In physical geography, tundra (/ˈtʌndrə, ˈtʊn-/) is a type of
biome where the tree growth is hindered by low temperatures and short
growing seasons. The term tundra comes through Russian тундра
(tûndra) from the Kildin Sami word тӯндар (tūndâr) meaning
"uplands", "treeless mountain tract". There are three types of
Arctic tundra, alpine tundra, and Antarctic tundra.
In tundra, the vegetation is composed of dwarf shrubs, sedges and
grasses, mosses, and lichens. Scattered trees grow in some tundra
regions. The ecotone (or ecological boundary region) between the
tundra and the forest is known as the tree line or timberline.
1.1 Relationship with global warming
4 Climatic classification
5 See also
7 Further reading
8 External links
Arctic tundra occurs in the far Northern Hemisphere, north of the
taiga belt. The word "tundra" usually refers only to the areas where
the subsoil is permafrost, or permanently frozen soil. (It may also
refer to the treeless plain in general, so that northern
Permafrost tundra includes vast areas of northern Russia
and Canada. The polar tundra is home to several peoples who are
mostly nomadic reindeer herders, such as the Nganasan and Nenets in
the permafrost area (and the Sami in Sápmi).
Tundra in Siberia
Arctic tundra contains areas of stark landscape and is frozen for much
of the year. The soil there is frozen from 25 to 90 cm (10 to
35 in) down, and it is impossible for trees to grow. Instead,
bare and sometimes rocky land can only support low growing plants such
as moss, heath (
Ericaceae varieties such as crowberry and black
bearberry), and lichen. There are two main seasons, winter and summer,
in the polar tundra areas. During the winter it is very cold and dark,
with the average temperature around −28 °C (−18 °F),
sometimes dipping as low as −50 °C (−58 °F). However,
extreme cold temperatures on the tundra do not drop as low as those
experienced in taiga areas further south (for example, Russia's and
Canada's lowest temperatures were recorded in locations south of the
tree line). During the summer, temperatures rise somewhat, and the top
layer of seasonally-frozen soil melts, leaving the ground very soggy.
The tundra is covered in marshes, lakes, bogs and streams during the
warm months. Generally daytime temperatures during the summer rise to
about 12 °C (54 °F) but can often drop to 3 °C
(37 °F) or even below freezing.
Arctic tundras are sometimes the
subject of habitat conservation programs. In Canada and Russia, many
of these areas are protected through a national
Vuntut National Park
Vuntut National Park in Canada
Tundra tends to be windy, with winds often blowing upwards of
50–100 km/h (30–60 mph). However, in terms of
precipitation, it is desert-like, with only about 15–25 cm
(6–10 in) falling per year (the summer is typically the season
of maximum precipitation). Although precipitation is light,
evaporation is also relatively minimal. During the summer, the
permafrost thaws just enough to let plants grow and reproduce, but
because the ground below this is frozen, the water cannot sink any
lower, and so the water forms the lakes and marshes found during the
summer months. There is a natural pattern of accumulation of fuel and
wildfire which varies depending on the nature of vegetation and
terrain. Research in
Alaska has shown fire-event return intervals
(FRIs) that typically vary from 150 to 200 years, with dryer lowland
areas burning more frequently than wetter highland areas.
A group of muskoxen in Alaska
The biodiversity of tundra is low: 1,700 species of vascular plants
and only 48 species of land mammals can be found, although millions of
birds migrate there each year for the marshes. There are also a few
fish species. There are few species with large populations. Notable
animals in the
Arctic tundra include caribou (reindeer), musk ox,
Arctic fox, snowy owl, lemmings, and polar bears (only
near ocean-fed bodies of water).
Tundra is largely devoid of
poikilotherms such as frogs or lizards.
Due to the harsh climate of
Arctic tundra, regions of this kind have
seen little human activity, even though they are sometimes rich in
natural resources such as oil and uranium. In recent times this has
begun to change in Alaska, Russia, and some other parts of the world.
Relationship with global warming
A severe threat to tundra is global warming, which causes permafrost
to melt. The melting of the permafrost in a given area on human time
scales (decades or centuries) could radically change which species can
Another concern is that about one third of the world's soil-bound
carbon is in taiga and tundra areas. When the permafrost melts, it
releases carbon in the form of carbon dioxide and methane, both of
which are greenhouse gases. The effect has been observed in Alaska. In
the 1970s the tundra was a carbon sink, but today, it is a carbon
source. Methane is produced when vegetation decays in lakes and
The amount of greenhouse gases which will be released under projected
scenarios for global warming have not been reliably quantified by
scientific studies, although a few studies were reported to be
underway in 2011. It is uncertain whether the impact of increased
greenhouse gases from this source will be minimal or massive.
In locations where dead vegetation and peat has accumulated there is a
risk of wildfire such as the 1,039 km2 (401 sq mi) of
tundra which burned in 2007 on the north slope of the
Brooks Range in
Alaska. Such events may both result from and contribute to global
Tundra on the Péninsule Rallier du Baty, Kerguelen Islands.
Antarctic tundra occurs on Antarctica and on several Antarctic and
subantarctic islands, including South Georgia and the South Sandwich
Islands and the Kerguelen Islands. Most of Antarctica is too cold and
dry to support vegetation, and most of the continent is covered by ice
fields. However, some portions of the continent, particularly the
Antarctic Peninsula, have areas of rocky soil that support plant life.
The flora presently consists of around 300–400 lichens, 100 mosses,
25 liverworts, and around 700 terrestrial and aquatic algae species,
which live on the areas of exposed rock and soil around the shore of
the continent. Antarctica's two flowering plant species, the Antarctic
hair grass (Deschampsia antarctica) and Antarctic pearlwort
(Colobanthus quitensis), are found on the northern and western parts
of the Antarctic Peninsula. In contrast with the
the Antarctic tundra lacks a large mammal fauna, mostly due to its
physical isolation from the other continents. Sea mammals and sea
birds, including seals and penguins, inhabit areas near the shore, and
some small mammals, like rabbits and cats, have been introduced by
humans to some of the subantarctic islands. The Antipodes Subantarctic
Islands tundra ecoregion includes the Bounty Islands, Auckland
Islands, Antipodes Islands, the Campbell Island group, and Macquarie
Island. Species endemic to this ecoregion include Nematoceras
dienemum and Nematoceras sulcatum, the only subantarctic orchids; the
royal penguin; and the Antipodean albatross.
There is some ambiguity on whether Magellanic moorland, on the west
coast of Patagonia, should be considered tundra or not.
Edmundo Pisano called tundra (Spanish: tundra
Magallánica) since he considered the low temperatures key to restrict
The flora and fauna of Antarctica and the Antarctic Islands (south of
60° south latitude) are protected by the Antarctic Treaty.
Main article: Alpine tundra
Alpine tundra at Venezuelan Andes
Alpine tundra does not contain trees because the climate and soils at
high altitude block tree growth.
Alpine tundra is distinguished from
arctic tundra in that alpine tundra typically does not have
permafrost, and alpine soils are generally better drained than arctic
Alpine tundra transitions to subalpine forests below the tree
line; stunted forests occurring at the forest-tundra ecotone (the
treeline) are known as Krummholz.
Alpine tundra occurs in mountains worldwide. The flora of the alpine
tundra is characterized by dwarf shrubs close to the ground. The cold
climate of the alpine tundra is caused by the low air temperatures,
and is similar to polar climate.
Polar climate and Alpine climate
Tundra region with fjords, glaciers and mountains. Kongsfjorden,
Tundra climates ordinarily fit the
Köppen climate classification
Köppen climate classification ET,
signifying a local climate in which at least one month has an average
temperature high enough to melt snow (0 °C (32 °F)), but
no month with an average temperature in excess of 10 °C
(50 °F). The cold limit generally meets the EF climates of
permanent ice and snows; the warm-summer limit generally corresponds
with the poleward or altitudinal limit of trees, where they grade into
the subarctic climates designated Dfd, Dwd and Dsd (extreme winters as
in parts of Siberia), Dfc typical in Alaska, Canada, parts of
Scandinavia, European Russia, and Western
Siberia (cold winters with
months of freezing), or even Cfc (no month colder than −3 °C
(27 °F) as in parts of
Iceland and southernmost South America).
Tundra climates as a rule are hostile to woody vegetation even where
the winters are comparatively mild by polar standards, as in Iceland.
Despite the potential diversity of climates in the ET category
involving precipitation, extreme temperatures, and relative wet and
dry seasons, this category is rarely subdivided. Rainfall and snowfall
are generally slight due to the low vapor pressure of water in the
chilly atmosphere, but as a rule potential evapotranspiration is
extremely low, allowing soggy terrain of swamps and bogs even in
places that get precipitation typical of deserts of lower and middle
latitudes. The amount of native tundra biomass depends more on the
local temperature than the amount of precipitation.
List of tundra ecoregions from the WWF
^ Aapala, Kirsti. "Tunturista jängälle". Kieli-ikkunat. Archived
from the original on 2006-10-01. Retrieved 2009-01-19.
^ a b c "The
Tundra Biome". The World's Biomes. Retrieved
^ "Terrestrial Ecoregions: Antarctica". Wild World. National
Geographic Society. Archived from the original on 2011-10-21.
^ Higuera, Philip E.; Melissa L. Chipman; Jennifer L. Barnes; Michael
A. Urban; et al. (December 2011). "Variability of tundra fire regimes
Arctic Alaska: millennial-scale patterns and ecological
implications". Ecological Applications. 21 (8): 3211–3226.
doi:10.1890/11-0387.1. ISSN 1051-0761.
^ "Great Plain of the Koukdjuak". Ibacanada.com. Retrieved
^ "Tundra". Blue Planet Biomes. Retrieved 2006-03-05.
Tundra Threats". National Geographic. Retrieved 2008-04-03.
^ Walter, KM; Zimov, SA; Chanton, JP; Verbyla, D; et al. (7 September
2006). "Methane bubbling from Siberian thaw lakes as a positive
feedback to climate warming". Nature. 443 (7107): 71–75.
^ Oechel, Walter C.; Hastings, Steven J.; Vourlrtis, George; Jenkins,
Mitchell; et al. (1993). "Recent change of
Arctic tundra ecosystems
from a net carbon dioxide sink to a source". Nature. 361 (6412):
520–523. Bibcode:1993Natur.361..520O. doi:10.1038/361520a0.
^ a b c Gillis, Justin (December 16, 2011). "As
Scientists Study the Risks". The New York Times. Retrieved December
^ Mack, Michelle C.; Bret-Harte, M. Syndonia; Hollingsworth, Teresa
N.; Jandt, Randi R.; et al. (July 28, 2011). "Carbon loss from an
Arctic tundra wildfire" (PDF). Nature. 475 (7357):
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PMID 21796209. Retrieved 2012-07-20.
^ "Terrestrial Plants". British Antarctic Survey: About Antarctica.
^ a b "Antipodes Subantarctic Islands tundra". Terrestrial Ecoregions.
World Wildlife Fund. Retrieved 2009-11-02.
^ a b Longton, R.E. (1988). Biology of Polar Bryophytes and Lichen.
Studies in Polar Research. Cambridge University Press. p. 20.
^ "Protocol on Environmental Protection to the Antarctic Treaty".
British Antarctic Survey: About Antarctica. Retrieved
Allaby, Michael; Peter D Moore; Trevor Day; Richard Garratt (2008).
Tundra. Facts on File. ISBN 0-8160-5934-9.
Bliss, L. C; O. W. Heal; J. J. Moore (1981).
Tundra Ecosystems: A
Comparative Analysis. International Biological Programme Synthesis
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Warhol, Tom (2007). Tundra. Marshall Cavendish Benchmark.
Yu I, Chernov (1998). The Living Tundra;Studies in Polar Research.
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Wikimedia Commons has media related to Tundra.
Look up tundra in Wiktionary, the free dictionary.
Arctic biome at Classroom of the Future
Arctic Feedbacks to Global Warming:
Tundra Degradation in the Russian
British Antarctica Survey
Antarctica: West of the Transantarctic Mountains
Climate types under the Köppen climate classification
Tropical rainforest (Af)
Tropical monsoon (Am)
Tropical savanna (Aw, As)
Desert (BWh, BWk, BWn)
Semi-arid (BSh, BSk, BSn)
Humid subtropical (Cfa, Cwa)
Oceanic (Cfb, Cwb, Cfc, Cwc)
Mediterranean (Csa, Csb, Csc)
Humid continental (Dfa, Dwa, Dfb, Dwb, Dsa, Dsb)
Subarctic (Dfc, Dwc, Dfd, Dwd, Dsc, Dsd)
Ice cap (EF)
Alpine (ET, EF)
Montane grasslands and shrublands
Broadleaf and mixed forests
Grasslands, savannas, and shrublands
Moist broadleaf forests
Dry broadleaf forests
Grasslands, savannas, and shrublands
Mediterranean forests, woodlands, and scrub
Deserts and xeric shrublands
Flooded grasslands and savannas
Temperate Northern Pacific
Tropical Eastern Pacific
List of ecoregions
Global 200 ecoregions
Ecological land classification
Solifluction lobes and sheets
Soils and deposits
Stratified slope deposit
Biomes and ecotones
Arctic tree line
Montane grasslands and shrublands
Alpine tree line (Massenerhebung effect)
Taiga (Drunken trees)
Exploration of the Arctic
History of whaling
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Arctic Ocean Conference
Chief Directorate of the Northern Sea Route
Inuit Circumpolar Council
Territorial claims in the Arctic
United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea
Arctic geography terminology
Greenland ice sheet
Impact craters of the Arctic
Populated places in the Arctic
North American Arctic
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Arctic dipole anomaly
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Climate change in the Arctic
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Effects of global warming on marine mammals
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