Arctic Circle

The Arctic Circle is the most northerly of the five major circles of latitude as shown on maps of Earth. It marks the northernmost point at which the noon sun is just visible on the December solstice and the southernmost point at which the midnight sun is just visible on the June solstice. The region north of this circle is known as the Arctic, and the zone just to the south is called the Northern Temperate Zone.

As seen from the Arctic, the Sun is above the horizon for 24 continuous hours at least once per year (and therefore visible at midnight) and below the horizon for 24 continuous hours at least once per year (and therefore not visible at noon). This is also true in the Antarctic region, south of the equivalent Antarctic Circle.

The position of the Arctic Circle is not fixed; as of 30 August 2018, it runs 66°33′47.3″ north of the Equator.[1] Its latitude depends on the Earth's axial tilt, which fluctuates within a margin of 2° over a 40,000-year period, due to tidal forces resulting from the orbit of the Moon.[2] Consequently, the Arctic Circle is currently drifting northwards at a speed of about 15 metres (49 feet) per year.


The word arctic comes from the Greek word ἀρκτικός (arktikos: "near the Bear, northern")[3] and that from the word ἄρκτος (arktos: "bear").[4]

Midnight sun and polar night

The Arctic Circle is the southernmost latitude in the Northern Hemisphere at which the sun can remain continuously above or below the horizon for twenty-four hours; as a result, at least once each year at any location within the Arctic Circle the sun is visible at local midnight, and at least once it is not visible at local noon.[5]

Directly on the Arctic Circle these events occur, in principle, exactly once per year: at the June and December solstices, respectively. However, because of atmospheric refraction and mirages, and also because the sun appears as a disk and not a point, part of the midnight sun may be seen on the night of the northern summer solstice up to about 50 minutes (′) (90 km (56 mi)) south of the Arctic Circle; similarly, on the day of the northern winter solstice, part of the sun may be seen up to about 50′ north of the Arctic Circle. That is true at sea level; those limits increase with elevation above sea level, although in mountainous regions there is often no direct view of the true horizon.

Human habitation

Only four million people live north of the Arctic Circle due to the severe climate; nonetheless, some areas have been settled for thousands of years by indigenous peoples, who today make up 10% of the region's population.[6] Tens of thousands of years ago, waves of people migrated from eastern Siberia across the Bering Strait into North America to settle.

The largest communities north of the Arctic Circle are situated in Russia, Norway and Sweden: Murmansk (population 307,257), Norilsk (175,365), Tromsø (71,295), Vorkuta (59,231) and Kiruna (18,148). Rovaniemi (61,329) in Finland is the largest settlement in the immediate vicinity of the Arctic Circle, lying 6 kilometres (4 miles) south of the line.

In contrast, the largest North American community north of the Arctic Circle, Sisimiut (Greenland), has approximately 5,000 inhabitants. Of the Canadian and United States Arctic communities, Barrow, Alaska is the largest settlement with about 4,000 inhabitants.


The Arctic Circle is roughly 16,000 kilometres (9,900 mi).[7] The area north of the Circle is about 20,000,000 km2 (7,700,000 sq mi) and covers roughly 4% of Earth's surface.[8]

The Arctic Circle passes through the Arctic Ocean, the Scandinavian Peninsula, North Asia, Northern America and Greenland. The land within the Arctic Circle is divided among 8 countries: Norway, Sweden, Finland, Russia, the United States (Alaska), Canada (Yukon, Northwest Territories and Nunavut), Denmark (Greenland) and Iceland (where it passes through the small offshore island of Grímsey).


The climate inside the Arctic Circle is generally cold, but the coastal areas of Norway have a generally mild climate as a result of the Gulf Stream, which makes the ports of northern Norway and northwest Russia ice-free all year long. In the interior, summers can be quite warm, while winters are extremely cold. For example, summer temperatures in Norilsk, Russia will sometimes reach as high as 30 °C (86 °F), while the winter temperatures frequently fall below −50 °C (−58 °F).

Sites along the Arctic Circle

Starting at the prime meridian and heading eastwards, the Arctic Circle passes through:

Co-ordinates Country, territory or sea Notes
66°34′N 000°00′E / 66.567°N 0.000°E / 66.567; 0.000 (Prime Meridian)  Arctic Ocean Norwegian Sea
66°34′N 12°48′E / 66.567°N 12.800°E / 66.567; 12.800 (Nordland County, Norway)  Norway Nordland County
66°34′N 15°31′E / 66.567°N 15.517°E / 66.567; 15.517 (Norrbotten County, Sweden)  Sweden Norrbotten County (Provinces of Lapland and Norrbotten)
66°34′N 23°51′E / 66.567°N 23.850°E / 66.567; 23.850 (Lapland Province, Finland)  Finland Lapland Region, crosses Rovaniemi Airport
66°34′N 29°28′E / 66.567°N 29.467°E / 66.567; 29.467 (Karelia, Russia)  Russia Republic of Karelia
Murmansk Oblast—from 66°34′N 31°36′E / 66.567°N 31.600°E / 66.567; 31.600 (Murmansk, Russia)
Republic of Karelia—from 66°34′N 32°37′E / 66.567°N 32.617°E / 66.567; 32.617 (Karelia, Russia)
Murmansk Oblast (Grand Island)—from 66°34′N 33°10′E / 66.567°N 33.167°E / 66.567; 33.167 (Murmansk, Russia)
66°34′N 33°25′E / 66.567°N 33.417°E / 66.567; 33.417 (Kandalaksha Gulf, White Sea) White Sea Kandalaksha Gulf
66°34′N 34°28′E / 66.567°N 34.467°E / 66.567; 34.467 (Murmansk Oblast, Russia)  Russia Murmansk Oblast (Kola Peninsula)—for about 7 km (4.3 mi)
66°34′N 34°38′E / 66.567°N 34.633°E / 66.567; 34.633 (Kandalaksha Gulf, White Sea) White Sea Kandalaksha Gulf
66°34′N 35°0′E / 66.567°N 35.000°E / 66.567; 35.000 (Murmansk Oblast, Kola Peninsula, Russia)  Russia Murmansk Oblast (Kola Peninsula)
66°34′N 40°42′E / 66.567°N 40.700°E / 66.567; 40.700 (White Sea) White Sea
66°34′N 44°23′E / 66.567°N 44.383°E / 66.567; 44.383 (Nenets Autonomous Okrug, Russia)  Russia Nenets Autonomous Okrug
Komi Republic—from 66°34′N 50°51′E / 66.567°N 50.850°E / 66.567; 50.850 (Komi Republic, Russia)
Yamalo-Nenets Autonomous Okrug—from 66°34′N 63°48′E / 66.567°N 63.800°E / 66.567; 63.800 (Yamalo-Nenets Autonomous Okrug, Russia)
66°34′N 71°5′E / 66.567°N 71.083°E / 66.567; 71.083 (Gulf of Ob) Gulf of Ob
66°34′N 72°27′E / 66.567°N 72.450°E / 66.567; 72.450 (Yamalo-Nenets Autonomous Okrug, Russia)  Russia Yamalo-Nenets Autonomous Okrug
Krasnoyarsk Krai—from 66°34′N 83°3′E / 66.567°N 83.050°E / 66.567; 83.050 (Krasnoyarsk Krai, Russia)
Sakha Republic—from 66°34′N 106°18′E / 66.567°N 106.300°E / 66.567; 106.300 (Sakha Republic, Russia)
Chukotka Autonomous Okrug—from 66°34′N 158°38′E / 66.567°N 158.633°E / 66.567; 158.633 (Chukotka Autonomous Okrug, Russia)
66°34′N 171°1′W / 66.567°N 171.017°W / 66.567; -171.017 (Chukchi Sea, Arctic Ocean) Arctic Ocean Chukchi Sea
66°34′N 164°38′W / 66.567°N 164.633°W / 66.567; -164.633 (Seward Peninsula, Alaska, United States)  United States Alaska (Seward Peninsula)
66°34′N 163°44′W / 66.567°N 163.733°W / 66.567; -163.733 (Kotzebue Sound, Arctic Ocean) Arctic Ocean Kotzebue Sound
66°34′N 161°56′W / 66.567°N 161.933°W / 66.567; -161.933 (Alaska, United States)  United States Alaska—passing through Selawik Lake
66°34′N 141°0′W / 66.567°N 141.000°W / 66.567; -141.000 (Yukon, Canada)  Canada Yukon
Northwest Territories—from 66°34′N 133°36′W / 66.567°N 133.600°W / 66.567; -133.600 (Northwest Territories, Canada), passing through the Great Bear Lake
Nunavut—from 66°34′N 115°56′W / 66.567°N 115.933°W / 66.567; -115.933 (Nunavut, Canada)
66°34′N 82°59′W / 66.567°N 82.983°W / 66.567; -82.983 (Foxe Basin, Hudson Bay)  Canada Foxe Basin, Nunavut
66°34′N 73°25′W / 66.567°N 73.417°W / 66.567; -73.417 (Baffin Island, Nunavut, Canada)  Canada Nunavut (Baffin Island), passing through Nettilling Lake
66°30′N 65°29′W / 66.500°N 65.483°W / 66.500; -65.483 (Baffin Island, Nunavut)  Canada Nunavut (Baffin Island), passing through Auyuittuq National Park (sign location)
66°34′N 61°24′W / 66.567°N 61.400°W / 66.567; -61.400 (Davis Strait, Atlantic Ocean) Atlantic Ocean Davis Strait
66°34′N 53°16′W / 66.567°N 53.267°W / 66.567; -53.267 (Greenland)  Greenland Kingdom of Denmark, passing through Kangerlussuaq Fjord
66°34′N 37°0′W / 66.567°N 37.000°W / 66.567; -37.000 (Greenland)  Greenland Kingdom of Denmark, passing through Schweizerland
66°34′N 34°9′W / 66.567°N 34.150°W / 66.567; -34.150 (Denmark Strait, Atlantic Ocean) Atlantic Ocean Denmark Strait
Greenland Sea—from 66°34′N 26°18′W / 66.567°N 26.300°W / 66.567; -26.300 (Greenland Sea)
66°34′N 18°1′W / 66.567°N 18.017°W / 66.567; -18.017 (Grímsey, Iceland)  Iceland Island of Grímsey
66°34′N 17°59′W / 66.567°N 17.983°W / 66.567; -17.983 (Greenland Sea, Atlantic Ocean) Atlantic Ocean Greenland Sea
Norwegian Sea—from 66°34′N 12°32′W / 66.567°N 12.533°W / 66.567; -12.533 (Norwegian Sea)

See also


  1. "Obliquity of the Ecliptic (Eps Mean)". Retrieved 13 May 2014.
  2. Berger, A. L. (1976). "Obliquity and Precession for the Last 5000000 Years". Astronomy and Astrophysics. 51: 127–135. Bibcode:1976A&A....51..127B.
  3. Liddell, Henry; Scott, Robert. "Arktikos". A Greek–English Lexicon. Perseus Digital Library.
  4. Liddell, Henry; Scott, Robert. "Arktos". A Greek–English Lexicon. Perseus Digital Library.
  5. Burn, Chris. The Polar Night (PDF). The Aurora Research Institute. Retrieved 28 September 2015.
  6. "Arctic Population".
  7. Nuttall, Mark (2004). Encyclopedia of the Arctic Volumes 1, 2 and 3. Routledge. p. 115. ISBN 978-1579584368. Retrieved 26 July 2016.
  8. Marsh, William M.; Kaufman, Martin M. (2012). Physical Geography: Great Systems and Global Environments. Cambridge University Press. p. 24. ISBN 978-0-521-76428-5.
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