The Arctic is the region around the Earth’s North Pole and includes the Arctic Ocean, parts of Canada, Greenland, Denmark, Iceland, Finland, Norway, Sweden, Russia and the USA (Alaska). The Arctic’s boundary is generally accepted as being north of the circle of latitude at 66° 33’39” N. The Arctic climate is harsh, with average winter temperatures at about -40°C dropping to almost -70°C in extreme cases. Precipitation, which is actually quite low, is usually in the form of snow. Coastal areas are more moderate, but have heavier snowfalls than the inland areas. Vegetation is sparse, consisting of grasses, herbs, lichens and mosses, all growing close to the ground. There are no trees in the Arctic, but shrubs can grow in warmer areas. Animal inhabitants include caribou, foxes, hares, lemmings, musk ox, wolves and polar bears. Marine mammals include seals, walruses and various species of whales. The Inuit, members of the indigenous people of northern Canada, parts of Greenland and Alaska, are descendants of the Thule, an Eskimo culture which was widespread in the region from around 500 to 1400 AD. The Arctic is rich in natural resources, oil, gas and minerals, a fact which has led to international disputes. During a scientific expedition in August 2007, two Russian bathyscaphes descended beneath the North Pole and placed a Russian flag of rust-proof titanium alloy on the seabed. This has created considerable global concern in terms of control of the Arctic’s natural resources.

Most of the photographs shown here were taken around Spitsbergen, a Norwegian island in the Arctic Ocean. The largest settlement on the island is Longyearbyen, a town with a population of around 2000 and one of the world’s most northerly settlements. Its location well within the Arctic Circle means that it has polar night from the end of October to mid-February and polar day from mid-April to mid-August. Despite its location, or rather because of it, Spitsbergen attracts numerous tourists, particularly during spring and summer and several tour operators offer a wide range of guided tours between February and November. Svalbard airport, on the outskirts of Longyearbyen, offers flights to and from Tromso and Oslo in Norway.

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