The Arctic vs. Antarctica: 10 Key Differences

The Arctic vs. Antarctica: 10 Key Differences

The ends of the Earth are similar in some ways: There’s complete darkness at the crux of winter; they contain large unexplored regions; and only certain wildlife survive in such extremes.

However, for all the similarities these two regions of the world are actually quite different. Aside from Santa’s North Pole, here are 10 facts distinguishing the two polar regions from one another.

1. Penguins are only seen in Antarctica. There are no penguins in the Arctic. In the Antarctic, there are no land predators which also means it’s a bit easier for penguins to survive. The waters, however, are a different story!

2. Polar bears only exist in the Arctic. These larger-than-life bears roam the North in search of prey and habitat.

3. Arguably the biggest difference between the two regions is that Antarctica is a continent surrounded by oceans, while the Arctic is an ocean surrounded by continents and countries —North America, Europe, and Asia.

4. Because they are on opposite sides of the world, the Arctic and the Antarctic do not share the same seasons. The Arctic enjoys winter from October through March, while Antarctica’s winter is from March through September.

5. The Arctic has a considerable flora— with some 900 flowering plants. The Antarctic has very little vegetation, mostly lichens and algae. There are only two flowering plans in Antarctica.

6. There are indigenous populations living in the Arctic whereas there is no indigenous population in Antarctica. There are over 40 different ethnic groups living in the Arctic, such as the Inuit living in Alaska, Northern Canada, and Greenland, the Saami living in the circumpolar areas of Finland, Norway, Sweden and Northwestern Russia, and the Chukchi in Siberia and the Russian Far East. Except for seasonal workers and small settlements at research stations, Antarctica is completely uninhabited.

7. You can see various types of regional seals in Antarctica, like the Leopard seal, the Weddell seal, Crabeater seal, and Elephant seal, all of whom do not exist outside of the continent.

8. You can spot walrus, narwhals, Arctic fox, wolves, Arctic hares, reindeer, oxen, puffins and other types of animals in the Arctic that do not make their home in the Antarctic.

9. While there are ongoing disputes over sections of the Arctic Ocean, jurisdiction over Arctic lands is internationally recognized as belonging to specific nations: Alaska belongs to the US, Canada’s Arctic regions are part to Canada etc. In Antarctica seven nations have made territorial claims. However, since 1961 the continent has been governed through a Treaty System through which member nations collaborate on scientific and environmental protection initiatives.

10. And probably the least known difference between the two regions is that on average Antarctica is significantly colder than the Arctic. The main reason for this is that Antarctica is a high continent covered by a very think layer of ice, whereas the Arctic benefits from the temperating effects of the ocean.

Bonus: The origin of the word “Antarctic” stems from the Greek antarktikos meaning “opposite to the north,” from ant- ‘against’ + arktikos.

Now you know! Be sure to review our guide to the wildlife and sites of interest you may see on your trip to Antarctica.