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Chronicles of the Arctic Circle A teaser exhibit

The Arctic Circle

The Arctic Circle (66º33’48.2” N) is a geographical area that is the most northern of the five circles of latitude the others being – Tropic of Cancer (23º26’11.8” N), Equator (0º latitude), Tropic of Capricorn (23º26’11.8” S), and Antarctic Circle (66º33’48.2” S). Currently, the Arctic Circle is not stagnant and fluctuates with the Earth’s Axial Tilt.

In fact, it is moving at a speed of 15 meters per year northward. The Arctic is currently home to over 4 million people and has been home to many indigenous peoples for centuries. It encompasses eight countries: Norway, Sweden, Finland, Russia, the United States, Canada, Denmark (Greenland), and Iceland, and it makes up about 4% of the Earth’s surface.

Accidental Discovery

Reconstructed Viking settlement at L'Anse aux Meadows National Historic Site

Norse Viking Leif Erikson was one of the first European to set foot on what we now consider North America in 1000 CE.

Depending on the legend either Leif’s return voyage to Greenland was thrown off course resulting in his small crew landing in parts of North America which he called Vinland (Newfoundland, Canada), or he had prior knowledge of Vinland from a previous explorer. The site where Leif is believed to have landed is called L’Anse aux Meadows, which is translated as the “bay with the grasslands”.

Artifacts and structural remnants recovered from the site date to roughly 1000 CE. Further accounts detail the Norse used this site as a logging and ship building site with return expeditions in the following years. The Norse did not seem to make it a permanent settlement though, only using it and parts of Eastern Canada to collect natural resources and engage in limited trade with indigenous communities. They ultimately abandon further recorded trips to North America by 1030 CE.

Expedition to the North Pole

In March of 1909, US explorer Robert Peary left Cape Columbia, the northernmost point of land in Canada, by sled with his African American associate Matthew Henson and four Inuit: Ooqueah, Ootah, Egigingwah, and Seeglo. Peary’s team covered 475 miles, relying on traditional Inuit survival skills like building igloos and eating whale blubber. In the early hours of the morning of April 6th, 1909, Peary and his team reached the North Pole.

Animals that call the Arctic Home

Moose

Moose are the largest mammals of all the deer species. They eat over seventy-three pounds of shrubs, woody plants, and aquatic vegetation per day. Male moose grow large, deciduous antlers that can reach six feet from end to end. They shed these antlers every fall and grow new ones in the spring. Moose typically inhabit boreal forests of the northern hemisphere in temperate and subarctic climates. They can grow to be over 6.5 feet tall and can weigh over 1,200 pounds.

Polar Bear

Polar bears are carnivores that live and hunt on the arctic ice sheets and in the coastal waters. They are excellent swimmers and have a thick coat of fur and a layer of fat that keep them warm. Polar bears mainly eat seals, and they have no known natural predators; however, they are at high risk for extinction in the wild according to the IUNC Red List.

Greenland Shark

The Greenland Shark, an apex predator in deep arctic waters, can grow between fourteen and twenty-four feet in length. Because of its sluggish movements, it is speculated the Greenland Shark typically ambushes its prey or scavenges for carrion. Interestingly, the Greenland Shark’s flesh is poisonous when ingested raw but safe to eat when dried.

Scientists discovered that Greenland Sharks also have the longest lifespan of any vertebrate when they determined the age of a living female shark to be at least 272 years old; however, some could live up to 400 years.

Whales

Narwhals are arctic sea mammals classified as toothed whales. Narwhals are characterized by their spiral tusk that can grow to seventeen feet in length. On the other hand, Orcas are known for their recognizable black and white coloring. Both species travel in groups and feed on fish, squid, shrimp, and other aquatic animals. Orcas hunt in groups called deadly pods comprised of as many as up to 40 individuals. They use teamwork to hunt down their prey. Narwhals travel in smaller pods of 15 – 20 individuals and use their tusks to stun their prey. Unfortunately, Narwhals are sometimes trapped in the moving ice sheets making them easy prey to Inuit hunters, who prize them for their tusks and skin.

Seals – Arctic seals, otherwise known as Harp Seals, spend most of their time in the North Atlantic and Arctic Oceans. They can remain submerged for up to 15 minutes and like to eat fish and crustaceans. A group of Harp seals is called a colony or a rookery.

Join us after January 31, 2021, when we'll be reopened to the public!

Credits:

Created with an image by MoreToTheShell - "iceland reykjavik leif eriksson"