The Poles: Comparing the Poles

polar differences

The biggest difference is that the Arctic region is essentially a frozen ocean surrounded by continents. Antarctica is a continent surrounded by an ocean. And even though the Arctic is mostly a frozen ocean, the Arctic climate is more hospitable to human and animal life than the ice-locked Antarctic continent. See a simple comparison table below:

Physical features
antarctica arctic
Antarctica has mountains and volcanoes The Arctic is mostly ice covered ocean
The Antarctic is a continent surrounded by ocean The Arctic is an ocean surrounded by continents
Maximum sea ice extent: 8 million square miles Maximum sea ice extent: 7 million square miles
The area is 6 million square miles The area is 5.4 million square miles
The annual mean temperature at the South Pole is -60°F The annual mean temperature at the North Pole is 0°F
Total coastline: 18,000 miles Total coastline: 25,000 miles
Plants and wildlife
penguins are only in antarctica polar bears live only in the Arctic
Antarctica has penguins The Arctic has polar bears
No tundra or tree lines The tundra is well developed and marked by a tree shrubline
No terrestrial mammals Terrestrial mammals include musk ox, reindeer, caribou, foxes, hares, wolves, lemming, bears, and more
Marine mammals include whales, porpoises and seals Marine mammals include whales, porpoises, seals, and amphibious mammals
Human impact
scientists indigenous people of the Arctic
Antarctica has no permanent population The Arctic has a native population
No record of primitive humans and no native groups There are native people with a long cultural record
There are no permanent residents at 60°S, but there is a sparse population at scattered scientific stations Human population north of 60°N is in excess of 2 million with modern settlements
First crossing of the Antarctic Circle was by James Cook on January 17, 1773 The first crossing of the Arctic Circle is prehistoric

Sources: and