AskDefine | Define tundra

Dictionary Definition

tundra n : a vast treeless plain in the arctic regions between the ice cap and the tree line

User Contributed Dictionary



From Kildin Sami |tū̄ndra, the genitive form of тӯндар.


  • /ˈtʌndɹə/


  1. A flat and treeless arctic region.


flat treeless arctic region

Extensive Definition

In physical geography, tundra is an area where the tree growth is hindered by low temperatures and short growing seasons. The term "tundra" comes from Kildin Sami tūndâr 'uplands, tundra, treeless mountain tract'. There are two types of tundra: Arctic tundra (which also occurs in Antarctica), and alpine tundra. The polar tundra is home to several peoples who are mostly nomadic reindeer herders, such as the Nganasan and Nenets in the permafrost area (and the Sami in Sápmi).
The Arctic tundra is a vast area of stark landscape, which is frozen for much of the year. The soil there is frozen from 25-90 cm (9.8-35.4 inches) down, and it is impossible for trees to grow. Instead, bare and sometimes rocky land can only support low growing plants such as moss, heath, and lichen. There are two main seasons, winter and summer, in the polar Tundra areas. During the winter it is very cold and dark, with the average temperature around , sometimes dipping as low as . However, extreme cold temperatures on the tundra do not drop as low as those experienced in taiga areas further south (for example, Russia's and Canada's lowest temperatures were recorded in locations south of the treeline). During the summer, temperatures rise somewhat, and the top layer of the permafrost melts, leaving the ground very soggy. The tundra is covered in marshes, lakes, bogs and streams during the warm months. Generally daytime temperatures during the summer rise to about but can often drop to or even below freezing. Arctic tundras are sometimes the subject of habitat conservation programs. In Canada and Russia, many of these areas are protected through a national Biodiversity Action Plan.
The tundra is a very windy area, with winds often blowing upwards at 48–97 km/h (30-60 miles an hour). However, in terms of precipitation, it is desert-like, with only about 15–25 cm (6–10 inches) falling per year (the summer is typically the season of maximum precipitation). During the summer, the permafrost thaws just enough to let plants grow and reproduce, but because the ground below this is frozen, the water cannot sink any lower, and so the water forms the lakes and marshes found during the summer months. Although precipitation is light, evaporation is also relatively minimal.
The biodiversity of the tundras is low: 1,700 species of vascular plants and only 48 land mammals can be found, although thousands of insects and birds migrate there each year for the marshes. There are also a few fish species such as the flat fish. There are few species with large populations. Notable animals in the Arctic tundra include caribou (reindeer), musk ox, arctic hare, arctic fox, snowy owl, lemmings, and polar bears (only the extreme north).
Due to the harsh climate of the Arctic tundra, regions of this kind have seen little human activity, even though they are sometimes rich in natural resources such as oil and uranium. In recent times this has begun to change in Alaska, Russia, and some other parts of the world.
A severe threat to the tundras, specifically to the permafrost, is global warming. The melting of the permafrost in a given area on human time scales (decades or centuries) could radically change which species can survive there.
Another concern is that about one third of the world's soil-bound carbon is in taiga and tundra areas. When the permafrost melts, it releases carbon in the form of carbon dioxide, a greenhouse gas. The effect has been observed in Alaska. In the 1970s the tundra was a carbon sink, but today, it is a carbon source.

Antarctic tundra

Alpine tundra is an ecozone that does not contain trees because it has high altitude. Alpine tundra occurs at high enough altitude at any latitude on Earth. Alpine tundra also lacks trees, but the lower part does not have permafrost, and alpine soils are generally better drained than permafrost soils. Alpine tundra transitions to subalpine forests below the tree line; stunted forests occurring at the forest-tundra ecotone are known as Krummholz. Alpine tundra occurs in an alpine zone.
Alpine tundra does not map directly to specific World Wide Fund for Nature ecoregions. Portions of Montane grasslands and shrublands ecoregions include alpine tundra.
Because alpine tundra is located in various widely-separated regions of the Earth, there is no animal species common to all areas of alpine tundra. Some animals of alpine tundra environments include the Kea parrot, marmot, Mountain goats, chinchilla, and pika.
Large sections of the Tibetan Plateau include alpine tundra.
See also: Tree line

Climatic classification

see also Alpine climate Tundra climates ordinarily fit the Köppen climate classification ET, signifying a local climate in which at least one month has an average temperature high enough to melt snow (0°C or 32°F), but no month with an average temperature in excess of (10°C/50°F). The cold limit generally meets the EF climates of permanent ice and snows; the warm-summer limit generally corresponds with the poleward or altitudinal limit of trees, where they grade into the subarctic climates designated Dfd and Dwd (extreme winters as in parts of Siberia), Dfc typical in Alaska, Canada, European Russia, and Western Siberia (cold winters with months of freezing), or even Cfc (no month colder than -3°C as in parts of Iceland and southernmost South America). Tundra climates as a rule are hostile to woody vegetation even where the winters are comparatively mild by polar standards, as in Iceland.
Despite the potential diversity of climates in the ET category involving precipitation, extreme temperatures, and relative wet and dry seasons, this category is rarely subdivided. Rainfall and snowfall are generally slight due to the limited capacity of the chilly atmosphere to hold water vapor, but as a rule potential evapotranspiration is extremely low, allowing soggy terrain of swamps and bogs even in places that get precipitation typical of deserts of lower and middle latitudes. Scarcity or lushness (by polar standards) of native vegetation of tundra regions depends more upon the severity of the temperatures than upon the scarcity or copiousness of precipitation. The alpine tundra also lacks in precipitation compared to the Arctic tundra.
tundra in Asturian: Tundra
tundra in Bulgarian: Тундра
tundra in Catalan: Tundra
tundra in Yakut: Туундара
tundra in Czech: Tundra
tundra in Danish: Tundra
tundra in German: Tundra
tundra in Estonian: Tundra
tundra in Modern Greek (1453-): Τούνδρα
tundra in Spanish: Tundra
tundra in Esperanto: Tundro
tundra in Basque: Tundra
tundra in Persian: توندرا
tundra in French: Toundra
tundra in Galician: Tundra
tundra in Korean: 툰드라
tundra in Ido: Tundra
tundra in Indonesian: Tundra
tundra in Inuktitut: ᓇᐹᖅᑐᖃᕈᓐᓇᙱᑦᑐᖅ/napaaqtuqarunnanngittuq
tundra in Icelandic: Freðmýri
tundra in Italian: Tundra
tundra in Hebrew: טונדרה
tundra in Latvian: Tundra
tundra in Lithuanian: Tundra
tundra in Hungarian: Tundra
tundra in Macedonian: Тундра
tundra in Dutch: Toendra
tundra in Japanese: ツンドラ
tundra in Norwegian: Tundra
tundra in Norwegian Nynorsk: Tundra
tundra in Polish: Tundra
tundra in Portuguese: Tundra
tundra in Romanian: Tundră
tundra in Russian: Тундра
tundra in Simple English: Alpine tundra
tundra in Slovak: Tundra
tundra in Finnish: Tundra
tundra in Swedish: Tundra
tundra in Turkish: Tundra
tundra in Ukrainian: Тундра
tundra in Chinese: 凍土層

Synonyms, Antonyms and Related Words

Alaska, Antarctic Zone, Antarctica, Arctic Circle, Arctic Zone, Frigid Zones, Greenland, Iceland, Lower Slobbovia, North Pole, Novaya Zemlya, Siberia, South Pole, Tierra del Fuego, alkali flat, alluvial plain, basin, bottomland, bushveld, campo, champaign, champaign country, coastal plain, delta, desert, down, downs, fell, flat, flat country, flatland, flats, grass veld, grassland, heath, lande, level, llano, lowland, lowlands, lunar mare, mare, mesa, mesilla, moor, moorland, open country, pampa, pampas, peneplain, plain, plains, plateau, playa, prairie, salt flat, salt marsh, salt pan, savanna, sebkha, steppe, table, tableland, the Antarctic, the Arctic, the Hebrides, the Yukon, tree veld, upland, vega, veld, weald, wide-open spaces, wold
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