Climate Classification

Can people live and work in the tundra?
Answered by HowStuffWorks
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  1. The term "tundra" is adapted from a Finnish word, tunturi, which means treeless plain [source: UCMP]. There are very few areas of settlement in the tundra, due to its low temperatures and remote locations. Most people who live in the alpine tundra, which is found all over the world in mountainous regions, herd animals, primarily sheep, to earn a living. The arctic tundra offers a bit more variety, with most folks making their livelihoods from such economic activities as mining, fishing, hunting and nomadic herding.

    Temperatures in the tundra range from a high of about 0 degrees Fahrenheit (-17.7 degrees Celsius) in winter to an average high of 50 degrees Fahrenheit (10 degrees Celsius) during summer. Most of the tundra's precipitation is light snow, with an annual accumulation of less than 10 inches (250 mm). In the tundra's short summer, temperatures are such that frost can form at any time. It may seem that this harsh environment would not support plant life, but the summer's long hours of daylight aid in the growth of shrubs, lichens, mosses and grasses.

    A relative lack of activity on the surface of the tundra does not mean these regions lack natural resources. The U.S. Government has estimated that 10.4 billion barrels of oil are below a section of the Arctic National Wildlife Reserve in Alaska [source: Lavelle]. And Areva Resources Canada, a mining affiliate of the French nuclear power company Areva, has proposed establishing a uranium mine in the tundra near Baker Lake in Nunavut, close to the geographic center of Canada [source: CBC News].

    Despite the cold, the tundra draws adventurous travelers. Hardy tourists can explore areas like Tuktut Nogait National Park in Canada's rugged Northwest Territories, and be rewarded with the sight of wildflower, raptor, caribou and musk oxen [source: Tsui]. And the play of the northern lights, the aurora borealis, is a perennial lure for lovers of natural phenomena -- and especially some Japanese visitors, who maintain that the light show gives good fortune to a child conceived beneath it [source: Tisdall].

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