What image does "Canada's North" conjure up for you? A stark and silent land sealed in perpetual winter? Ghostly northern lights shimmering against an incredibly cold, dark sky? Perhaps you regard the North as a cold, harsh environment. Or maybe you already know that it is a fascinating world, inhabited by spectacularly resilient plants and animals adapted to some of the most extreme conditions on the planet.
The North, as distant as it may seem to southerners, bears the brunt of human-induced environmental change. Its amazing wildlife and unique ecosystems, established over thousands of years, are feeling the warm embrace of rapid climate change, the toxic taste of accumulating chemical pollution, and the mixed blessing of escalating development of its natural resources. Changes are happening in Canada's North, and there are things we can all do to help conserve the wildlife that lives there.
Life in the North – Ecology of our Northern Region
Life in Canada's North must adapt to a challenging reality. Weak light conditions, due in large part to the low angle of the summer sun, combine with late spring and early fall frosts to limit the length of the growing season. Growth and reproduction of plants must occur in quick, frantic bursts. The landscape reflects these conditions. As one travels northward, trees become sparse and then so stunted they often look like shrubs. As one approaches the Far North and the Arctic Circle — an imaginary line at 66 degrees 30 minutes north latitude — the landscape becomes a treeless plain of low vegetation called tundra. This plain extends northward until it finally yields to a year-round layer of ice and snow.
Moisture is at a premium in the North. Surprisingly, some parts of the North, such as the Arctic — the land of ice, snow and permafrost (permanently frozen ground) — are so dry they are often referred to as a polar desert. In fact, some areas of the Arctic receive as little as 200 millimetres of precipitation annually, the same amount as the Sahara Desert! Canada's North, however, is far from lifeless and far from uniform. This land mass can be divided into eight terrestrial ecozones — living ecosystems with broad, common characteristics based on climate, landforms, soils, water features, plants and animals. From north to south, they include the Arctic Cordillera, the Northern and Southern Arctic, the Taiga Plains, the Taiga Cordillera, the Taiga Shield, the Boreal Cordillera and the Hudson Plains. Canada's North may be defined in other ways as well, such as all land north of the sporadic permafrost line.
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