Arctic tundra can be found in Antarctica and the North Pole. It can also be found in Northern parts of Canada, Alaska, Greenland, and the United States.
Weather && Climate
The arctic tundra’s climate is dramatically different than any other of the world’s biomes. Winters are long, cold and dark, while in the summers experience light temperatures and 24 hour sunlight. In the fall, the arctic tundra’s sun disappears below the horizon and does not rise for 66 days from mid-November to late January. This occurs because of the earth’s tilt. In the winter, the Northern Hemisphere, where the arctic tundra is located, tilts away from the sun. During this time, the tundra’s temperatures can drop to -70ºC (-94ºF). Strong winds blow through the tundra also bringing down temperatures with the wind chill factor (makes air feel colder than it really is). For six months or longer, the arctic tundra remains covered in ice, seemingly lifeless.
In the winter, the arctic tundra seems uninhabitable. Life is no where to be found. However, during the spring and summer seasons, the tundra is filled with life. This is because during the spring equinox, the Northern Hemisphere is showered by constant sun light. For 84 days, from late May to early August, the tundra sun never sets. This is because the arctic regions of the earth are tilted toward the sun, the opposite of what happens in the winter when the arctic regions are tilted away from the sun. With the sun continuously shining, the ice from the winter season begins to melt quickly. During the spring and summer seasons animals are always active, and plants begin to grow quickly. The growing season for the tundra is relatively short; lasting six to ten weeks. Comfortable temperatures, sometimes reaching 30ºC (85ºF), also last for a short time. The occasional winds and summer snow storms have a tendency to interrupt any good weather from lasting too long.
In the Southern Hemisphere or Antarctica, where arctic tundra is also located, the seasons are reversed. The earths tilt is once again the reason for this. While the Northern Hemisphere is experiencing 24 hours of darkness, the Southern Hemisphere is experiencing 24 hours of light. The land and climate in these separate hemispheres are affected the same, just at different times of the year.
Ecological Issues && Concerns
About 14,000 years ago, the Arctic climate began to change, resulting in massive extinctions of Ice Age plants and animals. Today, many scientists fear that history may be repeating itself. The depletion of the protective ozone layer over the polar regions, caused in large part by the chlorofluorocarbons used for decades as aerosol propellants and refrigerants, has allowed sunlight to heat up permafrost, which stores massive quantities of carbon dioxide. As this “greenhouse gas” is released into the atmosphere, ground temperatures rise further, prompting deeper melting of permafrost and speeding up the warming process. The Pew Center on Global Climate Change warns that as a consequence of rising land temperatures, a meltdown of polar ice masses could contribute to a rise in sea levels and cause widespread flooding of coastal areas around the world. Other experts, such as Professor Greg Henry of the University of British Columbia, predict that this could happen within the next few decades.
The tundra is rich in oil, gas and mineral reserves that can’t be extracted without disturbances to the ecosystem. The infrastructure needed for such industrial development includes networks of roads for vehicular transportation, pipelines and factory complexes, all of which add to the strain on the land. As the tiny, delicate plant life indigenous to the tundra is destroyed, the food chain is disrupted because when herbivores starve or migrate elsewhere for food, carnivores starve too.
According to the Canadian Arctic Resources Committee, chemicals generated by heavy industry in eastern Europe are a major source of polar pollution but heavy metals and toxins from as far away as southeast Asia have been found in the tissues of terrestrial, aquatic and marine animals. Ocean currents and atmospheric circulation carry the pollutants from the lower latitudes and because of the region’s extreme cold and reduced sunlight, they don’t break down, remaining poisonous much longer than they would in other climatic conditions. Radioactive fallout from the testing of nuclear weapons in the 1960s and early 1970s is also still detectable throughout the Arctic.
Every year, thousands of tourists aboard luxury cruise ships depart from ports in North America and Europe to experience the austere beauty of the Arctic, creating more pressure on the ecosystem. The tourism industry, including sport fishing and hunting, has also increased the volume of noisy airplane and helicopter traffic, raising levels of air pollution and sparking panic leading to egg loss in bird colonies. Plant life trampled underfoot won’t regenerate for decades and no disposal facilities exist for garbage left behind on the permafrost by human visitors.