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Arctic life

A polar bear on floating ice in the Arctic Ocean Much of the Arctic Ocean is covered with a thick layer of floating ice all year round. At its edges, rafts of broken ice, called pack ice, drift in the freezing cold waters. During the summer, some of the ice cracks and melts, forming waterways and large stretches of water. No plants can grow on the Arctic ice, so most life is found in the waters around it. During the summer, the days become longer, and the sun warms the waters. Phytoplankton, tiny plant material that floats in the water, quickly grows and multiplies in these conditions, providing food for millions of tiny animals called zooplankton.

Arctic waters

Arctic animalsWith the sudden increase in zooplankton, many animals migrate to the Arctic during the summer to exploit this rich source of food. Fish, squid, birds and even giant whales feed on the zooplankton. A shrimp-like creature called krill is a particular favourite. Seals hunt the fish, while walruses search for shellfish and crabs on the sea bed with their sensitive whiskers. The largest predators in the waters are killer whales, which feed on fish and seals, while on the ice the huge polar bear roams. Its white coat is perfect camouflage while it waits to grab a seal as it emerges from a hole in the ice to breathe.

The word Arctic comes from the Greek arktos, meaning "bear". The name could refer to the constellation Ursa Minor, the "Little Bear", which contains Polaris, the Pole Star.

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