Alaska being in the tundra environment has been disturbed greatly in the last few decades. The climate is mostly below freezing with the summer months edging just above 0 degrees, but there is n annual temperature range of approximately 31 degrees Celsius: this is a Cold desert area. A climate graph can be seen to the right. There has been a lot of oil exploitation: it is: socially and economically sustainable as it provides employment and revenue for the company, allowing the development of infrastructure and services within the state. The oil industries employ 700 000 people in Alaska, and provides many of the schools and improved healthcare services. However the construction of the pipeline was very controversial. It was not allowed to be buried into the ground as the oil would melt the permafrost, and there were also concerns about oil spills, earthquakes and avalanche hazards created by its construction. The main problem created by the pipeline was the issue of migrating caribou, who migrate across Alaska each year. A large proportion of the native Inuit’s are against further oil exploitation, as they have traditionally relied upon the caribou. However the pipeline was eventually constructed with a large expense, as they had to find a solution to all of these problems. For most of its length, the pipeline is elevated above the ground, so that heat is not generated and melts the fragile permafrost. The line itself is also in a zigzag pattern, to prevent and ground movement causing cracks in the pipes resulting in oil spills that would severely damage the area. Buildings in Alaska also have to be constructed carefully as the permafrost has to be protected. The main ways construction has been adapted is by having smaller buildings elevated above the ground on piles, and larger structures are built on aggregate pads which are layers of gravel up to 2m thick. These pads are also placed between roads, pavements railways and landing strips. In large settlements, utilidors have also been used to stop more thawing of the permafrost, by keeping pipes above ground.
The Polar region of the world includes the Arctic continent and the tundra biome too. The polar biome is defined as a cold desert area, as the temperatures are rarely above zero degrees Celsius, and there is very little precipitation. The Arctic is an example of a more developed polar environment, as it is rich in oil and gas, and is developed with mines, ports and roads. Its climate is one of
perpetual frost. Air temperatures are high in summer but remain below freezing and blizzards are frequent in winter. An example of a climate graph for the arctic can be seen to the right.
Scientists as part of the United Nations programme are warning that the arctic’s rich and abundant wildlife will suffer with birds and larger mammals such as reindeer polar bears wolves and brown bears at greatest risk. At the moment approximately 15-20% of the arctic’s wilderness is affected by infrastructure, and we are threatening the natural equilibrium of the environment. Animals avoid areas near infrastructure, and breeding success has greatly diminished in the past few years. The ecological impacts of the loss of habitats and redistribution of animals may lead to certain areas of the arctic being overgrazed and eroded. It has been shown that a new road can seriously affect wildlife up to 5km away, but the cumulative impacts on the system can be felt up to 20km away. Also many groups of indigenous people such as the Saami rely on hunting and herding of reindeer and caribou, and they have developed traditions and cultures around these animal. But with development in the area and disturbance of the animals, we are also affecting the indigenous people’s lives and traditions, and they are an equal part of the fragile environment. The arctic council has been established in 1996 to help the fragile ecosystem. The council was formed to provide a high level forum for the arctic states to address environmental protection, sustainable economic development, sustainable activities, health, community development, tourism and transport and communications. Indigenous people were also ensured permanent participation. There have been 5 programmes set up to deal with environmental problems such as oil pollution the dumping of radioactive waste, contamination of the environment by heavy materials and arctic haze.
Antarctica is an example where sustainable management and development is vital. An example of the Antarctic climate can be seen on the graph on the right the south pole climate below. There has been the Antarctic treaty and the Madrid protocol, trying to protect the environment from disruption and exploitation, especially of its rich coal resources. However the threat of tourism and scientific research laboratories on the continent is growing each year. On Antarctica there are over 50 scientific research stations, 2 of these are British, however not one of them have a permanent base. This is due to the Antarctic treaty where no lasting claims or rights of development for anyone in Antarctica are acceptable, and it is only allowed to be used for scientific research with impermanent bases. Also no military presence is allowed; meaning no development of facilities is needed. This has helped preserve the environment in many ways, by restricting development and exploitation, thus leaving the continent in a pretty much natural state.
The Madrid protocol goes one step further in trying to keep the environment natural, by many clauses. First is the total ban of mining for 50 years, and designated the continent as a ‘natural reserve devoted to peace and science’. There is also a waste disposal annexe, that prohibits some materials being sent to Antarctica, such as unsterile soil, and also instructs nations to remove all waste from the area that would be harmful. The conservation of fl ora and fauna annexe also controls the interference with native animals or plants and prevents the introduction of non native species to Antarctica. The prevention of marine pollution annexe also reduces ship operations, prohibiting discharge of oil plastics, garbage, and untreated sewage. At present the fishing for Krill in Antarctica is a very big concern. Krill underpins the whole of the southern ocean food web and scientists do not know how much krill can be taken before the ecosystem is harmed. There have been measure put forward to stop overfishing of krill, however Japan and Russia did not agree to them, meaning that the environment is still at risk. Tourism is the latest issue as visitor levels rise in the area. Important guidelines have been put in place by the International Association of Antarctic tour operators which are followed by almost all companies operating in the area. The two most important parts of these guidelines are to keep the environment from being damaged as it is so fragile. They include; the removal of waste, and minimising the effects upon seals and penguins by avoiding feeding, touching or handling animals.
The Alpine region of Europe is an area that still contains permanent snow and ice with numerous glaciers flowing from the mountains. This cold environment had Glaciation that was more extensive during the last ice age, and now relic glacial and forms and be found. At the highest level a tundra type environment can be found, however in the summer there are warm temperatures due to the latitude. Alpine areas are now receiving 20% less snow below 1600m, due to global warming, and this is meaning the vegetation and animals in the area are also being affected as the equilibrium in the area has been disturbed.
The Alps are a good example to show how tourism can damage a fragile ecosystem, such as the in the winter Olympics where poor management bought massive environmental damage. The tourist resorts now have to resort to fake snow and machine grade their slopes to stay in business, and this is effectively destroying all the alpine vegetation which can take about 30 years to recover; it also deplenishes the water table. The only way to stop the use of fake snow is to venture further up the mountains; however this is not without its problems. As resorts increase their altitude, they will increasingly come in to conflict with wildlife regulations, where for many species of plants and animals this area is their last chance for survival. The Austrian ski industry has already succeeded in getting the authorities to lift the ban on skit lifts in a protected area, thereby extended their ski runs thus removing more vegetation. This however has bought problems for the local animals who have been scared away by the human interference from their natural breeding grounds. Fortunately these ski resorts have now begun to look at ways where they can minimise the impact of skiing on the alpine environment; ‘The respect the mountain campaign’. They hope to provide skiers with more information on resorts that are doing a lot to prevent damage to the environment and thereby encouraging all resorts to follow suit. Examples of greener ski resorts include the Aspen Ski company who source 5% of their energy from wind power, which is a large help to the environment in the area as emissions are being decreased.
In conclusion, cold environment are all invariably fragile, as aspects such as vegetation, climate, animals and permafrost are interlinked and rely on each other to remain stable. Vegetation has been affected in every cold environment I have studied, and this is due to very short growing seasons and a low biodiversity making it harder for plants to repair in different ways as they are specialised. The climate is changing due to climate change, meaning the seasons are changing and permafrost, vegetation and people’s activities have to change around this i.e. skiing. Animals are affected easily and are a fragile part of the cold environments, as any development will change their way and standard of life, and usually not for the best such as the penguin rookeries in the Antarctic. However it is not acceptable to say that cold environments are the only fragile environments, but we have to compare them to others, such as tropical rainforests or the temperate maritime climate. In comparison to these two, cold environments are fragile, as they have been untouched by modern development before, and since we have surged in quickly when we have found the space and resources valuable they have been hit hard.