Scientists Say: Tundra

This northern ecosystem has an icy cold underlayer


The tundra is home to many grasses, mosses and even tiny trees. The willow tree in the foreground is less than one meter (a yard) tall.

B. Brookshire/SSP

Tundra (noun, “TUN-drah”)

This is an ecosystem found in Earth’s far north, such as upper Alaska, Canada and Siberia. In these regions, winters can be long, cold and dark. The tundra does not have tall trees, only grasses and shrubs. Beneath the tundra, large sections of the soil remain frozen all year round — creating something called permafrost. But in summer, the tilt of the planet means that the days become very long. In fact, the sun doesn’t set for weeks. During that time, the long light and warmer temperatures mean that the top layer of the soil thaws, allowing plants to grow. Those plants feed animals from migrating birds to caribou.

In a sentence

Mosquitoes love life on the tundra — and climate change means they are getting bigger than ever.

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Bethany Brookshire was a longtime staff writer at Science News Explores and is the author of the book Pests: How Humans Create Animal Villains. She has a Ph.D. in physiology and pharmacology and likes to write about neuroscience, biology, climate and more. She thinks Porgs are an invasive species.

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