Arctic Environments

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Polar Environments are very diverse and fascinating. This section will provide in-depth information on arctic environments and climate.


Arctic History

The Arctic and the Great Bear

In the northern sky, a series of seven bright stars form the shape of a soup ladle – the big dipper. The ancient Greeks, who incorporated stars in their mythology, regarded this group of stars as part of the form of a giant bear. The Greek word for "bear" is arktos, which through the ages took the forms arcticus and artic. The modern use of the word arctic to describe the northern polar region refers to the northerly position of the bear constellation. This group of stars is still known as Ursa Major – ursa being the Latin word for "bear".

What do the Canadian Inuit make of Ursa Major?

Canada's Inuit universally associate the stars in Ursa Major with one or several caribou. This group of stars is thus known by various versions of the Inuktitut word for this animal – Tukturjukin the singular, Tukturjuit in the plural. Interestingly, this is the only cluster of stars that represents an animal in Inuit culture; all other celestial representations of animals or people are based on a single star.

Why a bear?

The cluster of stars known as Ursa Major resembles a bear – an association explained by the ancient Greeks with a mythical tale of love and jealousy. The Greek god Zeus fell in love with a beautiful nymph who bore him a son. When Zeus' wife discovered the romance, she turned the nymph into a bear, but Zeus took pity on his lover and placed her among the stars. The wife did not like this either – it was too much to see her rival glittering in the night sky – so she made a pact with the ocean god. Together, they arranged that the bear would never be able to reach down to the water to drink. And indeed, Ursa Major never touches the horizon in northern latitudes; the nymph that was once loved by Zeus suffers from eternal thirst.