Defining a Polar Climate


When referring to a polar climate people naturally think of the North and South Poles, but the true definition is a lot more complicated than simply saying ‘it’s at the poles’. In fact, the Arctic and Antarctica are defined as having two distinctly separate climates overall, although there is of course some crossover.

The confusion stems from the fact that the term ‘polar climate’ is broken down further in order to better describe the environment. A combination of tundra and icecap climates make up these regions, being closely emulated by alpine climates, which often causes people to group these together. In truth, if the severe cold is a result of elevation and nothing else (alpine climates), polar it is not.

So, let’s go through some definitions:

  • A polar climate is any area with an average temperature below 10°C (50°F). This must be true for each individual month.
  • A tundra climate must fit all the parameters of a polar climate, except that at least one month of the year must have an average temperature above 0°C.
  • An icecap climate also fits the criteria for a polar climate, but these regions are the coldest of the lot. To be defined as an icecap climate, no single month can average above 0°C.


According to these parameters, Antarctica is the only continent on which an icecap climate is predominant, although a large portion of Greenland’s interior also makes the cut, along with the most northern points of Canada.

The Arctic, on the other hand, is largely tundra. Other regions defined as tundra include much of the north Eurasian landmass, encompassing parts of Scandinavia, Siberia and Iceland. As mentioned previously, only the northern end of Canada has an icecap climate, and much of the rest is defined as tundra. Similarly Greenland, which is largely icecap, has large tundra regions around the coast and neighbouring islands.

Southern examples of a tundra climate include the South Shetland Islands, the Falkland Islands and portions of South America, specifically the region around Tierra del Fuego.

The most noticeable difference between the two climates is the presence of plant life. In an icecap climate, plants do not grow at all, whereas tundra climates only prohibit the growth of trees, with specialised plants managing to find a home among the often icy ground. Seemingly inhospitable, these regions do in fact play host to some spectacular creatures, which we will take a more in depth look at in other articles.

Sam Bonson

Sam is an aspiring novelist with a passion for fantasy and crime thrillers. He is currently working as a content writer, journalist & editor in an attempt to expand his horizons.

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Last modified: 16th April 2018