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What is the Arctic Tundra?
According to the University of California Museum of Paleontology, the Arctic tundra is the coldest biome on earth. (A biome is defined as “a regional ecosystem characterized by distinct types of vegetation, animals, and microbes that have developed under specific soil and climatic conditions”)
The Arctic, located around the North Pole, is known for its cold, freezing temperatures. The average winter temperature is -34° C (-30° F) and the average summer temperatures (50 days only a year) are in the range of 3-12° C (37-54° F). The layer of soil is very shallow and almost non existent in many parts of the Arctic tundra. Also, there is a persistent permanently frozen subsoil layer called permafrost, which does not allow plant root systems to develop. Plants and animals living in this biome are adapted to such cold temperatures.
The Arctic tundra is a fragile system. Any change in temperature may deeply affect the delicate ecosystem equilibrium that exists. The growth and survival of plants and animals that live within this tundra region can be abruptly disrupted by changing worldwide temperatures that are caused by global warming.
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Global Warming Changes
The last 50 years of human activity has bought a great deal of advancement in science and technology. However, the burning of fuels (oil, carbon, etc.) for energy and the cleaning of lands to increase agricultural activities and for city expansions, have increased the level of carbon dioxide, methane, and other “heat trapping” gases in the atmosphere. Scientific evidence points to a disturbing process of increasing global Earth temperatures known as global warming.
An Intergovernmental Panel on Global Climate change projected (in 2001) the following changes in the next 100 years:
- An increase in the average global temperature of 1.8-5.4 C
- Shifts in atmospheric and oceanic circulation patterns
- Increased sea levels
- Significant impact on coastal communities
- Significant impact of human health
Unfortunately, the Arctic tundra is warming at a faster rate than other parts of the world. This in fact accelerates the impact of global warming on other plants, animals and humans living across our vast planet.
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Cause of Global Warming in the Arctic Tundra
Although global warming is caused by the accumulation of carbon dioxide and other gases in the atmosphere, there are several reasons that explain the causes of global warming in the Arctic tundra specifically:
- Due to the fact that liquid water is scarce in the Arctic region, there is little evaporation of it. This leaves energy (not used in evaporating water) available to increase temperatures at a higher rate in this area.
- As snow melts, new darker soil and ocean surfaces appear. Darker surfaces absorb more of the sun’s energy than lighter surfaces. This extra absorbed energy accelerates warming in the Arctic tundra as well.
- Heat is transported (by atmospheric and oceanic currents) to the North polar region. Thus, there is a natural tendency of the region to receive extra energy that goes directly into increasing temperatures.
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Susan Hayol. ( 2004 ). Impact of a Warming Arctic. Arctic Climate Impact Assessment. Published by the Press Syndicate of Cambridge University .
University of California Museum of Paelontology Web site: http://www.ucmp.berkeley.edu/exhibits/biomes/tundra.php