The North Slope of the Brooks Range, as it descends to the Arctic Ocean, constitutes the Northern Region. The land is underlain with continuous permafrost, producing for the most part a moist tundra. Covered much of the year with snow and ice, in the summer the treeless tundra is revealed, melting 12 inches to 16 inches below surface. Thousands of temporary thaw lakes, which change from year to year, dot the tundra.
The Northern Region's nearly three months of total darkness in the winter is complemented by nearly three months of full sunlight in the summer. The climate is cold and dry. Although the temperatures can reach 70 degrees in the summer, it can snow on any day. Strong, constant winds make the winters even harder, as temperatures average below zero. Precipitation is only about 10 inches annually, but the land remains covered by snow and ice more than six months of the year.
The region was traditionally inhabited by both maritime and inland North Alaskan Eskimos. The former established villages on the coast, living off whales, seals, and walrus. Occasionally they would take hunting trips up the rivers, but they were for the most part a sea-oriented people. The inland Eskimos relied on caribou for subsistence; as hunters, they traveled widely. The first whites in the area came by sea: whalers and explorers approached the northern coast in the mid-nineteenth century, and they established a trading relationship with the Eskimos. Missionaries followed, but the remoteness of the area discouraged significant white settlement, until the development of the Prudhoe Bay oil fields. Today, airplanes are the most common means of traveling to or among villages.
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