What is the Arctic Circle?

Mary Elizabeth
Mary Elizabeth

The Arctic Circle is the name of the parallel of latitude located at 66°32′ or 66.5º north of the Equator, which is the equivalent of 23.5º from the North Pole. Because this distance matches the inclination of the Earth’s axis, the Arctic Circle receives 24 hours of sunlight on the summer solstice, and north of the Arctic circle for longer than that, with the North Pole having continuous sun for six months. This is why the region is called "The Land of the Midnight Sun."

Alaska is the only state in the U.S. to extend north of the Arctic Circle.
Alaska is the only state in the U.S. to extend north of the Arctic Circle.

Explorers of the Arctic Circle Region
Explorers searched the Arctic Circle region seeking a Northwest Passage or Northeast Passage, studying development possibilities, and searching for resources. It has also been the site for scientific study related to a number of subjects, including depletion of the ozone layer. Noted explorers of the region in clued William Baffin, Vitus Bering, Martin Frobisher, and Henry Hudson, all of whose names are immortalized in eponymous natural features. Other noted explorer include Roald Amundsen, who went through both the Northwest and Northeast Passages, and Robert E. Peary, whose claim to have been first to the North Pole in 1909 is disputed.

Polar bears live along the Arctic Circle.
Polar bears live along the Arctic Circle.

Countries Within the Arctic Circle
Eight countries have land that is partly within the Arctic Circle, as well as substantial populations in the Arctic region.

Peregrine falcons can be seen in the Arctic Circle.
Peregrine falcons can be seen in the Arctic Circle.

• Alaska has 400,000 square miles (1,035,995 sq km) and a population of 200,000
• Canada has 2,000,000 square miles (5,179,976 sq km)and a population of 100,000
• Finland has 60,000 square miles (155,399 sq km) and a population of 200,000
• Greenland has 840,000 square miles (2,175,590 sq km) and a population of 60,000
• Iceland has 40,000 square miles (103,600 sq km) and a population of 270,000
• Norway has 110,000 square miles (284,899 sq km)and a population of 150,000
• Russia has 4,000,000 square miles (10,359,950 sq km) and a population of 2,000,000
• Sweden has 90,000 square miles (223,099 sq km)and a population of 200,000.

Approximately 2 million square miles of Canada lies north of the Arctic Circle.
Approximately 2 million square miles of Canada lies north of the Arctic Circle.

Wildlife Within the Arctic Circle
Within the Arctic Circle there is distinctive wildlife. Mammals that we can expect to see there include Polar Bears, Arctic Foxes, Grey Wolves, Beluga Whales,narwhals, wolverines,caribou, walruses, Bowhead Whales, seals, and Musk Ox. Birds of the Arctic Circle region include Bald Eagles, Laysan Albatrosses, and Peregrine Falcons.

Greenland, which belongs to the nation of Denmark, is in the Arctic.
Greenland, which belongs to the nation of Denmark, is in the Arctic.
Bald eagles may be seen in the Arctic Circle.
Bald eagles may be seen in the Arctic Circle.
Norway has territory in the Arctic Circle.
Norway has territory in the Arctic Circle.
Mary Elizabeth
Mary Elizabeth

Mary Elizabeth is passionate about reading, writing, and research, and has a penchant for correcting misinformation on the Internet. In addition to contributing articles to wiseGEEK about art, literature, and music, Mary Elizabeth is a teacher, composer, and author. She has a B.A. from the University of Chicago’s writing program and an M.A. from the University of Vermont, and she has written books, study guides, and teacher materials on language and literature, as well as music composition content for Sibelius Software.

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