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20 Majestic Photos of the Real-Life North Pole

Even though the ice is receding, the North Pole is still a spectacular place to visit. Check out these stunning photos of Artic gandeur.

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Welcome to the North Pole

Welcome to the North Pole

The geographic North Pole is the center of the Northern Hemisphere and the northern-most point on the Earth, and it stands at a full 90 degrees latitude from the Earth’s equator. Here, tourists gather around the North Pole’s “90° N” sign. The North Pole is at risk due to climate change. This is what will happen if glaciers continue melting. 

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American Pride

American pride

This tourist proudly shows the world where her national allegiance lies. Notice she’s holding the American flag, as opposed to planting it in the ice; that may be because the North Pole isn’t part of any country.

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Sea ice at the North Pole
Ekaterina Uryupova/Shutterstock

Zero feet above sea level

Because it’s 100 percent ice, the North Pole is precisely at sea level. The only way the topography of the North Pole varies is when the ice expands and contracts as a result of temperature changes.

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Zero Percent Land at North Pole

Zero percent land

Not only is the North Pole not part of any country, but it doesn’t even have actual soil. These tourists—who are about to gather in a circle to celebrate arriving at the North Pole—are standing on a sheet of pure ice about six to ten feet deep, excluding the Lomonosov Ridge (more on that to follow).

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A different kind of circle of latitude at the North Pole

A different kind of circle of latitude

Back on July 2, 2016, tourists from several countries, including the U.S., Canada, and Great Britain, came together in a circle around the geographic pole to form a “circle of latitude.”

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Icebergs in Disko bay, North Greenland
Yongyut Kumsri/Shutterstock

The closest land

The closest terra firma to the North Pole—that’s at sea level—belongs to Canada. The next closest is Greenland (which is a self-governing part of Denmark), pictured here. Just below sea level lies the Lomonosov Ridge, to which Canada, Greenland, and Russia have competing claims. Check out these common geography mistakes we all make.

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The closest inhabited town to the North Pole
Sophia Granchinho/Shutterstock

The closest inhabited town

The town closest to the North Pole is in the Nunavut territory of Canada (pictured). Known as Alert, it’s just 8 degrees south of the North Pole. Its population stands at 62, according to a recent census. There’s also a town called North Pole in Alaska, which happens to be one of the best places in the U.S. to celebrate Christmas.

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Melting Polar ice near Norway
jo Crebbin/Shutterstock

Summer at the North Pole

During the “heat” of the summer at the North Pole, temperatures can rise all the way to 32 degrees Fahrenheit—still freezing. Here’s what melting ice looks like near the North Pole.

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A fire balloon in North Pole

Sticking the landing

This hot-air balloon is landing on ice that’s adjacent to the North Pole. Not all North Pole hot-air balloon landings turn out as well; in 1897, the SA Andrée Arctic Balloon Expedition, which was supposed to have sailed over the North Pole, crash-landed on the ice instead. It was another four decades before anyone figured out what happened to the doomed expedition. Find out the weird things that happen to your body in the cold.

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Iceblink at North Pole

“Water sky”

Things at the top of the world look and sound very different due to atmospheric conditions unique to the North Pole. For example, this photo shows a phenomenon known as water sky: The clouds above a surface of open water appear significantly darker than higher clouds.

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View of Salt Lake Tuzbair
Yerbolat Shadrakhov/Shutterstock


Another phenomenon seen only at the North Pole, iceblink is when a white glare is visible beneath the clouds. “When other means of reconnaissance are not available, travelers in the polar seas can use water sky and iceblink to get a rough idea of ice conditions at a distance,” according to the U.S. Government National Snow and Ice Data Center. Don’t miss these 15 amazingly colorful natural wonders of the earth.

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Icebreaker before

Icebreaker: Before

This special-purpose ship is an icebreaker. Its purpose is to carve safe passages for other water boats and ships. This icebreaker is slicing through the Arctic Ocean on its way to the North Pole.

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ice at North pole and near (from 88 to 90 degrees). Rare now perennial ice broken by nuclear icebreaker. Broken ice behind (channel), expedition to North pole

Icebreaker: After

Here you can see the lines cut by an icebreaker. This particular ship is nuclear powered—a brand new technology in the icebreaking industry. Read up on these winter survival tips from the coldest parts of America.

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A mother bear keeping an eye as her two cubs rest peacefully by her side in the Norwegian Arctic in Svalbard
Himanshu Saraf/Shutterstock

Polar bears? Yes. Penguins? Nope.

You may have heard that polar bears and penguins don’t frequent the same neighborhoods: Polar bears are at home at the North Pole, while penguins stick to Antarctica.

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Pressure ridge and melt water at the Geographic North Pole

The shrinking North Pole

It used to be quite a bit bigger: In February of 2018, temperatures at the North Pole went well above the melting point—up to 35 degrees, an anomaly that’s been happening a lot more frequently since 1980, according to PBS. As a result, photos like this, depicting melting Arctic ice, are more common. Here are 6 global warming effects that may surprise you.

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North Pole (88-90 degrees) in 2016. Summer snow morass (melt water pool) and toros (haycock, multi-year ice hummock) on ice of Arctic ocean. Global warming: Ice at North pole will melt in few decades

Summer at the North Pole

Scientists recorded a heavy thaw at the North Pole in the summer of 2016 as well, when this photo was taken. The distinct pooling of water seen here is known as “meltwater.” The annual tracking of meltwater is helping to determine the effects of climate change.

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Icebergs in Disko Bay Greenland

More melt

This photo of icebergs floating in meltwater pools is not at the North Pole, but rather, several hundred miles away, off the coast of Greenland. But it provides some idea of what scientists think the North Pole might look like in the future as the Arctic ice continues to diminish.

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Long line of compression of ice fields ice reefing near the North pole

Pressure ridges

These are called pressure ridges, steep-sloped ridges of ice rising as much as five to 10 feet or more above adjacent ice. Pressure ridges are composed of ice fragments that get pushed together as a result of natural forces.

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Floe at North pole (90 degrees) in 2016. Area of recent compression of ice fields and tending (ice rubble pileup)

Rubble ice

When ice fragments are pushed together by oceanic movement, they can form a jumble of small pieces like these. The phenomenon is known as rubble ice, and it can cover large expanses.

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Pack ice near the North pole, hummocky polar ice. Polar day at the lowest position of the sun in late June

The midnight sun

In late June, the sun won’t set in the North Pole; although it’s late evening in this photo, it looks as if it’s the middle of the day. The smooth chunks of ice seen here are described by scientists as “hummock” ice, which can form during the summer melt. Don’t miss these 40 stunning photos of national parks covered in snow.

Lauren Cahn
Lauren Cahn is a New York–based writer whose work has appeared regularly on Reader's Digest and in a variety of other publications since 2008. She covers life and style, popular culture, law, religion, health, fitness, yoga, entertaining and entertainment. Lauren is also an author of crime fiction, and her first full-length manuscript, "The Trust Game," was short-listed for the 2017 CLUE Award for emerging talent in the genre of suspense fiction.