So what do you need to know before you plan that trip to the North Pole? Who’s been there already, and why is it so alluring to the current generation of explorers? Beyond the weather, there is much to learn about the North Pole.
The North Pole is comparable to outer space: an unknown frontier that’s ripe for exploration — and exploitation. The region doesn’t belong to any one country, so there are always disputes about who can lay claim to the untapped natural resources there. And although the prospect of melting ice around the North Pole isn’t pleasant from a global warming standpoint, it could make those resources easier to reach.
In the winter, when the North Pole is farthest from the sun on the Earth’s axis, the average temperature is -40 degrees Fahrenheit (-40 Celsius) during December and January, but can dip into the negative 50s. The seawater beneath the ice of the North Pole is a relatively mild -28 degrees F (-33 C). In the summer, the Pole averages 32 F (0 C). But the North Pole isn’t as cold as it used to be.
Life at the North Pole
There are 400 known fish species swimming in the Arctic Sea. Beluga and killer whales, sea otters, ringed seals and walrus also call the Arctic home. Arctic birds usually spend their winters farther south in the tundra region, but the puffin, albatross, bald eagle, peregrine falcon, ptarmigan, jaeger and snowy owl can all be found in the Arctic
Polar bears also hang out around the North Pole, but they spend much of their time in the water, hunting the fish that live under the ice. Arctic trekkers are most likely to encounter polar bears on their journeys because the bears are naturally curious — and attracted by human food. .
History of North Pole Expeditions
The first North Pole explorers were in search of the Northwest Passage, a route through the Arctic that would create easier trade — and great wealth — for the country that discovered it. When these explorers came back with tales of diamonds and coal near the Pole, the world started seeing the Arctic as a frozen treasure chest. In fact, a U.S. Geological Survey estimates that nearly 25 percent of the world’s undiscovered oil and gas are buried in the Arctic, which is a big reason for the disputes among the countries.
There were occasional North Pole expeditions in the 18th century (in 1755, the British Parliament offered a reward to the first ship to come within a degree of the Pole), but it wasn’t until the early 1900s that things really got going. In 1908, American Frederick Albert Cook was the first person to claim to have reached the North Pole. But his countryman Robert Edwin Peary, with support from Cook’s traveling companions, disputed the claim, and Cook was widely discredited.
Peary (with a team of 24 men, 19 sledges and 133 sled dogs) ended up making the first undisputed visit to the North Pole, on April 6, 1909. But there’s still some controversy attached to the claim, mostly because of Peary’s improbable 37-day time frame. Most expeditions of the era took months — at least — to come close to the goal. However, in April 2005, explorer Tom Avery recreated Peary’s sled expedition with the same materials and supplies; he beat Peary’s time by five hours. Some still doubt that Peary actually made it to the exact geographic North Pole, but he usually gets the credit for being first.