Copyright 2001-2012, California Science Center


Polar Zone exhibit gallery, Extreme Zone, Ecosystems, California Science Center, phot by Tracie Spence Photography

©Tracie Spence Photography

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. AntarcticArctic 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, including polar bears and humans, but no land mammals live permanently in Antarctica— even human researchers are just temporary residents. Explore these differences and more in our polar research station.

Surviving the polesSurviving 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.

Reflecting light exhibitWhy 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 exhibitHelp 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 wallIce 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. Photo ©Tracie Spence Photography

Polar Links

United States Antarctic Program
Check out the latest news and research from the United States Antarctic Program, including live webcams from McMurdo Station and other Antarctic research outposts. Visitors to the site will also find maps, images and video from Antarctica.

National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration: Arctic
Access information on Arctic animals, the northern lights, native peoples of the Arctic and more, and find the latest news on climate change and how it is affecting the Arctic.

Princess Elisabeth Antarctica
This site features stunning photos and video as well as research news from the very first "zero emission" research station in Antarctica.

Beyond Penguins and Polar Bears
Designed for teachers of students in grades K-5, this site features great information, articles, stories and photos of life at the poles. Find out about how to build an igloo (complete with associated craft activities), animal adaptations, weather and climate and more.