How people affect the tundra

Written by kate mcfarlin Google
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How people affect the tundra
The tundra is a fragile ecosystem. (Ptarmigan in the tundra of Iceland image by Lars Lachmann from

The arctic tundra is located in the far north of Canada and is referred to as one of the world's most fragile ecosystems. Due to the extreme climate, where temperatures are commonly -12.2 degrees C below zero, there are few inhabitants other than the natural wildlife.

However, that is changing as companies and humans begin to encroach on the tundra. Since this ecosystem is fragile, it is all too easy to damage it --- a fact that has scientists concerned.


Because the arctic tundra is largely uninhabited, polluters think they can leave chemicals and other contaminants without notice or penalty. The wide spaces make patrolling the area difficult for law enforcement.

These contaminates pollute the soil, the groundwater and the air of the arctic tundra, harming the native flora and fauna.

Disturbing the Natural Habitat

Plants in the arctic tundra grow closely together and, due to the permafrost, have very short root systems. While this enables plants to survive in the harsh conditions, it also makes them vulnerable to human disturbance.

Vehicles, human traffic and construction disturb these plants, sometimes removing them entirely. Because tundra plants do not propagate by flowering and pollination, new plants cannot take their place. Once these plants are gone, the native wildlife and fauna lose both shelter and a food source.

Arctic Haze

In 1950, the phenomenon known as the Arctic Haze was first spotted. Usually visible in early spring and summer, this brown haze stretches from Greenland all the way to Alaska across the arctic tundra. At times, it can even be spotted in eastern Siberia.

This haze is similar to city smog and through the years has become more pronounced. Scientific observation has shown that the particles within the haze are largely composed of soot, sulphates and hydrocarbons. The polluted air that is present in more populated areas circulates up to the arctic, where the colder conditions cause it to stall out.

If the haze worsens, it could begin to affect the already short growing season in the arctic tundra, which is already just 50 to 60 days every year. Because the haze appears during the growing season, it could affect the photosynthesis process.

Permafrost Concerns

Underneath the thin soil of the arctic tundra lies what is called permafrost. So named because it is perpetually frozen, it is made up of a mix of gravel and dirt. When the top layer of soil is disturbed, the permafrost is exposed. This can cause melting and in some cases, has resulted in serious erosion underneath buildings.

Mining and oil extraction are the main causes of concern in the arctic tundra when it comes to the permafrost. Companies stripping away the top layer and actively mining the rich permafrost below could create lasting problems for future generations.

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