cracks had begun to appear in the Peterman glacier. In fact, icebergs break away from the glaciers of Greenland by the thousands, but such giant icebergs are extremely rare.
Amazing Natural Phenomena
The «Ice Blink»
There are many amazing natural phenomena in the Arctic. In particular, you can see the so-called «ice-blink» effect, which is produced by clouds reflecting light from ice sheets or floating ice in polar waters. The «ice-blink», which is a sign that ice is nearby, can be used to navigate in the ocean in order to choose a route that is free of ice and icebergs. The reflection is especially clear when the ice is covered with snow and the air is transparent.
Photo: Ice flowers
Another incredibly beautiful phenomenon in the Arctic are ice flowers. These works of nature are nothing more than small clumps of crystals, no more than 3-4 centimetres high. Scientists have established that ice flowers can only form and develop on a thin, fresh layer of ice and only when there is a large difference between the temperature on the ice surface and in the air - at least 20 °C. Unfortunately, however, ice flowers do not last for long. As soon as the ice thickness increases, its temperature comes closer to the temperature of the air and the flowers simply disappear.
The Arctic has an amazing type of atmospheric precipitation called «freezing rain». Every drop of this rain is made of unfrozen water covered by a frozen shell. When the droplets hit a solid object they break and leave ice shells on the ground.
The Phenomenon of Abnormal Refraction
The phenomenon of abnormal refraction can be seen in the Arctic seas. It is the refraction of light in the atmosphere, due to the temperature difference between the lower layers of the air and water. It creates a lot of trouble in the Arctic, as objects and landscapes seen on the horizon become distorted. This is because when the line of sight passes through a medium of a different density it is refracted horizontally and vertically. In abnormal refraction the visible horizon either falls or rises. This phenomenon is usually preceded by a light haze in the atmosphere and an undulating horizon line. Arctic researchers are familiar with this phenomenon, and some of them have experienced this visual «deception».
Photo: A mirage in the North Sea
The polar explorers Unter and Poulsen from Denmark once saw a musk ox which they were about to hunt. However, when they came closer, it turned out that it was one of their dogs, which had appeared to be a large animal because of abnormal refraction. This phenomenon was also observed by the crew of the ship Fram captained by the famous Norwegian explorer Fridtjof Nansen. What they thought was land turned out to be a piece of a wooden ladle, the dimensions of which had increased a hundredfold. Notes written by polar explorers mention that due to abnormal refraction, false suns sometimes appear on the horizon and it is not always easy to work out which one of them is real.
So-called «dead water» is another incredible phenomenon of the Arctic. The «dead water» effect is seen in the Arctic seas, and causes a ship that has entered the area to suddenly begin to lose speed or even stop. The first person to be confronted with this phenomenon was the Norwegian polar explorer Fridtjof Nansen, who went on a voyage on the Barents Sea in 1893. The «dead water» effect occurs in places where there are internal waves at the boundaries of layers of water with different densities. The surface layer of the water has a much lower density than the lower water layers. In this situation, all the rotational energy from the ship's propellers starts to go towards forming and maintaining internal waves instead of propelling the boat forward. As a result the ship loses speed.
Illustration: Mammoth skeleton
Large accumulations of mammoth bones are only found in the Russian Arctic - in the north of Siberia, the Far North and Chukotka. Over the past millennia not only has mammoth ivory not undergone any changes in composition and properties, but it is also virtually the same as modern elephant ivory. Mammoth tusk is considered to be the most valuable. It has an elegant texture in the form of a miniature mesh and beautiful shades of pale yellow and pink. The homogeneous bone of mammoth tusks is used to create unique carved art products.
In the last century the export of tusks from North-Eastern Siberia was 32 tons per year, which is about 220 pairs of tusks. Mammoth ivory is still in steady demand today, both on the domestic and foreign markets. Depending on the quality of the raw material, prices range from 30 to 300 dollars per kilogram. This means that a large tusk of the highest quality can cost 15,000-20,000 dollars.
Today, the major ivory regions in the Arctic are the north of Western Siberia, the North-Siberian lowland and Central Taimyr. There are numerous discoveries of mammoth tusks in these regions, but these reserves are, of course, running out.
Other potential ivory regions include the Khanty-Mansiysk and Yamalo-Nenets autonomous regions, the Tyumen Region, the Taimyr Autonomous Region, the Republic of Sakha (Yakutia), the Magadan Region and the Chukotka Autonomous Region.
The longest migration among songbirds is made by the wheatear - a small bird from the Canadian Arctic that weighs just 25 grams. From its nest to its wintering grounds in Africa the wheatear covers a distance of more than 14,500 kilometers. Most of the way they fly alone, reaching speeds of up to 50 kilometers per hour.