Dangers in the tundra

Written by tonya yirka
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Dangers in the tundra
Beautiful but dangerous (tundra image by the_pleiades from Fotolia.com)

From the Finnish word for treeless or barren land, with its 10-to-14-week growing season, long dark cold winters and low yearly precipitation--less than 5 inches, the tundra is the coldest and simplest biome for food chains and species composition. Of the two types of tundra, the Arctic--high, middle and low--and the alpine--Arctic-alpine and the tropical, this article will focus on the dangers in the Arctic tundra. The Arctic tundra is located in the Northern Hemisphere's high latitudes around the Arctic Ocean.

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Animals such as the brown (grizzly) bear, caribou, wolves, musk ox, and polar bears roam the Arctic tundra.


Because people do not feel the need for water during cold weather as during other times, dehydration becomes an issue. Drinking regularly and watching out for darker urine will alleviate this danger.


Although water is everywhere in the tundra with the ice, snow, frost and running water, keeping it in a liquid state is a paramount issue. Trails.com advises keeping a bottle of water under clothing close to the body.

That crystal-clear water from tundra-based sources may contain parasites and must be filtered and either chemically treated or boiled before using.


Because the sun's rays reflect at all angles off the ice, snow and water, sunburn is a real danger--especially to sensitive areas such as eyelids, nostrils and lips.

During winter storms, tundra winds can get up to 60mph, so wind burn can also become problematic.

Snow Blindness

Snow blindness is a painful, although usually temporary, disorder of the cornea--the clear part--of the eye caused by exposure to ultraviolet light reflecting off of snow. Actual tundra prescription glasses are available at eye care centres.


Frostbite, a destruction of skin tissue characterised by blistering or tingling that can progress into gangrene, is an ever-present danger in the Arctic tundra. Proper covering of all skin, particularly facial areas, hands and feet, reduces the chance of acquiring this condition.


The "Gale Encyclopedia of Medicine" defines hypothermia as a potentially fatal condition occurring when the body's temperature falls below 35 degrees C.

With winter temperatures averaging about -30 for most true Arctic tundra, special equipment such as proper sleeping bags, gloves, parkas and tents are needed to ward off this condition


Although summer in the Arctic tundra only lasts from 10 to 14 weeks according to Jeff Brune of the National Bureau of Land Management, it manages to produce billions of insects such as mosquitoes, gnats, crane flies, hover flies and midges. These pests are not only bothersome but carry disease-producing germs.

Arctic Air

The clear Arctic air makes estimating distances difficult, and the error made is usually underestimating rather than overestimating.

Whiteouts are dangerously disorienting.

Terrain Hazards

The absence of contrasting colours in the tundra landscape makes judging the nature of the terrain impossible.

Snow-covered water may not be frozen.

Avalanches often occur, and travelling in early morning is recommended.

Since cornices, the outcroppings of snow on ridges and other precipitous areas, have nothing under them for support, falling through them is quite possible.

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