What is the Tundra?
The word tundra comes from a Finnish word tunturi which means “treeless plain.” It’s a very accurate description. The tundra has very cold weather and the land is covered with snow for most of the year. Most of the tundra is located in the Artic and includes the northern areas of North America, Asia, Europe and Greenland.
In the winter the average temperature is -30 degrees F (-34 degrees C). In fact, the tundra has a layer of permanently frozen soil called permafrost. But in the warmer months, the temperature is around 37-54 degrees F (3-12 degrees C). During the summer there’s sunlight constantly, and there is also almost constant darkness in the winter. It’s quite a temperature change; the difference can get up to 80 degrees Fahrenheit. If there wasn’t the change in temperature, it would be difficult to sustain life as yearly precipitation (including melting snow and ice) is low and is anywhere from 15 cm to 25 cm.
Even though the temperatures are cold and there is little rainfall, biodiversity is found in this area.When enough water is on the surface ponds and bogs will start to form which gives water to plants and animals.
What Lives in the Tundra?
The tundra has a low biodiversity because of the harsh conditions, unlike the rainforest which has a lot of food and nutrients. The tundra has 48 species of mammals. One example is the Artic fox (Lagopus alopex). The Artic fox will make burrows, usually in low places because it’s a scavenger. Sometimes it will follow larger predators like a polar bear and feed off the remains of its prey. Artic foxes are about a foot long (10-16 inches) and weight 6-13 pounds, and they’re about as big as a house cat.
Another animal found in the tundra is the polar bear (Ursus maritimus). It can be found in all polar regions and is the largest carnivorous land animal alive today. Polar bears have two layers of clear fur and black skin; the polar bear can keep very warm. The reason they look white is from the reflection of the snow. The polar bear can grow from 8-11 feet tall, almost twice the height of the average human adult. Females weight roughly 660-770 pounds and males weigh 880-990 pounds. Like most bears, polar bears also live in a den.
The next animal found in the tundra is also well known… it’s the caribou. They are located in most all of the northern parts of the world. Male caribou's average weight is around 350-400 pounds but some can weigh up to 700 pounds. Females weigh between 175-225 pounds. Caribou have wide hooves to balance on snow and marsh. Their feet are similar to snowshoes.
There aren’t many insects in the tundra, but there are more kinds of birds. Like the harlequin duck and snowy owl. There are 1700 species of plants in the tundra and 400 different kinds of flowers. The plants are mostly grasses and other low growing plants (moss, shrubbery, etc.).
What is Happening to the Tundra?
The permafrost is melting. The permafrost is a layer of permanently frozen dirt. Why you ask is this important? Well, dead plants usually decompose, but in the tundra the permafrost stops dead plants from decomposing. Plants get nutrients from carbon dioxide (which is a main chemical that causes global warming) then die and release carbon dioxide back into the atmosphere. However, because of the permafrost, plants in the tundra don't decompose, so their carbon dioxide is not returned to the admosphere. However, because of global warming the permafrost is melting, and the plants will start to decompose adding more carbon dioxide into the atmosphere which will make global warming even worse.
Since the permafrost is melting more water is on the surface of the tundra, so plants that originally couldn’t survive there are starting to appear. If more plants come it could drastically alter the ecosystem. The new plants could become invasive and drive other species to extinction.
How Can You Help?
Since the biggest threat to the tundra is global warming, one thing you can do is to try and stop global warming. There are many easy ways to stop global warming. Here’s a list of some:
• Take shorter shower, it will lower your water heating bills too.
• Use compact fluorescent bulbs, they use less electricity.
• Buy locally made products; it takes a great deal energy to get products to the store.
• Buy organic foods, it cuts down on water pollution.
• Turn off you computer when not in use! It still uses energy when idle.
• Reuse grocery bags or buy a cloth one.
These are only a few of the easy ways to help stop global warming and save the tundra.