In This Article Expand or collapse the "in this article" section Polar Regions

  • Introduction
  • General Overviews
  • Journals

Ecology Polar Regions
Dieter Piepenburg, Manfred Bölter
  • LAST REVIEWED: 04 January 2022
  • LAST MODIFIED: 23 May 2012
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199830060-0060


The polar regions have gained the attention of scientists and the general public alike, especially since explorers first visited these remote and inhospitable places, characterized by the most extreme climatic conditions on Earth, and reported their fascination about them. Scientific research, in the modern sense, however, started little more than one hundred years ago, with Fridtjof Nansen’s seminal Fram expedition to the Arctic Ocean (1893–1896). The early studies that followed the “heroic phase” of the exploration of the polar regions addressed a wide variety of topics, ranging from broad landscape descriptions to very detailed analyses of individual species, adaptations, or metabolic pathways. Much work was done on ecological aspects of the polar environments and their differentiation into geographical and biotic regions. The exploitation of the surprisingly great wealth of natural resources the polar regions house, such as the rich whale populations and, later, the abundant Antarctic krill in the Southern Ocean, were an important driving force behind many ecological investigations. In the recent past, the study of the impacts of climate change, which are particularly severe in both polar regions, came increasingly into focus of researchers. Scientific fieldwork in polar regions is difficult and costly, and since the early days, ecological research has largely been conducted within the framework of multidisciplinary, often international projects. Over the last three decades, international cooperation in polar research has greatly increased, most often under the wings of the Scientific Committee on Antarctic Research (SCAR) and the International Arctic Science Committee (IASC).

General Overviews

The scientific communities dealing with research in marine and terrestrial/freshwater habitats are largely separate, due to the great differences between ocean and land in terms of ecological structure and methods to be applied in their scientific investigation. Not surprisingly, there are thus only a few comprehensive works that address the whole range of ecological habitats in both the Arctic and Antarctic. The most recent one is Thomas, et al. 2008, a textbook on the biology of polar regions. The often-cited Arctic Monitoring and Assessment Programme 1998 is a report that summarizes the knowledge on the pollution of the Northern latitudes. The impacts of climate change in polar regions have been comprehensively treated in two recently published reports: for the Arctic in Hassol 2004, and for the Antarctic in Turner, et al. 2009.

  • Arctic Monitoring and Assessment Programme. 1998. AMAP Assessment report: Arctic pollution issues. Oslo, Norway: Arctic Monitoring and Assessment Programme.

    The most comprehensive book on all affairs on pollution in Arctic regions, with respect to the environment in general, as well as plants, animals, and humans.

  • Hassol, Susan Joy. 2004. Impacts of a warming Arctic. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge Univ. Press.

    The first and still most comprehensive account. A 140–page synthesis report of the Arctic Climate Impact Assessment, describing the possible future consequences the pronounced climate change in the Arctic will have on the environment and its living resources, on human health, and on buildings, roads, and other infrastructure.

  • Thomas, D. N., G. E. Fogg, P. Convey, et al. 2008. The biology of polar regions. Oxford: Oxford Univ. Press.

    DOI: 10.1093/acprof:oso/9780199298112.001.0001

    The most recent comprehensive book on the different polar marine, freshwater, and terrestrial habitats in both the Northern and Southern Hemispheres.

  • Turner, John, Robert A. Bindschadler, Pete Convey, et al., eds. 2009. Antarctic climate change and the environment: A contribution to the International Polar Year 2007–2008. Cambridge, UK: Scientific Committee on Antarctic Research.

    This major report, published by the Scientific Committee on Antarctic Research (SCAR), synthesizes the present knowledge on the past and possible future changes in the physical environment of Antarctica and the Southern Ocean, and their impact on the biota.

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