Exploring the Tundra

Your Guide to the Frigid Outdoors

The Tundra

The tundra is a biome at the northernmost limits of plant growth at high altitudes. The name has Russian origins, meaning "marshy plains." The biome has extreme conditions, making only a small portion of it to be populated with humans. There are two types of tundra - arctic tundra and alpine tundra. The arctic tundra is within the Arctic Circle while the alpine tundra is found in the area high in the mountains above trees. Despite the struggle to survive in this environment, the beauty of the Northern Lights, or Aurora Borealis, is enough to inspire a visit to the great Tundra!

The Tundra is located...

in the northern hemisphere of the globe. The tundra is often a treeless plain in the Arctic found on the summits of mountains. It is a large biome, covering 20% of the Earth. It spans throughout Alaska, Northern Canada, Greenland, Northern Scandinavia, upper Siberia, and Northern Russian.

Winter in the Tundra...

consists of lands that are snow-covered for much of the year. This season is extremely frigid with temperatures typically below -34°C, or -32°F. The average temperature is -12° to -6°C, or 10 to 20°F . It is the considered one of the driest biomes, similar to that of a deserts. Precipitation averages ten inches a year, in the forms of rain and snow. The tundra is also plagued by frequent winds, blowing up to 30 to 60 miles per hour. The tundra is notorious for long, harsh winters and brief summers.

Summer in the Tundra...

brings a burst of wildflowers and newborn animals. During the summer, it is daylight 24 hours a day. The summers last only about two months and the temperatures are still very cold ranging from 3° to 12°C, or 37° to 53°F. The warmer weather and great amount of sunlight allow for plants to rapidly bloom.

Plants in the Tundra include...

dwarf shrubs, grasses, mosses, lichens, and other herbaceous plants.The tundra biome has about 400 varieties of flowers. The plants that grow in this biome often grow in clusters in order to protect themselves from the severe winter climate. Cushion plants, a type of hardy flora as seen on the left, survive by growing in areas where it is sheltered from the harsh winds. There are very few trees that grow in the tundra biome. This is because under the snow and ice, there is permafrost, a thick layer of soil that remains frozen, which does not allow deep rooted plants such as trees to grow. Permafrost can be as deep as 10 inches to 3 feet deep. However, due to poor drainage, the soil remains constantly saturated for plants to thrive.

Wildlife in the Tundra consists of...

only about 48 different animal species, including Arctic foxes, polar bears, gray wolves, caribou, snow geese and musk-oxen, all of which are able to thrive in this harsh environment. Most of these animals thrive on fatty meats to give them enough energy to live through the harsh winters. However, due to the extreme temperatures, most animals get their nutrients from the decaying dead organisms. Some animals, such as mountain goats, sheep, marmots, and birds that inhabit the alpine tundra feed on the plants and insects. Animal populations change with the seasons in the tundra. Some animals hibernate during the winter and others migrate to areas with warmer climates. The largest animal that lives in the tundra biome is the polar bear, as seen on the left, which happens to be endangered due to global warming.

Dangers to the Tundra:

Global warming is becoming a major issue, causing the permafrost to melt in the southern Arctic. Plants that previously couldn't take root on the permafrost now grow throughout the landscape, changing the habitat of the indigenous animals. Southern animals like the red fox have moved into the tundra, now competing with the Arctic fox for food and territory, and could potentially impact the Arctic fox. The melting of the permafrost in turn also contributes to global warming. This biome is considered a carbon dioxide sink because it stores more carbon dioxide than it gives off. About 14 percent of the Earth’s carbon is located in the permafrost. As permafrost melts and releases CO2, the tundra turns from a carbon sink into a carbon contributor. Recently, there has been construction of oil mines and oil rigs that often disturbs the nature of this special environment.

By: Viviana Sanchez, Biology Honors Block C