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How big is the Arctic Ocean? And eight other Arctic facts

Polar Bear Swimming

The Arctic is one of the most stark and beautiful places on Earth. Vast expanses of pack ice cover deep ocean composing the planet's largest and least fragmented inhabited region.

Home to an array of species—from polar bears to whales—the Arctic faces threats from oil and gas development and a changing climate. WWF is working with governments, businesses, and communities to help preserve the region’s rich biodiversity.

Take a look at some common questions and answers about this important area that WWF works to protect:

Houses and icebergs in Greenland

1. How many countries does the Arctic cover?
The Arctic region covers parts of eight countries: Canada, Greenland, Iceland, Norway, Sweden, Finland, Russia, and the United States. These countries promote collaboration, coordination, and interaction via an intergovernmental forum called the Arctic Council. With on-the-ground teams in all of the Arctic countries, WWF is uniquely positioned to work with all member states, and has engaged with the Arctic Council since before its evolution..

 

Fall colors and rainbow at Red Star Lake, Gates of the Arctic

2. Is all of the Arctic covered in snow?
The Arctic consists of more than just the snow-covered terrain that people expect. It’s diverse and often dramatic landscapes include sea ice, coastal wetlands, upland tundra, glaciers, mountains, wide rivers, and the sea itself.

 

Melting iceberg

3. How big is the Arctic Ocean?
The Arctic Ocean is about 5.4 million square miles—about 1.5 times as big as the US—but it is the world’s smallest ocean.

 

Melting sea ice

4. What kind of threats does the Arctic face?
The Arctic faces threats from oil and gas development, fisheries management, and mining and shipping traffic. But climate change is the single greatest threat to the Arctic. Warming in the Arctic is expected to be two to three times greater than the rest of the world. Even a slight shift in temperature could potentially result in an ice-free Arctic within this century. For four decades, WWF has been part of the movement to fight this global crisis. Our vision is a world powered by renewable energy, where communities and ecosystems are resilient in the face of climate changes.

 

Nenets reindeer herders next to a tent

5. Why does the Arctic matter?
The Arctic is home to several million people. Many Arctic residents are indigenous people who have adapted to live in one of the harshest environments in the world. The Arctic is also a rich habitat for wildlife and contains vast resources like enormous freshwater reserves, fossil fuels, and fisheries.

 

Swimming Pacific Salmon

6. What species live in the Arctic?
The diversity of the landscape of the Arctic means a wide array of wildlife. Species like the beluga, pacific salmon, brown bear, walrus, arctic wolf, arctic fox, narwhal, and gray whale live here. Polar bears remain the most iconic Arctic species, and live only in this landscape.

 

Polar bear and cub

7. What threats do polar bears face?
Climate change is an enormous threat to polar bears. Polar bears rely on sea ice to access the seals that are their primary source of food as well as to rest and breed. With less sea ice every year, polar bears and many other ice-dependent creatures are at risk. Polar bears are actually classified as marine mammals because they spend most of their lives on the sea ice of the Arctic Ocean. Since shrinking sea ice forces polar bears to spend more time on land, people and bears can come into conflict. WWF worked directly with residents to create an “Umky” patrol in Chukotka, Russia and to secure better lighting for communities. WWF also distributes educational materials to reduce bear-human conflict, and works with locals to gather scientific information about the bears.

 

campsite in the arctic

8. Where did the name 'Arctic' come from?
‘Arctic’ comes from the Greek word for bear: Arktos. The name doesn’t come from the iconic polar bear, but from constellations in the northern sky of the Arctic, ‘Ursa Minor’ (Little Bear) and ‘Ursa Major’ (Great Bear).

 

9. Why are glaciers important?
Glacier ice is the largest reservoir of fresh water on the planet, storing an estimated 75 percent of the world’s supply. Alaska alone is estimated to have more than 100,000 glaciers. A glacier can range in length from the equivalent of a football field to more than 100 miles.