• Biology Biomes Arctic Tundra Biome
  • Arctic Tundra Biome

    Arctic tundra is a very cold, windy, and treeless biome that’s snow-covered for much of the year. It’s found in the northern hemisphere, encircling the north pole and extending south across parts of Alaska, Canada, Russia, Greenland, Iceland, and Scandinavia, to the coniferous forests of the taiga. It covers one fifth of the Earth! To get a feel for the arctic tundra, we made this short little video of some interesting research going on here.

    Underneath Arctic Tundra

    The most important feature of arctic tundra is one you can’t even see. It’s a layer of permanently frozen soil called permafrost, which lies about 25 to 95 cm underground. Permafrost acts as a barrier to tree roots, so no trees can grow above it. It can’t even be penetrated by water, which is why the soil above permafrost gets very soggy in summertime, when bogs, lakes, and marshes lie on the land.

    Dry, Windy Deserts

    Although arctic tundra ecosystems are wet underfoot in the summer, they actually receive very little rain, with less than 25 cm falling every year. This makes them as dry as many of the world’s deserts. Unlike rainfall, wind is plentiful in the Arctic, often blowing across these stark landscapes at 50-100 km/h and making the cold temperatures here feel even colder.

    Cold, Colder, Coldest

    During summertime in the Arctic, temperatures often sit somewhere between -3°C and 12°C, and the sun is out—although low on the horizon—for 24 hours a day. Plants of the arctic tundra do all their yearly growing during the summer because it’s the only time when growing isn’t biologically impossible due to cold. And when it’s cold here, it’s very cold. Winter brings temperatures averaging -34°C, dropping as low as -50°C, and lasting most of the year. Then there’s the darkness to deal with. Close to the North Pole the days in winter time aren’t just short, they’re non-existent; the sun doesn’t even peep over the horizon for a period of about two months every year!

    What on Earth can survive here?

    Even though conditions in the world’s coldest biome are harsh, many plants and animals call it home. Tundra plants tend to be small and live in clumps, and they include mosses, lichens and liverworts, plus grasses, sedges, and dwarf shrubs. These plants are food for animals like arctic hares and squirrels, caribou, lemmings and voles; eating these animals in turn are arctic foxes, wolves, and polar bears. Migratory birds also visit the arctic tundra in its summertime to feast on the bazillions of insects that breed here during this warm-ish, wet-ish time of year.

    Visiting the Arctic Tundra

    A trip to the far north isn’t for everyone, but many people love the extremes of adventuring in arctic tundra environments. If you’re one of them there are plenty of destinations to set your compass for.

    Alaska

    There are loads of accommodation options in the city of Fairbanks, and from here you can hop on a tour (by car, plane, or boat) organized by a company like Northern Alaska Tour Company. Alternatively, you could head off on your own arctic tundra explorations—providing you’re exceptionally well-prepared!

    Iceland

    A small, chilly country it may be, but Iceland really packs a punch as a tourist destination. Volcanoes, glaciers, lava wastes, boiling lakes, and frozen fjords all feature in tours that leave from Iceland’s capital city, Reykjavik. Arctic Experience offers trips all year round and can help make your arctic tundra trip happen.

    North Pole

    If cost is not a problem for you, the North Pole itself is within your reach! Trips to the North Pole leave from a number of countries, including Russia and Canada. Transportation ranges from icebreakers and helicopters to sled-dogs, hot air balloons, and skis, and all tours require extreme fitness on your part. Polar Travel Company and Quark Expeditions are there to help you reach the top of the world.

    Written by Sarah Abbott

    Sarah is happy to be the Australian arm of Untamed Science. After accuracy, Sarah believes most in making science easy to digest, minus the boring bits. She holds an undergraduate degree in biological sciences and a Masters in science communication. Sarah works as a freelance science/nature writer and videographer, jumping on exciting stories as they happen in order to share them with the world.

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