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Biomes and Regions of Northern Eurasia

The Arctic Environments

<<< The Present and Future of Biodiversity of Northern Eurasia | Biomes & Regions Index | The Arctic Oceanic Shelf >>>


Defining the Arctic is a contentious issue in geography. Some define the Arctic as the Arctic oceanic shelf, islands, and a narrow strip of coast; others use this term to describe polar deserts, tundra, and forest-tundra biomes. It is often defined as the territory within the Arctic Circle where polar day and polar night occur. Further confusion is caused by a synonymous term, the Far North, which in the Russian-language literature is used to describe both the Arctic region and, in relation to development issues, engineering, and construction, the area of permafrost occurrence. However, the permafrost boundary reaches 49°N and, if this criterion is used, almost the whole of Siberia should be included in the Arctic region. In this chapter we will delimit the terrestrial Arctic using biological and climatic criteria and include treeless environments located north of the climatic boundary at which the annual radiation budget is 15 kcal cm2 and the mean July air temperature does not exceed 10°C (Young, 1989). One of the accepted definitions of the maritime Arctic is according to the presence of pack ice during most of the year (Young, 1989). In this chapter, we will consider five marginal seas: the Barents, Kara, Laptev, East Siberian, and Chukchi.

Two factors make the Arctic unique: its high latitude position and the presence of the Arctic Ocean. The severity of climate, contemporary glaciation, sea ice, permafrost, and snow cover, persisting for most of the year, are characteristic features of the Arctic. Arctic landscapes comprise polar desert and tundra. They extend along the Arctic coast from the Kola peninsula in the west to the Chukchi peninsula in the east. The topography of western and central Arctic is mainly low, with the exception of the Kola peninsula, Polar Urals, and two mountainous massifs of Taymyr, while the north-east of Siberia has mountainous relief. Biodiversity is low in comparison with other regions. Low evaporation rates and poor drainage, impeded by permafrost, are responsible for an excess of moisture which leads to waterlogging. Much of the tundra area is covered by lakes and standing water which freeze in winter.

This chapter commences with a discussion of the maritime Arctic: morphology of the Arctic continental shelf, production of sea ice and its distribution, and effects of climatic variability on sea ice regime. A discussion of the contemporary terrestrial glaciation will follow. The next section will examine vegetation and fauna, including regional divisions within the Arctic and a survey of polar desert and tundra vegetation. Limited to a brief review of diverse aspects of the Arctic environments, we will not specifically focus on such issues as permafrost and associated geomorphological processes, or general aspects of climate and environmental impacts which are discussed in detail below. A sketch map of the region and geographical names, which may be unfamiliar to the reader, are given in Figure 8.1.

The Arctic region with names used in the text

Fig. 8.1 The Arctic region with names used in the text

<<< The Present and Future of Biodiversity of Northern Eurasia | Biomes & Regions Index | The Arctic Oceanic Shelf >>>



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