A barren land

The word “tundra” comes from a Lapp word, meaning “barren land”. The area is flat, with scarce vegetation and virtually no rises: a cold desert. The climate of the tundra depends on the region being either oceanic or mainland. For instance, in the European tundra, which is heated by the Gulf Stream, the land is unfrozen for many months, while the Canadian mainland tundra is always frozen. In Europe, the tundra begins at 7°N latitude, while in eastern Canada is begins at 55°N. During the long winter, the monthly minimum temperatures never drop below –10°C in the European tundra, and can reach –30°C in Alaska. In eastern Siberia, the average winter temperature can reach –50°C.
Since the sun does not rise in winter, the tundra spends several months in long, cold darkness. Conversely, during the summer the sun is always, or almost always, above the horizon with no real nights. The solar energy that reaches the ground is in any case little, since the sun stays very low on the horizon. It ensues that the water trapped in the soil freezes down to many metres, forming a layer of hard soil, the surface of which thaws in summer only. The frozen soil of the tundra is called permafrost (from the English permanent frost). Evaporation is very low, therefore, even if it rains very little; nevertheless, the melting of the upper layers of soil form large wet areas during the Arctic summer.

Special reports

From the Multimedia section