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Topic – North on the Tundra

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North on the Tundra

In Canada’s far north, there’s a cold, vast, rocky land where no trees grow. This is called the tundra.

The Treeless Plain

Frozen tundra

The tundra is the coldest and driest area on Earth. The average temperature here is just -28°Celsius and in winter it can drop down to -60°C. Only about 25 centimetres of snow fall here all year round. About one-fifth of the Earth’s land surface is covered by tundra. In Canada, this includes the northern part of the Northwest Territories, most of Nunavut and the northern tips of Quebec and Labrador. The word tundra comes from a Finnish word meaning treeless plain. Below the topsoil, in the tundra, the ground is frozen year-round. It’s known as permafrost and is the reason no trees can grow here.

Life on the Tundra

The Willow Ptarmigan

During the short summer, the Sun can shine all day. Half of Canada’s birds migrate to the tundra in the few warm months to feed on the clouds of insects. Ptarmigans (you say it TAR-muh-gunns) live here year-round. These birds have brown feathers in the summer but in winter grow white feathers. This helps them blend in with the snow so their enemies have a hard time seeing them. Polar bears, caribou and lemmings are just some of the animals that live on the tundra. The arctic hare, like the ptarmigan, turns from brown in the summer to white in the winter to help it hide from its enemies.

Tundra Plants

Polar bears live on the tundra

Although trees can’t grow on the tundra, many smaller plants can. Small shrubs, mosses and lichen all grow here. They grow low and close to the ground where the air is a little warmer. Many of the plants that live on the tundra have small leathery or hairy leaves. That helps them hold on to any moisture.

People of the Tundra

Copper Inuit, Nunavut, 1915

The Inuit have lived on the tundra for thousands of years. These Indigenous Peoples have learned how to survive in this harsh environment and have developed incredible survival and hunting techniques. The winter here lasts eight months and there are weeks when the Sun never rises.

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