I am designing a fantasy setting for pen-and-paper role-playing (and potential novel) purposes. I have decided that a continent be situated right on a Pole of some imaginary planet with axial tilt comparable to Earth. My question is: is it possible to achieve environmental conditions in the Continent at least somewhat similar to those of current-day Europe?

My understanding of Earth climate is that the poles, while extremely cold, are also very dry in terms of precipitation. I have understood that this is mostly due to the axial tilt but I'm not sure. I have heard that in a warmer part of Earth's history the poles had vegetation - is this possible even with the ever-present high-pressure zone?

I guess one way the continent could be habitable is to be full of freshwater rivers, originating from glaciers high atop of some mountains. I guess such mountains are plausible near the pole (I don't think the movement and mutual interaction of continental plates are somehow dependent of the latitude, are they?)

Thank's in advance for your great contributions!


closed as off-topic by Pont, Jan Doggen, arkaia, bon, userLTK Oct 26 '17 at 12:31

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  • $\begingroup$ Some aspects of this question can be answered by looking at Antarctica - there we have a polar continent with high mountains and glaciers. I think the meat here is perhaps whether it's plausible for an earth-like planet to have a temperate climate at sea level at the poles while still retaining glaciation in mountain areas. That's something I'm not qualified to answer :-) $\endgroup$ – Semidiurnal Simon Jul 15 '14 at 9:04
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    $\begingroup$ Better question for Worldbuilding $\endgroup$ – Jan Doggen Oct 25 '17 at 11:01
  • $\begingroup$ @JanDoggen Agreed -- unfortunately it's impossible to migrate a question older than 60 days, which is why I've voted to close. $\endgroup$ – Pont Oct 25 '17 at 13:38
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    $\begingroup$ I'm voting to close this question as off-topic because it belongs in worldbuilding.stackexchange.com $\endgroup$ – arkaia Oct 25 '17 at 14:52

For a very basic explanation of why poles are the way they are, note that the amount of solar radiation coming from the sun is spread over a larger area at the pole. Therefore you get less radiation per square meter. As a result it is colder.

Cold air can hold less water vapour. As such it is very dry (in terms of water mass per air volume) in cold regions. Dry air obviously can provide less precipitation. If your polar continent is warmer, you'll see more precipitation.

Large-scale weather phenomena are indeed mostly driven by Earth's rotation. As such you have somewhat more stable conditions along the poles. However, complex topography (i.e. mountains) can severely interfere with these conditions. This is the reason why the stratospheric ozone hole is much smaller in the northern hemisphere than in the southern hemisphere: There is much more mixing between differnt air regions in the north. In the troposphere this effect is even more pronounced.


In addition to the answer above (and I realize this is an old question and perhaps better for world building), but what we know about climate, some subtle changes can have pretty big effects.

If you increase the axial tilt a few degrees that would make the variation in sunlight winter to summer greater and would make colder winters and warmer summers, but the effect of warmer summers is that glaciers would have a harder time growing. You could also increase the planet's greenhouse gas.

You could also create more ocean surface area and less land. Oceans are good temperature stabilizers and with strong ocean currents, you might get a year-round warm water flow towards the continent on the pole, leading to a warming of the land on the pole, much the same way Europe is warmer than similar latitudes in other places on earth, due to the warm mid Atlantic current. More ocean surface area and a strong oceanic conveyor might be the simplest explanation, creating a regular stream of warm air that blows onto your continent on the pole.

Or you could give the planet a slower rotation and longer days (colder nights), but during the summer, snow would melt during the longer day - also preventing glacial buildup. For your scenario, glaciers on Mountains is fine, but you don't want glaciers spreading across land like we have in Greenland and Antarctica. For a warmer pole continent, you need some combination of effects that would prevent glacial growth.

Glacial growth on land and a decline in oceanic circulation is thought to be the cause of the ice age period that began about 2.6 million years ago. Similarly, land over the pole is thought to be what lead to the Karoo ice age. You'd need a mechanism to make your land on the pole warmer (like some of the mechanisms above).

On river runoff:

River water usually (but not always) requires snow melt. If you have a lot of snow that melts over the year (like the Himalayas), that would create a lot of large rivers but I don't think those rivers would warm the land very effectively. Rivers respond to land temperature and snow/ice melt and weather patterns, more than they control them. Other methods like more greenhouse gas, a bigger ocean with a strong conveyor or some orbital changes are the best methods I can think of for your scenario.


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