Polar bear and cub in Alaska
Hidden Ocean 2005 Expedition: NOAA Office of Ocean Exploration/Kelley Elliott


Freezing temperatures, whipping winds and five months of constant darkness every year make living at the poles a real challenge. Some animals and plants have adaptations that help them survive the rough conditions in the Arctic and Antarctic.

But the poles themselves are extremely vulnerable to climate change, and researchers there can already see its effects. As climate change warms temperatures, melts ice and affects the food chain, polar species may have more challenges ahead. Visit our polar research station to find out how life copes with the cold, and how climate at the poles is changing. Take a seat on a snowmobile, feel the chill of our giant ice wall, and discover why penguins and polar bears don't hang out together in the wild.

Exhibit Highlights

  • Arctic vs. Antarctic graphic

    Arctic vs. Antarctic

    The Arctic is mostly ocean surrounded by land, while Antarctica is a whole frozen continent surrounded by ocean. The Arctic is home to 40 species of land mammals, but none live permanently in Antarctica—even human researchers are just temporary residents. Find out more in our polar research station.

  • Surviving the Poles exhibit

    Surviving the Poles

    Discover some of the unusual adaptations plant and animal species possess to help them survive in the Arctic, like thinning blood, anti-freeze proteins in body fluids, growing low to the ground and more. Also, find out how some more well-known adaptations, like feathers, fur and fat, work to keep animals warm in the poles' frigid temperatures.

  • Why are the Poles so Cold exhibit in the Poles area

    Why Are the Poles So Cold?

    One of the biggest reasons for the freezing conditions at the poles is that sunlight bounces off snow and ice. In the gallery, experiment to see which surfaces reflect the most light and which ones absorb more heat. You may be surprised by the results!

  • Climate Puzzle exhibit in Poles area

    Help Me Crack the Climate Puzzle

    See how researcher Glen MacDonald examines tree rings in the Arctic to uncover secrets about climate change, and be a tree ring detective yourself! See if you can tell the difference between cold years and warm years when you look at slices from real trees, and find out about how climate change is already affecting polar species like polar bears in the Arctic and penguins in the Antarctic.

  • Ice wall in the Poles area of the Extreme Zone

    Ice Wall

    Feel the chill of our ice wall and discover how different insulators work to keep out the cold. Also, learn about how polar ice works as a time capsule of sorts, holding on to information that can help us find out about past climate conditions at the poles.