Thursday, October 8, 2009
I wanted to discuss the somewhat ignored Tundra Biome. I have this feeling that whenever we discuss green alternatives and enviromental responsibility we have selfish motives for caring about these things. If it's a forest we don't want cut down, it's because we're concerned about losing that "special" cure-all plant; if it's filling in wetlands we're concerned about our loss of clean water. So, you may ask, what's the difference with the Tundra?
Well, for one, the very small amount of diversity in the Tundra make it the least likely place on the globe, besides maybe the deep sea, where we will find some unique plant that we can grind up into the next lipid killing elixir. Second, ice caps will never be a prime location for fresh water (consider the amount of energy needed to even consider that). No, Tundra's are not actually low on the totem pole of at risk biomes. It's probably the most endangered enviroment on the globe but, unfortunatley, it's also of least concern.
The Tundra is a land where life is abundant for only a few months but what life there is is amazing. Summer residents include scores of insects and migrating birds, such as the vibrantly colored Harlequin Duck, to feed on them. Permanent residents consist of large mammals such as the majestic Caribou and ferocious Grizzly Bears. The most permanent resident of all is the Musk Ox which have existed in an enviroment such as this since the Ice Ages.(Whitney,2002) This land has been claimed by these animals and people are once again invading it with no abandon.
The obvious question here is "What reason could we possibly have for invading and colonizing this bitter land so ill-suited to humanity's basic needs?" What else for but oil. Drilling for oil has become a staple of these lands. Russia has been doing it since the turn of the 20th Century and Alaskan residents get a sweet dividend check each year as a thank you from the oil companies for allowing them to smash a huge pipeline through their peaceful wilderness and chug oil from it.
Of course oil wells brought people along with them and roads and towns have been built near, beside or directly on top of previously animal inhabited areas. Displacement of food sources, blockage of migration routes and extermination of millions of insects has completley disrupted these flora and fauna already so tenuously clinging to their existence. Why must we do this to every enviroment? Can the human race respect any life form besides itself? Well, I think it's time I withdrew the ace from my sleeve. When I said previously that the Artic Tundra is of little concern to us I was lying through my teeth.
If you've ever watched "An Inconvenient Truth" a memorable scene is when they drill a huge hole into Antartic ice and pull out a long tube of frozen H2O. They of course are looking for evidence of carbon deposits increasing throughout each subsequent layer of new ice. Well, the Artic Tundra shares this same trait. This carbon is the remnants of all the dead animal and plant life over the course of each subsequent Summer.(Whitney,2002) Every Winter this rich bed of detritus is coated over with large amounts of snow and ice making it permanently part of the permafrost layer.
This layer is actually not as permanent as it once was. Recent changes in global temperture, probably a result of global warming are now melting this layer.(Whitney,2002) The result of this will be as incredible as it will be unpredictable. Whatever does happen there is no doubt this will affect humans directly.
Yet, what will happen to the Tundra? Why we worry about Manhattan sinking under water and the Neatherlands becoming Eupope's largest lake the Tundra will change beyond recognition. This will most likely spell severe endangerment or extinction for the humble species of the Tundra. This more than anything beckons the need to change our attitude towards the world. This planet cannot be our plaything to do what we like with. Maybe if we find a way to co-exist with Nature we can find our way to sustainability. If only it's not too late.
Whitney, S. (2002). Tundra. Retrieved from http://www.blueplanetbiomes.org/tundra.htm
Images courtesy of Biomes.org and www.marietta.edu/~biol/biomes/tundra.htm