Arctic Environmental Atlas


  • Februar, 2014 Migration — Map migrated to ArcGIS Server (from ArcIMS).
  • May 14, 2007 Minor update... — The feedback form has been re-enabled, and the technical details updated.
  • February 23, 2004 Shifting servers... — We are in the process of moving this application to a new server, which should be faster and cooler. We will do our best to ensure as little downtime as possible!
  • February 23, 2004 Fixes — The weekly synchronization of protected areas information from the master database at UNEP-WCMC has been down for a few months, but it is fixed, and running every week!
  • October 14, 2002 Fixes — Fixed small problems here and there, especially regarding the "list info" querying.
  • September 25, 2002 Small changes — Updates and corrections here and there after user requests: List of places/regions to zoom to has been expanded, the legend for precipitation has been corrected, a few place names has been corrected and the colors for the geology theme has been changed.
  • August 23, 2002 Facelift! — The whole map has been updated and overhauled. The map is now using the ArcIMS platform, and it now features new layers, and some of the old themes have been updated. Please give us your feedback on the changes!
  • May 18, 2001 Study Guide — Betsy Youngman, of Phoenix Country Day School in Phoenix, Arizona, has created a web page with a lesson for students, for learning how to work with maps and gain knowledge about the Arctic. The page can be found here.
  • April 23, 2001 The Soils theme has been added.
  • March 7, 2001 The map has been updated with the following themes: Solar Radiation, Precipitation, Geomorphology, Geology & Tectonic plates. The following features have also been added:Mining, Mineral Resources & Volcanoes.
  • December 14, 2000 Public launch of the map!

General Information

This interactive map service presents environmental variables and parameters on the environment in the Arctic region. Data has been collected from a variety of data sources (mostly global datasets) and prepared for the polar view. More information about the themes & features can be found further down on this page.

The service has been developed by UNEP/GRID-Arendal, a the United Nations Environmental Programme (UNEP) environmental data and information centre. UNEP/GRID-Arendal, based in Norway, acts as the Arctic focus centre of UNEP, and has worked closely with several Arctic conservation and monitoring initatives. The map is also a service in the UNEP.Net Arctic portal.

Data are primarily collected from global databases, and a variety of providers, and represented in this map. See respective theme for credit, links and more information.

The technical solution for this interactive map is based on ESRI's ArcGIS Server.

Please examine and browse the map and comment on anything that comes to your mind!

To learn more about the Arctic, and find out about some of the partner institutions behind the map:

The Arctic Council
UNEP.Net Arctic
Conservation of Arctic Flora and Fauna (CAFF)
Arctic Monitoring and Assessment Programme (AMAP)
WWF Arctic Programme

Map Information

The map shows the view of the Arctic region centered on the geographic North Pole, in a map projection that is most correct at the center and distorts the areas the further away they are from the center.

The projection is Lambert Azimuthal Equal Area, with a Major axis/radius of 6370997 meters and with a longitude/longitude at the center of projection of 0° and 90° respectively.

There are various definitions of the Arctic in use. This map includes everything north of 50° north of the equator. The arctic circle is defined as 66° 33' North. Some of the environmental programmes in the Arctic use a different definition, as can be seen by the boundaries (AMAP Arctic boundary, CAFF Arctic boundary) in the map (Click here to see it in the map).

Use of the map service, copies of the mapview and the design are non-restricted for all uses, but it is appreciated if you credit the map and UNEP/GRID-Arendal as the source.

How to use the map

Components of the view

Table of contents and actions

To the left of the screen is the Table of Contents which is the basis of the actions you handle the with. At the top there is the option to choose a specific place to zoom into, or to choose to zoom to the full view. Then it lists the available 'backdrop' themes and additional features you can put on the map. All of the above actions are confirmed by pressing the refresh map button.

The little (i) symbol by the layers mean that it is possible to reach extra information about each specific area, or point, on the map — when these are active.

Below the list of features there is panning arrows to move the focus of the map, and below that links for some basic actions: Go back to full view, Change size of the map, Reset the whole application, Print preview. These should be self-explanatory.

The last link to the lower left is Advanced mode. This changes the list of layers to include more choice, especially of additional features to put on the map. When in the Advanced mode, there will be a link to return to Basic mode.

Manipulating the map

Most of the screen is covered with the actual map, in the middle. Manipulate this map by clicking in it or, by drawing a box in it — to zoom in to a specific place. When you have activated a layer with the little (i) symbol next to the them (in the table of contents) it is also possible to click on a point or area and get additional information. You choose what action should happend when you click on the map from the selector to the right.

To the right: legend and reference

The right most part gives you feedback on where in the world you are, and how to interpret what you see.

Changing the view — zoom in and out

There are different ways to change the geographical extent and location of the view:

Changing the view — layers

The different map layers and features are chose to the left, in the Table of contents. First you choose a back-drop — or theme — that is a map layer that covers the entire map. You select those from the drop-down box at left, under the zoom selection.

On top of the themes, you can then add additional layers of map information. These are lines, like international boundaries, areas that don't cover the whole surface — or small dots, such as cities.

Read more about the available themes and layers, further down on this page.

Identifying features

Some of the features (and the WWF ecoregions) have more information, such as size, year and a description. These are marked with an (i) icon. When any of these are visible on the map, you can choose the "List info" option to the right, click on the map and then you get a pop-up window that lets you view this information (with links to other sites).

Advanced mode

Not all layers are visible when you first enter the map (the Basic mode). By selecting Advanced mode, to the bottom left you get a more extensive list of 'additional features' to select from. Give it a try and see if you that is more for you! If you need a description of the layers you see, look further down in this document, or click the legend to the right (for that layer).

Move on to exercises.


Play with the map and get a feel for it. Try the different options and familiarize yourself with the possibilities and capabilities. If there is anything you don't understand, you should be able to get the answer through this document. If you have a suggestion, there is a feedback form at the bottom of this page.

Some simple tasks


There is a full study guide available for the Arctic Environmental Atlas, that has been created by Betsy Youngman, of Phoenix Country Day School in Phoenix, Arizona. The guide provides exercises for working with this map and on gaining knowledge about the Arctic. The page can be found here.

Map Layers / Data

The thematical datasets, and additional features, have been chosen from a variety of data sources, which can be seen as the best available for a pan-arctic view,and that are available without restrictions and cover the whole area of interest. The themes were selected for environmental relevance for a number of issues, such as biodiversity, conservation and climate change to just name a few.


Additional Features

AMAP Arctic boundary

This is the boundary of the Arctic as defined by the Arctic Monitoring and Assessment Programme (AMAP).

AMAP homepage
Datasource: AMAP boundary
Institution: UNEP/GRID-Arendal, 1991

Arctic circle

The Arctic circle, that is the parallell at 66° 33' North, is a classic definition of the Arctic, but not the only one. See the AMAP and CAFF arctic definitions respectively.

See Arctic Council for more information about the Arctic
Arctic Portal at UNEP.Net
Datasource: UNEP/GRID-Arendal
Institution: UNEP/GRID-Arendal, 2001

CAFF Arctic boundary

This is the boundary of the Arctic as defined by the Conservation of Arctic Flora & Fauna (CAFF).

CAFF homepage
Datasource: CAFF boundary
Institution: UNEP/GRID-Arendal, 1991

Drainage basins

A drainage basin is defined as being a river and its catchment areas - all the water that will end up in that river from surface run-off and groundwater. This is modelled by using digital elevation models (topography) together with river and lakes data. Drainage basins can be classified into many sublevels; three of them are displayed here.
Some of the World¿s largest rivers are located in the Arctic. Their drainage basins cross national borders, challenging traditional management structures - especially since polluters can be far from the site where the river ends up in the sea.

EROS data center (Also download)
Datasource: Hydro1k, Global Hydrological Derivative dataset
Institution: U.S. Geological Survey¿s (USGS) Earth Resources Observation Systems (EROS), 1998
The hydro1k dataset is based on the global GTOPO30 elevation dataset, completed in 1996.


Lakes and waterbodies (including artificial)

ArcOnline Data
Datasource: Digital Chart of the World (DCW), based on VMAP lvl0
Institution: ESRI

Mineral resources

The Theme shows the distribution of natural substances of mineral origin that are used to produce power and raw or other materials for economic purposes.
Mineral resources are irregularly distributed and non-renewable (exhaustible). In other words, mineral resources can be restocked only through exploration and the development of new deposits. Deposits are subject to different natural, technological, and economic conditions of development and exploitation.

ArcOnline Data
Datasource: ArcAtlas, Mineral Resources
Institution: ESRI, Data+


The Theme shows the distribution of mining centers, what type of mining ressource they produce. Mining centers were selected according to the volume of their output and the relative severity of their environmental impact.
The spatial distribution and production structure of extractive industry are determined by a great number of factors. These factors include geology and geography of mineral beds, their reserves, qualities, accessibility, and natural and climatic conditions. Social and economic conditions are also important. They include internal and external market demands for raw materials, the equipment and technology of mining and processing, infrastructure, and the labor force.

ArcOnline Data
Datasource: ArcAtlas, Extracting Industry
Institution: ESRI, Data+

Protected areas

The Arctic contains some of the largest wilderness areas left on earth, and also supports important fish stocks, large mammals and large seabird colonies. Protection of these unique areas is an important element of environmental conservation.
This dataset shows the status of protected areas according to the International Conservation Union's (IUCN) 1996 classification scheme. The features and the information in the map is synchronized weekly with the master database at UNEP World Conservation Monitoring Centre (UNEP/WCMC).

Datasource: Protected Areas
Institution: UNEP/WCMC


Coastlines, country boundaries, cities, gridlines (lat/long grid), lakes, polar/pack ice and glaciers have been extracted from the Digital Chart of the World (DCW) database. The data is based on Operational Navigational Charts from 1965 to 1990.

ArcOnline Data
Datasource: Digital Chart of the World (DCW), based on VMAP lvl0
Institution: ESRI

Summer ice extent (1999)

The extent of the sea ice on the northern hemisphere in August 1999. The distribution is measured and delineated from satellite imagery by the US National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Agency (NOAA). Note that the thinnest classest of distribution has been skipped in this map (CT<10)

National Ice Center (NOAA)
Datasource: Hemispheric ice, NOAA
Institution: NOAA


Volcanism is the result of a set of processes related to the movement of magma.
Three types of volcanoes are included in the arctic atlas: active, potentially active, and solfatara stage volcanoes. Active volcanoes are those that have had continual or periodic eruptions in the historic period (the past 3,500 years). Potentially active volcanoes are those that have erupted in the past 3,500 years, but dates of eruption are approximated by various direct and indirect methods. Volcanoes in the solfatara stage are those that have not had magmatic eruptions in the historic period, and may be presently emitting sulfurous and other gasses.

ArcOnline Data
Datasource: ArcAtlas, Volcanoes
Institution: ESRI, Data+

Winter ice extent (1999)

The extent of the sea ice on the northern hemisphere in February 1999. The distribution is measured and delineated from satellite imagery by the US National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Agency (NOAA). Note that the thinnest classest of distribution has been skipped in this map (CT<10)

National Ice Center (NOAA)
Datasource: Hemispheric ice, NOAA
Institution: NOAA

WWF Global 200 ecoregions

Ecoregions defined: "[...] a relatively large unit of land or water that contains a distinct assemblage of natural communities sharing a large majority of species, dynamics, and environmental conditions. Ecoregions represent the original distribution of distinct assemblages of species and communities."

More about ecoregions, scientific report and interactive world map
Datasource: WWF Ecoregions
Institution: World Wildlife Fund (WWF), 2001

WWF Terrestrial Ecoregions

"We term our biogeographic units ecoregions, which we define as a relatively large unit of land or water that contains a distinct assemblage of natural communities sharing a large majority of species, dynamics, and environmental conditions. Ecoregions represent the original distribution of distinct assemblages of species and communities." (Quote from the WWF description)

Read more at WWF
Datasource: WWF Terrestrial Ecoregions
Institution: World Wildlife Fund (WWF)

Geological structures

This theme shows the integrated geological structure of the earth's continental surface.Geological structure refers to rock types differentiated by occurrence, genesis, age, and composition.
Sedimentary rocks are classified by age into two eons (geologic age), the Phanerozoic and the Precambrian, and five major complexes called eras (subgroup of geologic age).

ArcOnline Data
Datasource: ArcAtlas, Geological Structures
Institution: ESRI, Data+

Geomorphology (landforms)

The theme displays geomorphology, using the morphostructural approach to geomorphology. Morphostructure is the study of large or global landforms such as plains, highlands, ranges, plateaus, and tablelands. These landforms result from the historic interaction of endogenic and exogenic processes.
The largest morphostructural elements (geotectures) are plain and platform areas, orogens, and marginal and intermontane troughs, which are transitional zones between the first two geotectures.

ArcOnline Data
Datasource: ArcAtlas, Morphologic Structure
Institution: ESRI, Data+


This theme shows the dominating landcover types of the Arctic. The theme was created by taking monthly satelite images for one year and classify the results. The first classification is determined based on greeness, then information about seasonality, elevation and field knowledge was applied. The source satellite images were taken in 1992-1993. The number of the classes has been in reduced and aggregated.

EROS Datacenter (also download)
Datasource: USGS Global Land Cover Charactheristics Database, Version 2.0
Institution: US Geological Survey (USGS) EROS data center

Tectonic plates

The Lithospheric Plates map is a theme that shows the approximate outlines of the lithospheric plates.
The earth's main physical features and processes are determined by the earth's crust and upper mantle, the lithosphere. The lithosphere's composition, structure, and history are largely shown in the geological structure and morphostructure. The effects of the movements of huge pieces of the crust called tectonic plates can be seen by the distribution patterns of volcanoes, earthquakes, and mountains. The effects of weather and climate on the lithosphere are evident in the distributions of different morphosculptures, as well as deposits laid down during the ice ages (the Quaternary).

ArcOnline Data
Datasource: ArcAtlas, Lithospheric Plates
Institution: ESRI, Data+


Permafrost is defined as soils where the thawing layer in summer is one meter or less thick. This is an important indicator of various climatic features. Changes in the range of permafrost can be a major indication of climate change, and that can in turn have effects on the climate, due to release of methane.
The theme contains classes for continuous, discontinuous and sporadic or isolated permafrost.

National Snow and Ice Data Center
Permafrost data set at GRID-Arendal
Datasource: Circum-Arctic Map of Permafrost and Ground Ice Conditions, Version 1.0.
Institution: the International Permafrost Association, 1998

Population Density (Ambient)

This theme shows population density as inhabitants per square kilometer, in 2000. The classes are chosen to show the contrast between the vast inhabitated expanses and areas that are inhabited. Note that this theme present ambient population density. This means the approximate location of people at any given time, which is not necessary residency. Due to this, there are for example increased population density around roads.

Distribution and information at CIESIN
Datasource: Landscan 2000
Institution: Oak Ridge National Laboratory (ORNL)


The theme shows the geographic irregularity of the mean annual liquid and solid precipitation in millimeters. Atmospheric precipitation is water that falls from clouds to the earth's surface including objects on the earth.
Water falling from the atmosphere as liquid and solid precipitation is one of the basic components of a variety of natural processes. Precipitation shapes the physical structure of continental surfaces, forms rivers, lakes, glaciers, and groundwater, and is a crucial precondition for human life.

ArcOnline Data
Datasource: ArcAtlas, Precipitation
Institution: ESRI, Data+

Major soil groups

This theme presents major soils groups that have been grouped from FAO (Food and Agricultural Organization of the United Nations) soil orders with the help of Karen Wynne. Soils, which are the loose material - of plant or animal origins as well as rocks and mineral - that lies upon the bedrock and cover most of the land surface of the earth. Soils are closely connected to climatic conditions, geology, vegetation and animal life. The composition and characteristics of the soil forms a basis for the living conditions, but it also feeds back to the development of soils. For example - from a human perspective - fertile soils are excellent cropland, while others are more suitable for forestry.
The soils are also reflected in the themes for landcover & landuse as well as permafrost. From a global change perspective, the thawing of permafrost due to increased temperatures might increase the release of greenhouse gases (i.e. methane) that have been "locked" in tundra soils. If this happends, the amount of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere will increase, and it will further enhance the global warming.
See also the description of the soils dataset

Datasource: FAO Soils of the World
Institution: Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO)

Solar Radiation

The theme shows the general pattern of distribution of mean annual solar radiation in joules per square kilometer per day coming to the horizontal surface of the earth.
Information on solar radiation is extremely important in any analysis of weather and climate because radiation from the sun is the main source of energy for the earth's natural physical, chemical, and biological processes. The principal factors affecting the amount of solar radiation that reaches a location on the earth's surface are latitude, sun elevation, the optical characteristics of the atmosphere such as aerosol content and water vapor content, and surface characteristics.

ArcOnline Data
Datasource: ArcAtlas, Solar Radiation
Institution: ESRI, Data+


This theme shows the elevation of the Arctic. The elevation on land (topograhpy) is displayed in shadings from green to white, while the depths in sea (bathymethry) are given in shades from light to dark blue. In addition a shading has been applied to the elevation so that the higher points appear to cast shadow at the lower, which gives a slight three-dimensional impression. Sea-floor measurements are less accurate. (For land elevation, the GLOBE dataset was used, for sea -- IBCAO and ETOPO5 for areas not covered by IBCAO)

GLOBE Project,IBCAO project, ETOPO5 download page
Datasource: The Global Land One-km Base Elevation (GLOBE) Project (land elevation), Earth Topography data 5 -minute grid (ETOPO05), and International Bathymetric Chart of the Arctic Ocean (IBCAO)
Institution: GLOBE project (1999), NOAA (1996), IBCAO project

Wilderness and Human Impact

This theme shows the Arctic divided into different zones according to how affected the ecosystem is by human activites. The methodology links human infrastructure such as roads, railways, oilpipes and settlements with a certain distance related to its impact on surrounding ecosystems. The remaining areas can be defined as wilderness, environment with a minimum of human disturbance.
The dataset used for inputs to the model was the Digital Chart of the World (DCW), and is based on various maps from the 1970's.

Find out more about the GLOBIO analysis
Datasource: GLOBIO analysis, 2001
Institution: GLOBIO

Technical Details

This map has been created using ESRI's ArcGIS Server. The web interface of the map can be reached at using a normal web-browser.

The data has been prepared using the following tools:

The map was originally developed by Hugo Ahlenius at UNEP/GRID-Arendal, he can now be reached at Nordpil - custom map design, charts, diagrams and visual communication.


Please, let us hear your comments and suggestions! follow this link for access to the feedback form.