Yes, there is summer in the polar regions!
Every day we get requests for our expeditions to the Arctic and the Antarctic. Passengers let us know how many people are in their party, which area of the polar regions they want to travel to, and the big question:
The dates they want to travel.
I’ll be the first to admit it. When I started working, learning, and traveling with Poseidon Expeditions, it never occurred to me that the polar regions
were anything other than icy, cold barren landscapes year-round. I simply presumed we kept the Sea Spirit in the Arctic for part of the year, and the Antarctic during another part of the year. I just did not know why.
Unless a prospective passenger understands how the seasons affect these regions, they also most likely wouldn’t know.
Summer in the Arctic:
In a nutshell, Summer in the Arctic runs from the end of May through September. Early in the season, the sun has not yet melted that much snow and ice, so depending on where you are, there is still a chance of seeing polar bears and their favorite food seals on the ice edge.
In Svalbard and Franz Josef Land in July and early August, the noisy bird cliffs – where thousands of nesting pairs incubate their eggs and tend to their chicks – replace the void of winter. Whales and walruses can be seen in great numbers.
This past May, I was on an expedition in West Greenland. Since it was still early in the season, the temperature was still around 20° Fahrenheit. (-4º Celsius) As we took our Zodiac boats into an old abandoned fishing village to hike and explore, one of our expedition leaders explained to us that even though the village was not used for fishing anymore, the little cottages we came upon were used as summer homes. Furthermore, we were told that the temperature in the peak of summer has been known to reach 70° Fahrenheit (21º Celsius). In the Arctic? Who knew?
There’s also a little phenomenon which happens north of the Arctic Circle during the summer called the midnight sun, and It’s exactly what it sounds like. Depending on the weather, sunlight, or at least a lighted sky is prevalent 18-24 hours per day. It definitely can be a little disorienting! The midnight sun also contributes to the warmer temperatures, melting the sea ice and allowing our Sea Spirit to get into interesting places we otherwise wouldn’t. Of course, in the winter, nighttime lasts for six months.
Summer in the Antarctic:
As you might have guessed, Summer in the Antarctic falls during the opposite months as the Arctic, as summer on the Seventh Continent begins towards the end of October and runs right into March.
When you travel will also dictate to some degree what you’re able to witness. The early days of November (late Austral spring and early Austral summer) offer one of the most adventurous times to visit the Peninsula. This is the chance to see Antarctica in its most undisturbed form. Adélie, chinstrap and Gentoo adult penguins come ashore to breed, commencing raucous courtship rituals and nest-building. As the season goes on, the landing areas offer less pristine snow cover.
December and January are the months with the most sunlight (up to 20 hours a day), and daily temperatures are at their warmest. In January, temperatures at the Peninsula average 34 degrees Fahrenheit (1º-2º Celsius). Mid-December is the time when penguins begin hatching their chicks.
By February and early March, penguin chicks are quite large and start to fledge. Sightings of whales are at their peak at the Peninsula. It’s also the time of year where temperatures begin to drop as the season starts to change and the long days of sunlight begin to shift towards darkness.
I hope this gives you a bit of insight into the polar travel seasons. If you have anything to add about the different seasons around the polar regions, please do so in the comments!