Difference between revisions of "North Pole"
Revision as of 13:18, 3 January 2012
The North Pole is the northernmost point in the world.
Although there's more than one definition of "the North Pole", the most popularly accepted one is geographic: a fixed location in the northern hemisphere at the Earth's axis of rotation, latitude 90°N (longitude not applicable). Unlike the South Pole, which is located on the continent of Antarctica, the geographic North Pole is covered by nothing but a sheet of shifting ice on the surface of the Arctic Ocean. There is thus no permanent habitation nor even an official marker for the position, as the ice moves from year to year. Although it was once an elusive goal that took the lives of many explorers, thanks to modern aviation and other technology, it is now the destination of commercial travel expeditions.
"The North Pole" is also defined magnetically. One definition is the point on the surface that magnetic compasses point to, following the Earth's geomagnetic field. Another uses the Earth's more broad magnetosphere (which affects the Aurora Borealis) as a reference. These positions drift, and are currently off Ellef Ringnes Island (one of the Queen Elizabeth Islands in Nunavut, Canada), and off Qaanaaq, Greenland, respectively.
A somewhat arbitrary definition is the Northern Pole of Inaccessibility, the farthest point from any coastline. This is a fixed location (barring major sea level changes that might redefine coastlines) at 84°03'N 174°51'W.
The Arctic Circle city of Rovaniemi, Finland and the nearly-Arctic Interior Alaskan city of North Pole both somewhat disingenuously claim to be the home of Santa Claus, and Bracebridge, Ontario, Canada has a year-round Santa Claus park as does North Pole, New York.
The North Pole can only be reached on expeditions specifically mounted for the purpose. Most travel primarily by air, sometimes with a component traversing the last leg of the journey on the ice. The other alternative is traveling by boat, on an ice-breaker cutting through the Arctic Ocean.
On April 9, 1909, Robert Peary, his partner Matthew Henson, and four Inuit reached the North Pole. They are recognized as the first, although there is still controversy surrounding this claim, as some believe the men missed the North Pole by several miles.
Most expeditions take place in April when the Arctic night is over but the winter ice is still strong. They start from Longyearbyen in the Svalbard islands, and continue on to the Pole by a combination of plane and helicopter. They usually stop at the Russian polar research station and "ice airport" Barneo (also spelled "Borneo") which is set up each Spring at about 89°N and drifts on the Arctic ice pack. Some expeditions drop travelers here or somewhere else short of the Pole itself, leaving them to finish on the ice. A less demanding and more affordable option are flying sightseeing expeditions starting in Germany or the UK, using a long-haul aircraft to overfly Norway, the Svalbard Archipelago, and the North Pole itself, without landing but flying low over areas of interest.
There are two commercial sea vessels making regular trips to the North Pole, the nuclear-powered Russian ice-breaker Yamal, and 50 Years of Victory, operated by the Murmansk Shipping Company. They depart from Murmansk (tour packages beginning in Helsinki and in Moscow), making several two-week journeys in the Summer (when the ice is easier to get through). Yamal is equipped with 50 cabins and suites with private bathrooms and exterior windows, fine dining, heated indoor pool, gym, library, etc. 50 Years of Victory, the largest icebreaker ever built, has 64 cabins in five categories. Voyages are booked by a variety of tour operators (including some of the air-excursion outfits, plus several others), generally at about US$18,000-US$25,000 per person (double occupancy).
Crosscountry skis and dogsleds are about the only viable transportation option near the North Pole; staying with your tour group is advisable.
The ice terrain at the North Pole tends to be rather flat, though some interesting formations of snow and ice can be found. There's only one protracted sunrise and sunset each year (which will not be during your visit). Tour operators stick a sign pole into the ice, but that's unofficial and purely for photographic purposes.
Despite their name, polar bears don't usually venture this far north (preferring the southern "coastal" parts of the Arctic ice cap, with better swimming opportunities.)
There are few formal recreational opportunities at the North Pole. Each year, however, there is a marathon foot race called the North Pole Marathon organized by Polar Running Adventures. Adventurous types may try searching for Santa Claus but it is highly unlikely you'll be able to locate him, as blizzards are common in most areas.
You or your tour operator will have to bring along all of your food. Celebratory caviar is traditional upon arriving at the Pole itself.
The North Pole's ocean-formed ice contains salt, making it unsuitable for drinking, even when thawed. BYOB. Celebratory champagne is traditional; vodka at -40°C while standing on an iceberg is also quite appropriate.
Although there are no permanent accommodations at or near the Pole, temporary camps can be set up, providing heated shelter for one or more nights. Barneo has semi-permanent heated shelters, which are commonly used by expeditions spending more than a day on the ice.
Most visitors to the North Pole head south.