Holidays to Lapland invariably include the ceremonial crossing of the Arctic Circle – and physical arrival at the region of the North Pole. The land of Santa Claus and all things mystical, there are many myths and misconceptions about the North Pole.
The North Pole is the earth’s northernmost point; exactly opposite the South Pole. While the South Pole lies over a continental land mass and surrounded by ocean, the North Pole lies in the middle of the Arctic Ocean, covered only by shifting sea ice and almost entirely bounded by land.
The Arctic Circle marks the southernmost point at which true polar day and night (24 hours of continuous day or night) can occur. It passes through the Arctic Ocean, Norway, Sweden, Finland, Russia, Alaska, Canada, and Greenland. Due to climate extremes, very few people live north of the Arctic Circle; Finland’s Rovianemi, just south of the circle, has the world’s largest population in the immediate vicinity of the Circle. Other settlements above the Arctic Circle include Russia’s communities of Murmansk, Norilsk, and Vorkuta; the settlements of Tromso and Bodo in Norway; Sisimiut in Greenland; and Barrow in Alaska.
Some of the biggest fallacies about the North Pole include:
- That the North and South Poles are the same – while both poles are extreme climatically, the North Pole is an ocean bordered by a number of nations and having indigenous populations. The South Pole has no human indigenous population, and is governed by a treaty allowing scientific research and banning military functions and resource development. The North Pole follows international law and maritime treaties; it is the same as any other ocean in the manner. The South Pole can’t be claimed by any nation, while the North Pole can be. And yes, the North Pole is home to polar bears, while the South Pole is home to penguins!
- That the North Pole’s ownership is under dispute – while it is true that Russia, Denmark and Canada are undertaking efforts to determine their rights over the ocean bed, it is part of the 1982 United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea. Both states have the right to oil, gas, and minerals that exist on and below the ocean floor up to two hundred nautical miles off their coasts; scientific measurements will in time determine just who is entitled to what.
- That no international law governs the North Pole – the North Pole is governed by the same laws that apply to all oceans. This means that as the ice continues to melt, and fish migrate to the more tepid waters, fishing will become more popular, bringing the possibility of international dispute (as seen in the Southern Ocean with regards to whaling).
It is rare for visitors to actually visit the North Pole – unless in a scientific expedition or on a trek as Britain’s Prince Harry did some time ago. For tourists enjoying Lapland holidays, crossing the Arctic Circle is as close to the North Pole as it’s possible to be – and it’s a once in a lifetime experience most of us dream of as children – going to the North Pole!