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The Tundra

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The Tundra
About a fifth of the land surface of the earth is tundra. The tundra is found next to the icy zones in the arctic. The temperatures on the tundra are below freezing and can drop to as low as -70 degrees F. There are winds that can blow up to 100 miles an hour. Temperatures are so cold, the water in the ground freezes, up to a depth of 2000 feet or more. It can reach temperatures of up to 50 degrees F on a warm summer day. There are a few places where only a few inches on the top layer of ground will thaw. This part of the thawed ground is called the active layer. This active layer is always wet because the water from the melted ice cannot drain. The frozen ground that never thaws is called the permafrost layer. The tundra may get less than five inches of precipitation a year, but it is still very wet in the summer. The water that comes from the melting ice has nowhere to go. During the summer, the tundra is one big open, rolling area of ground, covered with many small lakes and ponds. During the summer, days are close to 24 hours long. This is when there is light for the little plants that grow. The plants in the tundra are only about four inches high, many being perennials. The plants consist of grasses, sedges, mosses, little flowering plants, and tiny dwarf willow bushes. They grow in dense round cushions or mats that hug the ground. Hugging the ground helps protect them from the cold and drying winds. In the rocky area, lichens grow on the rocks. Lichens are early land plants and are between an alga and a fungus. They have no roots. Tundra plants grow rapidly because the growing season is only six to ten weeks long. Many reproduce by growing new roots and shoots, rather than by making seeds. The earth in the tundra is not really soil. Dead plant material slowly decomposes because it is so cold. The constant melting and freezing of the top layer of the ground, causes it to shift. The result of this shifting causes the ground to have hollow spaces that serve as tunnels for the small animals that live there. This also makes it impossible for plants like trees, which need strong permanent root systems, to live there.
The animal life consists of lemmings, small rodent like creatures that eat plants. Arctic foxes are year round predators in the Tundra. They are small cat size animals and hunt lemmings. Their fur is the warmest fur of any mammal. They are very tough little animals and will travel a distance to seek food. Snowy Owls are well adapted to tundra life. They are small predators and hunt both day and night. Snowy owls prey on lemmings and will eat about a dozen lemmings a day. Small herds of musk oxen also roam the tundra. They eat the small plants and lichens. They are big and covered with thick, soft, and very warm fur. Wolves attack the musk oxen when they roam into the bordering lands. All the animals seem to be brown in the summer and change to white in the winter thus allowing them to blend with their environment. Other animals found on the tundra in the summer include reindeer, caribou, arctic hares, and snowshoe rabbits. Reindeer and caribou migrate across the tundra, eating lichen and plants. Arctic wolves and mice may also be found. The migrating birds nest in areas near the ocean, where there is more food to be found. There are mosquitoes and black flies in the summer.
The Tundra’s food supply is small and it has only a few species of animals. The balance in this ecosystem could be destroyed if disease or predators wiped out just one single animal.…...

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