What is igloo?

Asked 27-Feb-2018
Updated 18-Sep-2023
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An igloo is a traditional type of shelter or dwelling primarily associated with the indigenous people of the Arctic, including the Inuit and Yupik communities. It is a remarkable example of indigenous engineering and architecture designed to withstand the extreme cold and harsh conditions of the Arctic regions, including Canada, Alaska, Greenland, and parts of Siberia.

Key characteristics and features of igloos include:

1. Construction: Igloos are typically made from blocks of compacted snow or ice. These blocks are cut or carved out of the surrounding snow, creating a sturdy, dome-shaped structure. The word "igloo" itself means "house" or "shelter" in the Inuit language.

2. Shape: The classic igloo has a distinctive dome shape, which is both structurally stable and energy-efficient. The circular design minimizes surface area, reducing heat loss and making it easier to maintain a comfortable interior temperature.

3. Insulation: The snow blocks used in igloo construction provide excellent natural insulation. The compacted snow traps air, which acts as an insulating layer, helping to keep the interior warmer than the frigid temperatures outside.

4. Entrance Tunnel: Igloos typically have a short entrance tunnel that serves as an airlock to prevent the escape of warm air and the intrusion of cold air when entering or exiting the structure.

5. Ventilation: Proper ventilation is crucial to prevent the accumulation of carbon dioxide from occupants' breath and from the heat source inside the igloo. A small hole or vent at the top of the dome allows for the release of stale air and the entry of fresh oxygen.

6. Utility: Igloos were traditionally used as temporary winter shelters during hunting expeditions or as semi-permanent dwellings for nomadic Arctic communities. They were heated with seal oil lamps or other fuel sources to maintain a livable temperature inside.

7. Cultural Significance: Igloos hold cultural significance for indigenous Arctic communities and are an integral part of their heritage. While modern housing has largely replaced traditional igloos for year-round living, they are still constructed today for cultural and educational purposes.

It's important to note that igloos are not the same as ice hotels or ice resorts, which are designed for tourism and are often larger and more intricately constructed. Igloos, on the other hand, represent a time-tested and practical architectural solution for surviving in some of the world's harshest environments, showcasing the ingenuity of indigenous Arctic peoples.