Eight countries, plus Antarctica, lie in polar zones -- that is, they possess portions of land located within the Arctic or Antarctic circles. These invisible lines of latitude loop around the globe at approximately 66.5 degrees North and South, respectively. Although no individual nations are contained fully within these boundaries, continents with countries whose land falls within polar zones include North America, Europe, Asia and, of course, Antarctica.
North American Countries
In North America, the nations of the United States and Canada own land areas in the Arctic. The only U.S. state containing land within the Arctic Circle is Alaska. In contrast, Canada’s polar regions are quite vast, encompassing about two-fifths of its entire land mass and two-thirds of its total maritime coastline. The historic residents of North America’s polar zones are the Inuits, who have made their livelihoods hunting and fishing in the harsh climate for more than 9,000 years, though many modernly work in oil fields and support villages.
The exclusively European nations possessing land north of the Arctic Circle are Norway, Sweden, Finland, Iceland and Denmark. Although Denmark proper doesn’t lie within the polar zone, its largest self-governing overseas administrative division -- Greenland -- does. In addition to a portion of the Norwegian mainland, Norway’s Arctic territories also include the islands of Svalbard and Jan Mayen. Vikings hailing from Norway were the European polar region’s first explorers, establishing a permanent settlement on Iceland in the ninth century and a long-lived settlement in Greenland in the 10th century.
Although part of Russia’s polar lands lies on the European continent, most parts lie within the Asian continent, where they are often known as Siberia. In addition to its vast mainland, Russian Arctic possessions include multiple islands and archipelagos in the Arctic Ocean. As of the time of this publication, Russia is seeking to expand its Arctic territory, with oil and natural gas extraction its prime impetus. During 2013 and 2014, Russia has expanded its military presence in its polar areas.
Antarctica’s landmass lies almost exclusively within the Antarctic Circle. It is the coldest place on the planet, and 98 percent of it is permanently covered by ice and snow. Antarctica isn’t owned by one single country. In 1961, the Antarctic Treaty established the continent as a natural reserve devoted to scientific study and exploration. At the time of this publication, 46 countries have agreed to the Antarctic Treaty, indefinitely suspending their territorial claims to the continent, and it remains an area of peaceful international cooperation.
- World Atlas: The Equator and More
- Arctic Council: Member States
- World Atlas: Arctic Map
- The Atlantic: The Arctic: Where the U.S. and Russia Could Square Off Next
- Foreign Policy Journal: Russia’s Territorial Ambition and Increased Military Presence in the Arctic
- World Wildlife Federation: Polar Regions – The Ends of the Earth
- British Antarctic Survey: The Antarctic Treaty - Background Information – Introduction
- Photo Credit Koonyongyut/iStock/Getty Images
Information on the Polar Zone
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