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Polar ice caps are among the most fascinating biomes existing on Earth. With a combined area of about 26 million square kilometers, the Arctic and Antarctica are the key examples of polar ice caps on Earth. Polar ice biomes have harsh weather conditions, which limits the number of animal and plant species living in these biomes. Still, there are distinctive examples of community-level interactions that occur in the polar ice biomes. This paper aims to outline the key factors affecting the formation and maintenance of polar ice caps, as well as to review and compare the characteristics of Antarctica and the Arctic.
There is a large number of abiotic factors that influence the formation of polar ice caps. Polar ice caps form in high-latitude regions, as these receive less solar radiation and thus have lower surface temperatures than other areas (Raven, Hassenzahl, Hager, & Gift, 2015). For instance, in the Arctic, the average temperature during winter months is below zero, whereas during the summer it rarely goes higher than 35 degrees (Garrett-Hatfield, 2017).
Apart from low temperatures, polar ice caps biomes are also affected by strong winds and poor soil, which prevents the growth of true plants. Moreover, the seasonal changes in sunlight also affect the biome: whereas in the summer, the sun shines for the entire day, during winter months, there is no sunshine at all. Finally, a low annual precipitation rate is another abiotic factor that influences the formation of polar ice caps.
Antarctica and the Arctic
Antarctica and the Arctic are the two largest polar biomes on earth that have been widely studied by researchers for the past few decades. They are very similar, particularly in terms of the abiotic factors affecting them. For example, both regions are located at high latitudes, and thus experience low temperatures and little sunlight throughout the year. Moreover, both biomes consist of large ice masses and are located in the zones of ozone holes (AAC, n.d.).
Both regions are characterized by seasonal changes related to polar summer and polar winter and are subject to environmental concerns, such as atomic waste and refuse and oil disposal (AAC, n.d.). However, there are also many similarities between the two biomes. Whereas the Arctic is mostly ocean, Antarctica is a continent with a rather varied landscape (AAC, n.d.). Moreover, Antarctica is “a rich source of ferrous and non-ferrous metal, crude oil and natural gas” (AAC, n.d., para. 4). The Arctic territory, on the other hand, has little non-ferrous metal and other resources. Finally, whereas the Arctic is a collection of bodies surrounded by the ocean, Antarctica consists of a single body (AAC, n.d.).
Due to the low number of species living in polar biomes, the lives of animals living in these regions are mostly characterized by migration, competition, and predator-prey relationships. For instance, in the Arctic, there is severe competition among polar bears for prey, such as seals. In Antarctica, on the other hand, penguins exhibit migration behaviors while searching for food or breeding sites. Because few people live in polar biomes, there is little interaction between humans and animals.
Overall, polar ice caps are fascinating biomes influenced by a variety of factors. Even in harsh weather conditions, animals learned to adapt and survive by competing or migrating. Today, the key threats to polar biomes are the changing environment and global warming, which decrease the ice mass, thus posing a danger to the few species living in these biomes.
Arctic & Atlantic Collection (AAC). (n.d.). Differences between the Arctic & Antarctica. Web.
Garrett-Hatfield, L. (2017). Abiotic & biotic factors of polar regions. Sciencing. Web.
Raven, P. H., Hassenzahl, D. M., Hager, M. C., & Gift, N. Y. (2015). Environment (9th ed.). Hoboken, NJ: Wiley.