The Ice Biome

 

Climate:  

Basically, it's below freezing here year round.

World Distribution:  

The map below shows the polar ice cap represented only by the interior of Greenland and Spitsbergen. The map does not extend far enough to the south to show the continent of Antarctica, which is also all covered by snow and ice.  In addition, large areas of the norther ocean freeze solid for most of the years, but at least recently the area covered by ice year-round has decreased with global warming, and since sea ice isn't on land it really isn't part of a "biome" anyway.   It should be noted that a similar icy habitat exists at the tops of some mountains of the alpine biome.

 

Indicator Plant Species:

It's ICE, folks!  There are no higher plants; in some areas algae may grow in the snow and give it a pinkish color.

Indicator Animal Species:

Few animals live on the ice either.  There are some birds and polar bears, below, but that's pretty much it.  Even the polar bears spend a lot of time out on the floating ice or in the water.  Seals, whales and other marine mammals are there (the bears eat the seals), and of course there are a lot of fish.  In Antarctica, penguins are common.

All of these pictures are of animals in captivity, except for the 2 harbor seals, which were in Maine.

Penguin

Penguins

Penguin

 

 

 

Beluga Whale (Delphinapterus leucas)

Beluga Whale (Delphinapterus leucas)

Killer Whales (Orcinus orca)

Killer Whales (Orcinus orca)

 

 

Harbor Seals (Phoca vitulina)

Harbor Seals (Phoca vitulina)

Polar Bear - Ursus maritimus

Polar Bear (Ursus maritimus)

Harbor Seal (Phoca vitulina)

Harbor Seal (Phoca vitulina)

Ecological Notes:

With no exposed soil, it's hard for plants to take root, so there really isn't much of a base for a biological community on land (with the exception of those algae in the snow and perhaps a few insects that feed on them).  Most of the food resources are in the adjacent ocean, so life on the polar ice cap is restricted to the nearshore

Threats:

There aren't a lot of people running out to build houses on the tundra.  Development is not a major problem, nor is there much pressure from human populations (although pollution problems near human settlements can be severe; it is a great technical challenge to effect efficient sewage treatment in a cold environment, for instance).  The biggest threats come from airborne pollutants, which have brought measurable levels of pollutants such as DDT and PCB's to even remote areas.

 

The biggest threat, however, is from oil and gas development and the resulting global warming.  The Arctic National Wildlife refuge mentioned earlier has the misfortune of sitting on about a 6 month supply of oil.  Despite the great difficulty in extracting this oil, corporate interests and their pet politicians just can't seem to let the idea of drilling here go.  Instead of promoting fuel conservation, which could easily make up for the oil not retrieved from this arctic paradise, they continue to push the propaganda on the American people that drilling here will somehow offset high oil prices.  An more sever threat comes from global warming, however.  As the planet warms (a result of burning all that fossil fuel from elsewhere), the permafrost melts and tundra ecosystems collapse.  Further, the permafrost contains a significant amount of dead plant material (grown in earlier and warmer times); as the permafrost warms this material begins to decay, releasing even more CO2 into the atmosphere and accelerating global warming.

Tour:

Greenland Greenland
I flew over Greenland once in January and took these pictures.  Actually, these were from southern Greenland and these areas might actually support tundra in the summer, but you get the general idea.

 

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