To what extent are cold environments fragile environments and how far does this affect their development?

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Rachael Burden



To what extent are cold environments fragile environments and how far does this affect their development?

Cold environments are argued to be very fragile; however some are more fragile than others. The area corresponds to the Polar Regions, Antarctica and the alpine environments. The Polar Regions include the tundra biome, the ice cap regions and the surrounding areas such as Alaska Canada and Scandinavia. Antarctica includes the southern ocean and the alpine environments are those that lie above the tree lines in temperate areas such as the Alps in Europe and parts of the Himalayas. In these areas there are three climate characteristics: Tundra, Polar and temperate montane.

Tundra refers to treeless ecosystems where winters are long and cold, and summers are short and cool. Those conditions are found both in the higher latitudes (northern and southern), and also on certain mountains. High-latitude tundra is called arctic tundra or lowland tundra, and high-altitude tundra is called alpine tundra. Tundra is a very fragile biome, as the vegetation (a very important part of the biome) is very fragile. The growing season is very short due to climatic conditions, of about 50-60 days each year this therefore means that it takes a long time for plants that have been disrupted to regenerate, and some scientists reckon that it will take over 50 years for this to happen fully. The low productivity and biodiversity also means that plants are very specialised again making them very fragile, as they find it hard to adapt to developed areas. The tundra is treeless, however scientists cannot point to a single factor that limits tree growth but it is thought to be a combination of factors: growing seasons that are too short for plants that produce wood, strong persistent winds that desiccate and abrade plant tissues, permafrost that prevents roots from reaching deeply enough into the soil to provide support, and cold soils that slow decomposition and nutrient cycling. Another fragility of the tundra environment is the large fluctuations in energy in each trophic level, making animal populations very unpredictable, and therefore unstable.

Further problems caused by human interference include Thermokast slumping where people have disturbed the soil and the insulating layer of plant material has been removed and permafrost melts making the ground above slump. The tundra ecosystem is also vulnerable to "bio-accumulation," a process where pollutants and pesticides that enter from foreign countries become concentrated in the arctic as they move upward through food chains-from plankton to fish to large marine mammals. At each stage the pollutants become more concentrated, especially in the fat of the animals-a highly valued food of many northern peoples, this disrupts predators in the tundra, and also native people such as the Inuits of northern Canada. Disruptions to the functioning of the biome have long term implications. This is why there has been so much concern over the proposed exploitation of resources such as the oil reserves in north Alaska that fall within the arctic national wildlife park.

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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, ...

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