Continuing our series on studying ecosystems, this slide set looks at Polar and Tundra Environments. Learn more about animal adaptation, threats to the cold wilderness environment and conservation of polar areas.
Polar environments are found inland and far from the sea. Areas include: Greenland, Northern Canada, Northern Russia, and Antarctica.
Tundra environments are found to the south of the ice caps in the Northern hemisphere.
Tundra environments cover approximately 20% of the Earth's surface.
Tundra and polar environments experience very low temperatures.
Precipitation falls mostly as snow.
There is very little precipitation in polar regions as the cold air cannot hold much water vapour.
Tundra climates experience a thermal growing season that lasts approximately 6-10 weeks. During this time, the sun shines for 24 hours a day and temperatures are slightly warmer.
In cold climates, the ground is permanently frozen due to cold temperatures, this is called permafrost.
Plant and Animal Adaptations
Only plants with a shallow root system can survive. Plants with larger root systems cannot survive because the permafrost acts as a barrier to root growth.
The flat, low-land nature of these regions means that many areas become waterlogged in summer. This favours mosses that can adapt to wet and arid conditions.
Perennials keep their leaves year round to maximise photosynthesis during the short growing season.
Plants tend to have small hairs to capture heat and are low to the ground to avoid harsh cold winds.
Biodiversity in these regions is low.
Animals in cold regions tend to have large pelts and high body fat.
Most of the mammals here hibernate during the winter to avoid harsh conditions.
Many of the animals have white coats to acts as a camouflage in the snow.
Caribou have two layers of fur to keep them warm and hooves that can break ice to access water.
A high proportion of mammals and birds migrate elsewhere in the winter to stay warm.
The food web in cold environments is quite small due to the lack of biodiversity.
Moss is generally the base of the food web and a source of food for many species.
Tundra birds rely on moss to line their nests for warmth.
Indigenous people depend on marine species for food.
Inupiat and Yup'ik people traditionally use animal skin and feathers in their clothing.
Threats to Cold Wilderness Environments
Wildernesses provide a gene pool of species and need to be protected. These areas provide important ecosystem services to the planet.
Climate change is melting ice caps and disrupting polar and tundra habitats, killing off many species.
Developments in transport have brought more people to polar and tundra areas for various reasons. This affects the balance in these areas and can cause destruction.
Mining and energy companies often destroy these areas in search of oil.
Alaskan tribes in particular are beginning to die out. People that remain are changing their culture to mould with the rest of the world.
Many Alaskan languages are dying out due to the adoption of English. The US school system insists on English being used in the classroom.
Managing Cold Environments
International agreements can be made to protect cold environments. The Arctic Council represents 8 countries of the Arctic and aims to promote environmental protection.
National governments often struggle to manage their own regions. The US continues to promote oil production to increase Alaskan income, but this is done at the expense of the environment.
NGOs support the interest of Arctic groups who may not be otherwise heard. Greenpeace is an example of an NGO that advocates for Arctic protection.
Balancing Development and Conservation
Isolated areas in the Arctic Circle can use an internet connection as a survival lifeline.
Inuit schools in Canada have started to allow remote learning; classes can be viewed online in real time.
As Arctic ice thins, it becomes easier to install fibre-optic cables. This can bring more progress to isolated areas.
Tech companies such as Facebook have begun to move to colder regions, bringing development and employment. The cold climate means that computers do not need additional cooling mechanisms. Hydroelectric power is cheaper in colder regions. The flat land and free space allows for company development.