The tundra is a biome, that is, a set of ecosystems that despite being located in different geographical points share general characteristics in relation to the type of species (both plants and animals) that predominate in them, as well as the type of climate and floor.
The landscape of the tundra may seem relatively desert, since its low temperatures accommodate a variety of plants, and in general no trees are observed. That is why his image is of immense plains.
This biome is found in areas close to the polar ones, where the ground freezes, but also in the great mountain peaks of the whole world. It covers one-tenth of the planet’s mainland.
Characteristics Of Tundra
In the tundra, the surface of the ground is permanently frozen. This phenomenon is called permafrost. The freezing can continue in greater or lesser depth depending on the air temperature. The floors of the tundra are usually gleys, a layer of soil that is soaked in water with a high iron content, which gives it a greenish-gray color.
This means that although the soil has a large amount of water, it is not always available for consumption by plants and animals, and on the other hand the inorganic contents of the soil make it less fertile. In some types of tundra, the soil surface thaws in summer. But the permafrost (the underground layers) remain frozen.
The most numerous plants in the tundra are bushes, moss and lichens. The mosses are specially adapted for this environment, since they measure a maximum of 10 centimeters above the ground, and therefore can withstand intense winds. In this ecosystem there are no trees, due to low temperatures. However, up to 400 different species of flowering plants can be found.
As the soil is not very nutritious due to the lack of decomposition of organic materials, the vegetation grows “in patches”, that is, focused on specific areas where there is more water available and the minimum amount of nutrients needed.
The species of animals that live in the tundra have undergone adaptations to adapt to the climatic conditions. Some of these adaptations are anatomical, for example, having a thick subcutaneous layer of fat to isolate from the cold. Others are behavioral, for example, building tunnels in the ground or in the snow to protect themselves, such as foxes, or even look at the coldest times, such as reindeer.
In the tundra there is a variety of herbivorous animals such as reindeer, hare, lemming and musk ox. On the other hand, there are also carnivorous animals such as the white bear, the hawk, the owl and the wolf.
4. Types of tundra
There are three types of tundra in different geographical locations:
Arctic tundra: It is found in the northern hemisphere. The freezing of the soil advances significantly towards the subsoil. The temperature can reach 50 degrees below zero in winter. During the summer, they are ecosystems that receive migratory species.
Tundra Antarctic: It is located near the south pole, on the Antarctic continent and on nearby islands. Only in very limited areas does it have plant life, except for lichens, mosses and algae. These plant species are found both on land and in water. The only mammals that live here are penguins and seals.
Tundra alpina: It is located at high altitude, with low air pressure and strong winds. The soils are more drained than in the other types of tundra, but in any case no plants grow larger than the bushes.
In the three types of tundra the winters are extremely cold, keeping the ground frozen constantly. The average winter temperature is 28 degrees below zero. However, the summers are different in the Arctic and Alpine tundra, where there is more available water and significantly increases biodiversity. This is because the temperature can reach 10 degrees. Therefore, these ecosystems also attract migratory species during the summer.
6. Carbon content in the soil
Globally, the highest amount of carbon trapped in the soil is in the taiga and tundra biomes, in frozen soils. When the soil melts slightly, the carbon is released, in the form of carbon dioxide.
7. Ecological importance
Although the thawing of the surface is a natural effect when the temperature increases in summer, the large carbon deposits are found in the permafrost, that is, in the lower layers that remain frozen. As long as the tundra remains frozen, the trapped carbon will not be polluting. That is, the tundra protects the planet from the emission of carbon dioxide, which is one of the most toxic gases.
8. Midnight Sun
The phenomenon of the “midnight sun” occurs both in the Antarctic tundra and in the Arctic tundra. Due to its proximity to the poles, in summer the sun stays on the horizon or is barely hidden, creating the phenomenon of white nights.
9. Polar night
It is the phenomenon contrary to the midnight sun: during the winter, in the areas near the poles the sun remains hidden for days or even months, increasing the night time the closer the area is to the pole. The absence of the sun is one of the factors that guarantee the freezing of the soil in the tundra.
The main threat to this biome is global warming, since the melting of polar ice also threatens the tundra, creating in turn the enormous threat of releasing the carbon it contains. In addition, the ozone layer is weakened in areas near the poles, leaving free passage for ultraviolet rays that damage it.
One of the tundra species, lichen, is enormously sensitive to pollution, as it can only survive on large supplies of oxygen. This species is the food of many tundra animals, meaning that pollution affects the entire ecosystem.