The meaning of the word 'tundra' is 'a region in continents of Asia, Europe and North America, where the growth of trees is prevented due to low temperatures and permanently frozen subsoil'. These kinds of geographic areas are found near the North Pole and the South Pole.
Along with the Arctic tundra and the Antarctic tundra, there is another type of tundra region, known as the Alpine tundra. During the summer, ice sheets that are found in tundra regions melt and give way for the vegetation to grow. In this ecosystem, the vegetation primarily consists of mosses and lichens, and dwarf shrubs and grasses. Cushions plants grow in abundance in these regions because of their growth pattern and their ability to withstand strong, cold winds.
# Location: Northern Hemisphere
# Average Temperature:
Winter:-28 °C (-18.4 °F) to -50 °C (-58 °F)
Summer: 12 °C (53.6 °F) to 3 °C (37.4 °F)
There is some amount of precipitation, but it occurs only during summer, ranging from 15 to 25 centimeters annually.
The tundra ecosystem is also very low in biodiversity. There are only about 1700 varieties of plants, which grow only during summer, and about 48 varieties of land mammals found in this region. The main animal population in the Arctic tundra consists of reindeer, polar bears, arctic fox, arctic hare, snowy owls, lemmings and musk ox.
# The Arctic tundra region is situated near the North Pole. The soil in the area is called 'permafrost' which means 'permanently frozen soil'. At least 25 to 90 centimeters of the ground is frozen. Thus, it is impossible for trees to grow here. Due to this, vegetation here is very sparse.
# The people who live in the Arctic tundra are mostly nomadic tribes consisting of reindeer hunters such as the Nenets and the Nganasan.
# The tundra climate is very windy, blowing upwards up to 30 - 60 miles per hour.
# Another fact about this tundra region is that in the summer months when the ice begins to melt, it cannot be absorbed into the ground. This is because only the upper layers of the permafrost melt, while the bottom layers are still frozen.
# Tundra region is also a vast storehouse of natural resources such as oil and uranium. It is because of these natural resources that many nations have turned their attention to these areas.
# Location: South Pole (This region is quite cold and is always covered with ice fields.)
# Average Temperature: Below freezing
At the fringes of the Antarctic Peninsula, there are areas of rocky soil which support vegetation. One can find about 300 varieties of lichens, 700 varieties of aquatic algae, and about 100 varieties of mosses. There are not many large-sized mammals found in the Antarctic tundra. This area is the home to species such as penguins and seals.
# Location: Mountainous regions of the world (usually at an altitude greater than 10,000 feet)
# Average Temperature:
Winter: Below freezing
Summer: 10 °C (50 °F) to 15 °C (59 °F)
Due to harsh winters, alpine vegetation is restricted to grasses and shrubs. Animal population consists of mountain goats, marmots and Kea parrots; these too are very less in number.
# Alpine tundra is distinguished from the Arctic tundra by the absence of permafrost and better drained soils.
# As compared to the Arctic tundra, the Alpine tundra experiences more rainfall.
# Almost 75-80% of the entire region of Arctic tundra lies in northern hemisphere.
Threats to the Ecosystems
As mentioned above, the Arctic tundra is a vast reservoir of oil and uranium. Due to this, many countries are exploring oil in these regions which can severely damage the delicate balance of the tundra ecosystem.
Another threat is that about one third of the world's soil bound carbon is found in these regions. So when the permafrost melts in summers, this carbon gets released into the atmosphere, thus adding to the 'Greenhouse Effect'. Since carbon is a greenhouse gas, this adds to the threat of global warming, which again forms a vicious cycle by causing more of the permafrost to melt each year.
Over a period of time, this could radically alter the lives of animals, flora and fauna; and subsequently the lives of everyone on the surface of the Earth.
Scientists and researchers are, therefore, striving hard to analyze and reduce this growing threat to the tundra ecosystem.