Is the North Pole dry or wet?

Quick Answer

The North Pole is covered by sea ice, not land, so it is technically “wet”. However, the sea ice at the North Pole is frozen solid for most of the year, so the surface feels dry and solid to stand on. The ice thickness at the North Pole averages around 2-3 meters thick. During the summer months, the top layer of sea ice melts, creating shallow ponds of water on top of the remaining ice.

Is there land at the North Pole?

No, there is no land mass or island at the precise location of 90°N latitude, 0° longitude – the point defined as the “North Pole”. The North Pole is situated in the middle of the Arctic Ocean, on top of constantly shifting sea ice. The nearest land is hundreds of miles away. So unlike the South Pole, which sits on top of the large Antarctic continent, the North Pole does not have a solid land surface.

Is the North Pole ice or water?

The North Pole is covered by floating sea ice that constantly drifts and moves. Sea ice forms when the ocean water freezes. The sea ice at the North Pole averages 2-3 meters (6-10 feet) thick. During winter, the entire Arctic Ocean becomes covered in continuous sea ice. In summer, the ice partially melts and breaks up, but the North Pole region remains ice-covered. The ice floes drift around the Arctic Ocean, carried by winds and currents. Satellite images show the sea ice cover can decrease dramatically during summer months. But the North Pole itself always remains ice-covered year-round.

What is the surface at the North Pole like?

Since the North Pole is located in the middle of the Arctic Ocean, the surface is sea ice, floating on top of the ocean water. The ice surface is generally quite flat and featureless. During winter, the sea ice is frozen solid and the surface feels dry and stable when walked on. In summer, the top layers of the ice partially melt, creating small ponds and puddles on the surface. The melted ice can make the surface wet and slushy until it refreezes again. The ice can also crack and fracture. So the North Pole feels “wet” during the warmer months and “dry” during the colder months. But it is always ice-covered.

Does the North Pole ever have open water?

The North Pole itself remains ice-covered year-round. Even in the warmest summer months, there is always some sea ice floating at the precise location of the pole. However, the surrounding Arctic sea ice cover does melt and retreat dramatically in late summer. The closest open water to the North Pole is typically found 400 to 700 miles away in the peripheral seas. Melt ponds can also form on the ice floes near the pole. But there is no “open ocean” right at the North Pole, since it always remains capped in floating sea ice. Though as Arctic ice loss accelerates, scientists predict the region could see ice-free summers by mid-century.

How thick is the ice at the North Pole?

The sea ice thickness at the North Pole averages around 2-3 meters (6-10 feet) thick. However, ice draft measurements show significant variations. Some multi-year ice floes can be over 4 meters (13 feet) thick. In spots where ice has recently formed, it may only measure 1 meter (3 feet) or less. The ice is constantly in motion, so thickness varies widely. Overall the average winter maximum ice thickness is around 2 meters. In summer, melting reduces it to 1-2 meters on average. The sea ice has been thinning over the long-term, likely due to climate change. Measurements by submarine indicate Arctic sea ice has lost about two-thirds of its average volume over recent decades.

Does the North Pole ever melt completely?

The North Pole sea ice always persists year-round, but there is concern it could become seasonally ice-free by mid-century due to global warming. In summer 2012, Arctic sea ice extent and volume reached record-low levels. The northern sea route also became briefly open. This led to predictions that an ice-free North Pole could occur as early as 2040. However, the record lows of 2012 have not been consistently repeated. The long-term decline in Arctic sea ice is undeniable, but an entirely ice-free North Pole summer remains unlikely in the next few decades. Seasonal sea ice will likely continue clinging to the northernmost region. Scientists are still working to understand when a potentially reversible “tipping point” might occur.


In summary, the surface at the precise location of the North Pole is composed of floating sea ice, ranging from about 1-4 meters thick on average. This sea ice drifts and moves with winds and currents. In winter, the ice is frozen solid and the surface feels stable and dry underfoot, similar to standing on solid ground. In summer, melting occurs which can create wet, slushy conditions on top of the ice. But open areas of water are not typically found right at the pole itself year-round. So the North Pole is not a fixed land point but rather the constantly shifting location where all longitude lines meet at the northern axis of Earth’s rotation. The sea ice persists at the pole throughout the year, though continued Arctic warming threatens to eventually transform the region to be seasonally ice-free.

Historical Expeditions to Reach the North Pole

There is a long history of explorers striving to reach the North Pole, often enduring immense hardship and danger traversing through the Arctic sea ice cover by sleds or ships. Some key expeditions include:

– In 1909, American explorers Frederick Cook and Robert Peary both claimed to have reached the North Pole. The claims remain disputed and controversial.

– In 1926, the first widely accepted surface expedition to the North Pole was led by Norwegian explorer Roald Amundsen. He reached the pole by airship.

– In 1968, Ralph Plaisted became the first confirmed surface expedition to reach the pole by snowmobile.

– In 1977, Soviet icebreakers reached the pole for the first time by sea.

– In 1982, Ranulph Fiennes was the first to reach the North Pole unsupported by sled, relying on manpower alone.

– In 2006, British explorer Pen Hadow became the first person to reach the North Pole solo.

Many other expeditions by sled, ski, and ship have reached the North Pole over the last century, despite the challenging and changing Arctic conditions. Today, expeditions to the North Pole remain an impressive feat of endurance and human ambition. The allure of being among the few to stand at the northern axis of the planet continues to drive adventurers.

Wildlife at the North Pole

Very few creatures inhabit the North Pole due to the extreme frigid climate. However, some unique Arctic wildlife is adapted to survive in the region:

– Polar Bears – Spend most of their time on the sea ice hunting ringed seals. Critical habitat for this endangered species.

– Seals – Ringed and bearded seals live around the North Pole, surfacing in openings in the ice to breath. Seal pups are born on the ice.

– Arctic Foxes – Their thick fur allows them to survive frigid temperatures. Feed on lemmings, birds and scraps from polar bears. Turn white in winter.

– Whales – Migrate seasonally near pole, including belugas, narwhals, bowheads. Need open-water summer feeding grounds so vulnerable to sea ice losses.

– Walruses – Use ice floes to rest on while feeding. Sensitive to changing ice conditions.

– Birds – Migratory birds like snow geese and Arctic terns pass over the pole on migration routes. Northern fulmars and ivory gulls may feed in Arctic waters nearby.

– Plankton – Microscopic organisms form the base of the Arctic food chain.

Despite minimal plant life and extreme conditions, this specialized Arctic ecology survives by remarkable adaptations to the icy polar environment. But climate change now threatens the survival of many unique polar species.

Climate Change Effects at the North Pole

The North Pole region is experiencing rapid warming due to global climate change caused by human greenhouse gas emissions. Key observed changes include:

– Temperatures – The Arctic is warming at over twice the rate of lower latitudes due to polar amplification. This disproportionate warming is reducing sea ice extent.

– Sea Ice Decline – Summer sea ice extent has plunged by nearly 50% since satellite monitoring began in the 1970s. Multi-year ice is declining precariously.

– Thinning Ice – Sea ice has thinned by an estimated 65% in recent decades, from over 3 meters thick to around 1-2 meters now.

– Shifting Geography – Retreating summer ice exposes new shipping lanes and alters coastlines as walrus and seals lose habitat. New resources and trade routes become accessible.

– Permafrost Thaw – Warming Arctic lands are causing permafrost and tundra to thaw, releasing methane. Coastal erosion threatens communities.

– Ecosystem disruption – Polar bears, whales, seals, and other wildlife populations are under stress as the habitat changes rapidly. Migratory patterns and behaviors are shifting.

– Sea Level Rise – The warming Arctic is accelerating sea level rise worldwide, threatening coastal cities and habitats globally as land ice melts into the ocean.

The North Pole region is the world’s climate change “canary in the coal mine”, providing an early warning of the profound cascading effects accelerating polar warming can unleash worldwide. Concerted global action to reduce emissions and mitigate climate impacts is still needed to slow these Arctic feedbacks.

Recent North Pole Records

– July 2022: North Pole hits 69°F (21°C), 30 degrees above normal, shocking scientists. Part of Siberian heat wave.

– September 2012: North Pole sea ice shrank to a record minimum extent of 1.32 million square miles, 29% below previous low set in 2007. Marked an accelerating long-term decline trend.

– August 2011: North Pole submerged by warm storms, with buoys recording water temperatures of up to 40°F above normal in some areas.

– October 2020: The research icebreaker Polarstern spent 389 days drifting in sea ice across the Arctic, including through the North Pole, to study climate change effects on the region.

– May 2021: Russia launches the world’s first floating nuclear reactor to power Arctic oil platforms, concerning scientists due to radioactivity risks.

While the North Pole remains persistently cold, heat waves and dramatic weather shifts continue to reveal an Arctic environment under profound stress from the global climate crisis, sending signals of accelerating change.


The North Pole is located in the middle of the Arctic Ocean, amid a drifting sea ice cover that varies from 1-4 meters in thickness seasonally. Its frozen ice surface makes it dry underfoot in winter, yet ponds and melts in summer can create wet, slushy conditions without fully removing the ice. Wildlife like polar bears and seals manage to survive in the harsh landscape. But human-caused climate change is now transforming the Arctic drastically, well beyond natural variability. Record warming and ice loss have enormous cascading effects worldwide. The summit of Earth remains capped in ice, for now. But the future of the North Pole climate remains highly unstable as humanity’s carbon emissions continue rising. Ongoing observations of its fragile environment provide insights on the profound implications accelerating Arctic change has for the entire planet.

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