History of North PoleThe ice-covered spot of the North Pole is no different from the rest of
the Arctic Circle. However, it has maintained a certain lure for man. It was a blank space on the map and for a long time
represented the last vestiges of the unknown world. It was a place of fantasy, a place that gave home to Santa Claus, a place
where the gods of light displayed fascinating shows with Auroras. It was shrouded in mystique and kept a veil of fear around
it. There were, however, people who were brave (some would say mad) enough to lift this shroud of secrecy and make their
indelible mark on the history of exploration and the world. These remarkable men had iron will, home-made flags, inadequate
boots and a lack of knowledge. However, they also possessed an abundance of passion and sheer determination.
in fact, a period of time that exploration grew in popularity. In less than 50 years explorers from Britain, the United States,
Norway, Sweden, Germany, France, Russia, Italy, Austria, Australia, and Japan set out to conquer the last geographical secret. There
were an unprecedented number of expeditions set up and executed, with a sad number meeting an early, grave finish. However,
in this time a number of the world’s last known islands were discovered, the Northwest and Northeast Passage were chartered
and of course the North Pole was marked.
Robert Peary (left), with the help of Matthew Hensen
and four Inuit explorers (Oatah, Ookeah, Seegloo and Egingwah) reached the North Pole on the 6th
April, 1909 and flew the ‘Peary flag’ made by his wife. It is still hotly disputed whether he was indeed the first
man to reach the North Pole. Whilst it is important to celebrate the first to succeed, it is equally important to remember
that those who strove before also formed an integral part of the eventual success.
Polar Bears (Ursus maritimus)
Polar bears are
the world’s largest land predators. They can be found in the Arctic, Alaska (US), Canada, Russia, Denmark and Norway
(see distribution - right).
Polar bears are very small when they are born, the size of a rat, and weigh
as little as a pound. Polar bears give birth at the age of four or five and usually stop at two cubs. The life expectancy
of an average bear is 25 years. Male polar bears can grow to ten feet tall and weigh over 1400 pounds and females can reach
seven feet and weigh 650 pounds.
A clear adaptation to their environment is their fur. It is oily and water repellent and is able to trap infrared
heat from the sun, which enables the bear at rest to stay warm at 98F.
Polar bears primarily eat seals and it is the difficulty in finding them that causes c.70% not to
survive past their third birthday. However, it is man that represents their biggest threat, specifically as their only predator
and also through pollution. Across the Arctic an increasing amount of mine oil and coal is being exploited and moved. Oil
spills are a major issue as they impact the bear’s ability to regulate body temperature on its fur coat and equally
can be poisonous.
The Arctic sea ice, where the
North Pole resides, does not seem fragile. It is surrounded by the land masses of Siberia, North America and Europe. It is,
without doubt, a hostile environment and one that never appears to represent anything other than strength. However, the story
of global warming is often discussed and it has progressed at pace over the last decade. There are satellite photographs that show the North
Pole is melting and the sea ice is shrinking.As the globe warms, sea levels are expected to rise, the amount and
pattern of precipitation will change and subtropical deserts will expand. The effects are expected to be at their most apparent
in the Arctic. However, it will affect the globe collectively. It is believed the effects are most likely to be felt in the
frequency and intensity of extreme weather events, species extinctions and changes in agricultural yields. There is much political and public
debate surrounding global warming, its impact and necessary actions (if any). There are a number of researchers who dispute
the global warming concept, with views ranging from local conditions impacting the local weather station readings i.e. land
development through to normal global temperature cycles.
One thing is sure, if true, it is potentially
a serious problem. There are plans and actions that some believe will deal with the situation through constructive, determined
action. However, it appears that we are a long way off from a consensus of opinion on the cause and effects, which leads to
the key question – can we afford to wait?