Why did people live in really cold places

Polar regions - Arctic and Antarctic

The largest ice surfaces on earth are around the North Pole and the South Pole. Because of their special location, the polar regions receive very little sunlight and solar heat, and the summers are particularly short there. That is why it is always extremely cold there - temperatures of down to minus 70 degrees Celsius prevail all year round. The cold caused huge ice masses to form in the polar regions.

The ice of the Arctic around the North Pole covers a large part of the Arctic Ocean in winter. It then extends over an area of ​​several million square kilometers. For the most part, it is a layer of ice that floats on the sea. In addition, the Arctic ice covers the northern areas of Europe, Asia and North America.

Against this is the South Pole on a continent that Antarctic. Antarctica is the coldest place on earth. Their landmass is almost completely buried under an armor of ice and snow that is up to 4 kilometers thick. Almost three quarters of the fresh water on earth is stored in this ice.

People, animals and plants have adapted to life in the "eternal ice". Polar bears or reindeer, for example, protect themselves against the cold with a layer of fat and thick fur. The Antarctic is inhabited by only a few people, the Arctic is slightly more populated. The most famous inhabitants of the Arctic are the Inuit in North America and Greenland, there are also the Lapps in northern Scandinavia and indigenous peoples in northern Siberia. They used to live there as nomads and get around with dog sleds. Today they use snowmobiles and many of them live in cities.

Hardly anything grows in the ice deserts around the poles because of the extreme cold. The ground between the polar regions and the cold-temperate zone is permanently frozen to a great depth. After the Latin word “permanere” for “to last”, this subsurface is also called permafrost. It only thaws a little a few months a year. Then particularly hardened plants such as mosses, lichens or dwarf shrubs can grow on it. This region around the polar regions is also called subpolar tundra.

The polar regions are the coldest areas on earth. It is precisely here that the earth is heating up: For several years now, researchers have been observing that the ice masses of the Arctic and Antarctic are melting. The consequences of this warming cannot yet be precisely estimated. But it is already clear that many habitats are threatened by the melting of the poles.


On an Arctic expedition, polar explorer James Clark Ross discovered the magnetic south pole. His measuring instruments had shown him the way. The magnetic pole is on mainland Canada, about 2,300 kilometers from the geographic North Pole.

In May 1829, the British polar explorer John Ross and his nephew James Clark Ross set out on an expedition to the Arctic. The goal of the two researchers was the Northwest Passage. It is a sea route north of the American continent, which leads through the middle of the icy Arctic Ocean. When the two researchers reached a peninsula with their sailing ships, they realized: They had reached the northernmost point of the American continent. Because of the huge ice masses and because of technical problems with the ships, they were stuck there. While exploring the mainland, James Clark Ross realized they were near the South Magnetic Pole. With the help of local Inuit, he set off on sledges and reached the Magnetic South Pole on June 1, 1831. The geographic North Pole was about 2,300 kilometers away from them. This makes the Briton James Clark Ross the first European to be at the magnetic south pole.

When and how the expedition with the research duo Ross will return to Europe is currently not known due to ongoing technical problems.

The Boothia Peninsula

Boothia is the name of the peninsula that polar explorer John Ross discovered in the north of mainland Canada. He named it after his friend, the gin maker Felix Booth. This wealthy English businessman had largely paid for the polar expedition.

The Boothia peninsula is barren: tundra and bare frost debris and rock form the landscape. This is where the Inuit are at home, an ethnic group that is also native to Greenland. They live mainly from hunting seals, whales or polar bears and from fishing. Their means of transportation are kayaks and dog-drawn sleds. Only with the support of these natives was James Clark Ross able to reach the magnetic south pole.


For a long time the people of Qaanaaq endured in complete darkness. Now, in mid-February, the moment has come that they have been looking forward to for months. Despite the freezing cold of minus 35 degrees Celsius, they gathered at lunchtime. When the first rays of sunshine shine on their faces, people sing a song in the old tradition and throw their hats in the air.

Qaanaaq is one of the northernmost settlements in the world. It is located at the extreme point of Greenland, just south of the 78th parallel. Around 600 people, most of them Inuit, live here - almost four months a year in complete darkness. In winter it is the polar night, the sun stays behind the horizon around the clock. In the summer it does not go under for four months. It seems only flat, but at least the temperatures climb above freezing point during these months. In between there are months in the twilight when it is neither day nor night. The seasons in Qaanaaq cannot be compared to ours.

The mirror sun

Thomas Schuler has a problem similar to that of the Inuit: For four months there was no sun on his farm. However, he does not live far in the north, but deep in the Black Forest, in Simonswald. There the sun rises every day even in winter, but it only drags a flat path across the sky. Too flat for the Schuler's farm, which is surrounded by the ridges of the Black Forest. In winter these cast shadows for so long that no ray of sunshine reaches the courtyard all day. But the resourceful inventor knew what to do: he installed a large mirror on the opposite mountain slope. Now at least a little sunlight shines through the window even in winter.


The ice-bear melts the clod from under his paws. As a result of global warming, the sea ice around the North Pole is disappearing, and faster and faster. This is due to the greenhouse effect, which is caused by the emission of carbon dioxide and other gases that are harmful to the climate.

In 1980 the Arctic Ocean was still frozen over 7.8 million square kilometers, an area about the size of Australia. Within 30 years the ice surface has shrunk to about half! The ice sheets are already thawing in spring. If it continues like this, the "eternal ice" will soon be completely gone.

This is a disaster for the polar bear. Environmental organizations fear that polar bears and seals will become extinct in the next 20 years. Migratory birds are also losing their breeding grounds in the Arctic due to the changed climate.

On the other hand, another marine predator is already finding new habitat: Because the ice continues to recede, the killer whale can now also search for food high up in the north.

Short cut through the Arctic Ocean

The ice in the Arctic Ocean is melting dramatically. This has opened up a trade route between Europe and Asia: the Northeast Passage. This sea route runs along the north coast of the continents of Europe and Asia. In the past, large transport ships could only pass this route in midsummer. Because the Northeast Passage was frozen over most of the year and was much too dangerous because of the ice masses. Ships traveling between Rotterdam and Tokyo therefore took the long route through the Mediterranean, the Suez Canal and around India.

New satellite images show that the path through the Arctic Ocean is becoming more and more ice-free. This makes the journey easier for ships - even without an icebreaker. This saves time and transport costs, because the route through the Arctic Ocean is several thousand kilometers shorter than the old route through the Suez Canal.


The frozen soils of the Arctic are thawing faster than previously thought due to climate change. This could release huge amounts of the greenhouse gas methane into the atmosphere. That would additionally accelerate the warming of the earth.

Permafrost soils extend over huge areas in the northern hemisphere. They are mainly found in large parts of Siberia and Alaska. Their name comes from the fact that they are frozen all year round - at least so far. But the temperatures on earth are rising. For some years now, the frozen soils in the far north have been warming, starting to thaw and turning into huge swamps.

Scientists suspect that the thawing permafrost could accelerate climate change. Because the soils contain methane, a gas produced by microorganisms. This greenhouse gas has about 20 to 30 times more impact on the climate than carbon dioxide. In addition, large amounts of carbon are stored in the frozen ground. A devilish cycle begins here with rising temperatures: If the permafrost thaws due to climate change, methane and carbon dioxide are released into the air. The greenhouse gases warm the atmosphere, the earth heats up, the ice melts - and climate change is exacerbating itself.

So far, researchers have disagreed about how quickly the permafrost will thaw. The question of how many greenhouse gases are actually released has not yet been clarified.

Koala bear in climate change

Gloomy prospects for the koala bear: The cute marsupial is massively threatened by climate change. Because the greenhouse gas carbon dioxide makes the leaves of his favorite food inedible: eucalyptus leaves become inedible by the rising CO2-Content in the air leathery and inedible. Because their nutrient content is reduced, the koala has to eat significantly more eucalyptus in order to be satisfied. This also applies to other marsupials and marsupials similar to them. Many other animal species are also directly at risk from climate change, especially in the polar regions. Ringed seals and emperor penguins are losing their habitat due to the receding ice. And the arctic beluga whale is finding less and less prey. What to do? The World Conservation Union (IUCN) emphasizes that the individual is not powerless. Everyone can reduce their carbon dioxide emissions and stand up for climate protection.

What are climate zones?

“In the morning it is changing to very cloudy with showers. In the afternoon the sun shows up at temperatures between 16 and 22 degrees ”, this is perhaps the weather report for southern Germany. The forecast is interesting for us because the weather is constantly changing. The situation is different with the climate, because that remains. Climate is the average weather in a region over a longer period of time. For example, the climate at the equator is hot and humid all year round. At the North Pole, on the other hand, the temperatures are icy and there is little precipitation. Between the equator and the poles there are again areas where, like us, things can be very changeable. But why is it that the earth's climate is so different?

The sun's radiation is not equally strong all over the world. How intensely it warms the earth depends on the angle of the sun's rays and thus on the latitude. Because the sun near the equator is almost vertical all year round, the earth is very heated here. In the direction of the poles, the rays of the sun strike at an ever flatter angle: the same solar energy is distributed over an ever larger area. Therefore, the greater the distance from the equator, the cooler it becomes. This creates regions with different climates, the climatic zones.

According to the strength of the solar radiation, four different climate zones can be divided on the mainland of the earth: The tropics around the equator, the subtropics (from the Latin word “sub” for “under”) between the 23rd and 40th parallel, the temperate Zone of our latitudes and the polar regions around the north and south poles. Like belts, they draw these climatic zones around the earth in an east-west direction.

The climate does not only depend on the latitude, other influences also play a role. There is snow on Kilimanjaro, even though it is in the tropics. The fact that its summit is icy is due to the fact that the temperature drops with increasing altitude. The mountain climate is therefore always cooler than lower lying areas.

The distance to the sea also has an impact on the climate: water can store solar heat longer than the mainland. It is also warming up more slowly than the country. As a result, the sea water acts like a buffer for temperatures. The climate is therefore mild near the coast. In the interior of the country, this heat balance is missing and the climate is continental, with temperatures fluctuating much more than in the maritime climate near the sea.

Where do icebergs come from?

Although icebergs float in the sea, they are not made of frozen sea water, but of fresh water. Because they come from the huge glaciers of the polar regions. The polar glaciers protrude into the sea at the edges. Pieces of them break off regularly - the icebergs. It is also said that the glacier “calves”. And because ice is lighter than water, it drifts around in the sea without sinking.

The polar seas are cold between –4 and 0 degrees Celsius. That is why the icebergs only thaw very slowly. When the current drives them into warmer waters, they melt a little faster. Nevertheless, large icebergs grow to be decades old.

Some icebergs are huge and flat: the tabletop icebergs. They arise when the glaciers on the coast slide far out into the sea. Then large ice sheets float on the sea, but they are still connected to the glacier. This “ice shelf” can be between 200 and 1,000 meters thick. The largest areas of ice shelf are in Antarctica, on the coasts of Greenland and Alaska. When large pieces of ice break off, they swim out into the polar sea as tabular icebergs.

Icebergs are very dangerous for shipping because only their tip is visible above water. Most of the iceberg is underwater. Ships must keep a sufficiently large safe distance from the white giants so that they are not damaged by the sharp edges of the iceberg.

But there is also ice that freezes from sea water: First, ice floes from salt water form on the surface of the water. When these ice floes are pushed together, a coherent ice sheet is created - the pack ice.

How sweet is fresh water?

It doesn't taste sweet at all, but it's called fresh water. In contrast to salt water, it contains no or only very small amounts of salt and therefore has hardly any taste. For this reason it is also well suited for the production of drinking water.

Fresh water is rare: only two to three percent of all water on earth is fresh water. Most of it is in the high mountains and at both poles. There it is stored as ice in glaciers. Only a very small fraction of the fresh water on earth flows in streams and rivers or splashes in lakes and groundwater. The water in clouds and precipitation is also "sweet".

Fresh water is vital to us. To stay healthy, a person needs about two liters of fluids per day; without water it can only survive five to seven days. In addition, we need a large amount of fresh water for showering, washing clothes or washing dishes. Plants and animals that we feed on also live from water. Freshwater is even a habitat for many living things: crayfish, pond and river mussels and freshwater fish such as trout, pikeperch and char.