Tag Archive: arctic


Further exploring Howler’s capabilities I rendered the very same landscape in Puppy Ray GPU as was shown in the last post, having been rendered in 3D Designer. Oh my! Taiga forest, I lived there.

Click on the image for a full-size view.

A newly-issued, twenty-nugget postage stamp from mythical independent Alaska commemorating the renewal of the service. This is the highest-denominated Alaska issue that I have seen thus far – delivering mail via dog sled to bush communities during the winter can be extremely grueling, even dangerous.  Though a modern, lightweight racing sled is depicted on the stamp, mail would have been carried by larger, more robust, freight sleds.

dog_sled_mail_stamp_small

 

I have wanted to portray a sled and dog team for some time. I am still letting my ideas percolate and may end up depicting a less-polished looking, native-built sled.

It is believed that the use of dog sleds dates back as far as 3,000 years ago, when some populations migrated northward due to pressure from communities were forced north to Siberia by nomadic herding peoples. Sled dogs have been used in Canada, Samiland (Lapland), Greenland, Siberia/Russian Far East, Norway, Finland and Alaska.

Historical references of the use of dogs sleds in North America predate European contact. The use of dogs for transportation was widespread, both among the Inuit and other peoples farther to the South. The Alaska Gold Rush saw an increase in the use of sled dogs as transportation and for freighting supplies. This, along with the use of dogsleds in polar exploration, led to the late 1800s and early 1900s being called the “Era of the Sled Dog”.  Dog sleds were important for transportation in arctic areas, hauling supplies in areas that were inaccessible by other methods.

Dog teams delivered mail . In Alaska dog sled mail delivery  Dogs were   hauled 500-700 lb loads. By 1901, dog trails had been established along the entirety of the Yukon River.

Regular dog sled mail deliveries to interior communities in both Alaska and northern Canada, which would otherwise have no mail service during the winter season (October to may) was common during the late 1800s and early 1900s.  Dogs were superior to other forms of transport during the winter months. Capable of delivering mail in conditions that would stop boats, trains, and horses, they could cover long distances, work day or night, and traverse both frozen lakes and rivers and pass through trackless forests. The historic 2,300-mile Iditarod Trail was the main dog trail that carried mail from Seward to Nome. In recent years, competitive dogsled races have carried some commemorative mail.

Teams of 6-8 dogs pulled loads of between 500 – 700 pounds of mail. The dogs wore moosehide booties to protect their paws from the ice. Mail delivery by dog sled ended in 1963.

Dog sleds were used to patrol western Alaska during World War II. Sled dogs today are still used by some rural communities, especially in areas of Alaska and Canada and throughout Greenland.

The Danish military  continues to conduct long-range reconnaissance patrols in the wilderness of northern and eastern Greenland. Known as the Sirius Dog Sled Patrol (Danish: Slædepatruljen Sirius), the patrols are usually conducted by two sleds, and may last as long as four months; often without additional human contact.

There are some people in Alaska who would like for the state to become an independent nation. And there are a few who seem to think Alaska is already independent. So, I have another entry in the series of postage stamps for an independent Alaska. This time a 10-Nugget featuring a bull Caribou superimposed on a Caribou pelt.

10-nugget alaska caribou postage stamp

10-Nuggest Alaska Postage Stamp

While Caribou (Rangifer tarandus), known as the reindeer outside of North America, are widespread and numerous, some subspecies are rare and one has gone extinct. The Inuit word tuktu means – deer that never stops moving. Caribou are always on the move, going north to calve, heading for the winter grounds, and south in the summer. Caribou considerably in colour and size. Uniquely among deer, both genders grow antlers, though these are larger in the males and there are a few populations where females lack them completely.

Caribou hunting and herding of semi-domesticated reindeer (for meat, hides, antlers, milk and transportation) are important to several Arctic and Subarctic peoples. Even far outside its range, the caribou/reindeer is well known due to the myth, probably originating in early 19th century America, in which Santa Claus’s sleigh is pulled by flying reindeer. In Lapland (aka Samiland) reindeer pull a pulks, a type of sled or sleigh.

Caribou are present in both tundra and taiga (boreal forest) areas. It was originally was found in Scandinavia, eastern Europe, Russia, Mongolia, and northern China north of the 50th latitude. In North America, it was found in Canada, Alaska, and the northern conterminous USA from Washington to Maine. In the 19th century, it was apparently still present in southern Idaho. It also occurred naturally on Sakhalin, Greenland, and probably even in historical times in Ireland.

During the late Pleistocene era, reindeer were found as far south as Nevada and Tennessee in North America and Spain in Europe. Domesticated reindeer are mostly found in northern Fennoscandia and Russia, with a herd of approximately 150-170 reindeer living around the Cairngorms region in Scotland. The last remaining wild tundra reindeer in Europe are found in portions of southern Norway. A few reindeer from Norway were introduced to the South Atlantic island of South Georgia in the beginning of the 20th century. Today, there are two distinct herds still thriving there, permanently separated by glaciers. Their total numbers are no more than a few thousand. The flag and the coat of arms of the territory contain an image of a reindeer. Around 4000 reindeer have been introduced into the French sub-Antarctic archipelago of Kerguelen Islands. East Iceland has a small herd of about 2500–3000 animals.

Caribou and reindeer numbers have fluctuated historically, but many herds are in decline across their range. This global decline is linked to climate change for northern, migratory caribou and reindeer herds and industrial disturbance of caribou habitat for sedentary, non-migratory herds.

Fur Fur color varies considerably, both individually, and depending on season and subspecies. Northern populations, which usually are relatively small, are whiter, while southern populations, which typically are relatively large, are darker. This can be seen well in North America, where the northermost subspecies, the Peary Caribou, is the whitest and smallest subspecies of the continent, while the southermost subspecies, the Woodland Caribou, is the darkest and largest.

The coat has two layers of fur, a dense woolly undercoat and longer-haired overcoat consisting of hollow, air-filled hairs.

In most populations both sexes grow antlers, which (in the Scandinavian variety) for old males fall off in December, for young males in the early spring, and for females in the summer. The antlers typically have two separate groups of points, a lower and upper.

Caribou have the largest antlers relative to body size among deer, but the antlers of the domesticated reindeer antlers tend to be rather small and spindly.

Caribou are primarily dependent on lichens for food during the winter, especially reindeer moss. They also consume the leaves of willows and birches, as well as sedges and grasses. There is some evidence to suggest that on occasion, they will also feed on lemmings, arctic char, and bird eggs. Reindeer herded by the Chukchis have been known to eat mushrooms.

Some populations of North American caribou the longest migration route of any terrestrial mammal, traveling up to 3,100 mi (5,000 km) a year, and covering 390,000 sq mi 1,000,000 km2 (1,000,000 km2).

There are a variety of predators that prey heavily on reindeer. Golden Eagles prey on calves and are the most prolific hunter on calving grounds. Wolverine will take newborn calves or birthing cows, as well as (less commonly) infirm adults. Brown Bear and, occasionally, Polar Bear prey on reindeer of all ages but (as with the wolverine) are most likely to attack weaker animals such as calves and sick deer. The Gray Wolf is the most effective natural predator of adult reindeer, especially during the winter.

Blood-sucking insects, such as black flies and mosquitoes, are a plague to reindeer during the summer and can cause enough stress to inhibit feeding and calving behaviors.

Caribou and Reindeer have long been hunted by humans since the Mesolithic and Neolithic periods, and are today the main predator in many areas. Norway and Greenland have unbroken traditions of hunting wild reindeer from the ice age until the present day. In the non-forested mountains of central Norway it is still possible to find remains of stone-built trapping pits, guiding fences, and bow rests, built especially for hunting reindeer.

Caribou are still hunted in North America and Greenland. In the traditional lifestyle of the Inuit people, Northern First Nations people, Alaska Natives, and the Kalaallit of Greenland, the caribou is an important source of food, clothing, shelter, and tools. Many Gwichʼin people, who depend on the Porcupine caribou, still follow traditional caribou management practices that include a prohibition against selling caribou meat and limits on the number of caribou to be taken per hunting trip.

White on white. A new 10-Nugget postage stamp, featuring an Arctic Fox, a digital painting of an Arctic Fox, Vulpes lagopus, on the polar ice, has just been issued by the Alaska Postal Authority. The sun hangs low in the bright blue arctic sky. Do not stare at the sun as it can harm your eyes.

Click on image for full-size view.

arctic fox stamp

Alaska Arctic Fox Postage

As usual this image is available on an ever increasing number of items at one of my Zazzle. stores. Search for “arctic fox.”

The Arctic Fox is comfortable in deep cold; it does not begin to shiver until temperatures drop to about −70 °C (−94 °F) due to its dense, multi-layered fur. Other adaptations to a frigid climate include fur on the soles of its feet, short ears, and a short muzzle. Arctic foxes live in burrows, in a blizzard they may tunnel into the snow to create shelter.

The coat of the Arctic fox, sometimes blue-gray, is very effective winter camouflage. The natural hues allow the animal to blend into the environment. During the short warm season its coat changes to brown or gray, again acting as camouflage in tundra rocks and plants.

During the winter, when prey is scarce, the foxes follow hunting Polar Bears on the ice pack feeding on scraps. During the summer the eat rodents, birds, eggs, and even fish. They will also feed on berries and seaweed.
Arctic Foxes have extremely keen hearing, aided by their wide, front-facing ears, which allow them to locate the precise position of their prey beneath the snow. If it hears something moving under the snow it leaps into the air and pounces, punching through the snow to catch its prey.

The range of the Arctic Foxes is circumpolar; they can be found throughout the far north. The only land mammal native to Iceland, it arrived by walking oversea ice at the end of the last ice age. The species is in generally good shape except for the population on the Scandinavian mainland. However it is losing out to the larger Red Fox where their ranges overlap.

De Havilland Otter

A de De havilland Canada DHC-3 Otter, sporting the logo of mythical Flying Moose Aviation of Talkeetna, flies somewhere over Alaska.

Click on image for full-size view.

de havilland dh-3 otter

de Havilland Canada DHC-3 Otter

The Otter, originally intended to be known as the King Beaver, was conceived as a larger, more capable follow on to highly successful Beaver. The Beaver referred to by de Havilland as a “half-ton truck;” the Otter would be the “one-ton truck.”

The Otter was used by the militaries of many countries and is also popular in  with skydivers; it can be found in many drop zones throughout the world.

A slightly stylized image of a Viking longship sailing under the Northern Lights; most of the crew is asleep, a few are on watch as the vessel navigates scattered ice. I took a few liberties, ignored physics, for artistic effect, so that the mast could be seen through the sail.  As far as I know no Norse sails have survived to the present so I made a few guesses as to how they were made and the material used. It is known that sails were sometimes dyed red to suggest blood and intimidate enemies.

Click on image for full-size view.

under the aurora borealis

Sailing Under The Northern Lights

I have always been interested in both the Inuit, the Norse communities in Greenland and their explorations and their unsuccessful attempts to settle in North America. It is well known that the Norse were in what is now Canada and the United States, but researchers are unsure as to exactly where they might have come ashore, save for the site at L’Anse aux Meadows in Newfoundland. While working on the picture I came across a related article, appended below; researchers have found strong evidence of a second Norse site on Baffin Island in Arctic Canada. It has long been thought that the Norse may have explored the Canadian Arctic and entered Hudson’s Bay.

I highly recommend that you visit L’Anse aux Meadows if you can. The reproduction Norse buildings are extremely interesting.  The site was discovered in 1960 by the husband-and-wife team of Helge Ingstad, and explorer, and Anne Stine Ingstad, an archeologist. Helge Ingstad also co-authored Land under the Pole Star. A Voyage to the Norse Settlements of Greenland and the Saga of the People that Vanished with Naomi Walford which describes the life of the Norse colonies in Greenland which survived for about 500 years.

lanse aux meadows

Reconstructed Norse Buildings at L’Anse aux Meadows

As usual this image is available on an ever increasing number of items at one of my Zazzle. stores. Just search for “viking.”

vintage vikings

Vintage Vikings

http://news.nationalgeographic.com/news/2012/10/121019-viking-outpost-second-new-canada-science-sutherland/

Evidence of Viking Outpost Found in Canada

Sharpeners may be smoking guns in quest for New World’s second Viking site.

By Heather Pringle, for National Geographic News.
For the past 50 years—since the discovery of a thousand-year-old Viking way station in Newfoundland—archaeologists and amateur historians have combed North America’s east coast searching for traces of Viking visitors.

It has been a long, fruitless quest, littered with bizarre claims and embarrassing failures. But at a conference in Canada earlier this month, archaeologist Patricia Sutherland announced new evidence that points strongly to the discovery of the second Viking outpost ever discovered in the Americas.

While digging in the ruins of a centuries-old building on Baffin Island, far above the Arctic Circle, a team led by Sutherland, adjunct professor of archaeology at Memorial University in Newfoundland and a research fellow at the University of Aberdeen in Scotland, found some very intriguing whetstones. Wear grooves in the blade-sharpening tools bear traces of copper alloys such as bronze—materials known to have been made by Viking metalsmiths but unknown among the Arctic’s native inhabitants.

Taken together with her earlier discoveries, Sutherland’s new findings further strengthen the case for a Viking camp on Baffin Island. “While her evidence was compelling before, I find it convincing now,” said James Tuck, professor emeritus of archaeology, also at Memorial University.

Archaeologists have long known that Viking seafarers set sail for the New World around A.D. 1000. A popular Icelandic saga tells of the exploits of Leif Eriksson, a Viking chieftain  from Greenland who sailed westward to seek his fortune. According to the saga, Eriksson stopped long enough on Baffin Island to walk the coast—named Helluland, an Old Norse word meaning “stone-slab land”—before heading south to a place he called Vinland.

In the 1960s two Norwegian researchers, Helge Ingstad and Anne Stine Ingstad, discovered and excavated the Viking base camp at L’Anse aux Meadows on the northern tip of Newfoundland—the first confirmed Viking outpost in the Americas. Dated to between 989 and 1020, the camp boasted three Viking halls, as well as an assortment of huts for weaving, ironworking, and ship repair.

Viking Yarn

As reported in the November issue of National Geographic magazine, Sutherland first caught wind of another possible Viking way station in 1999, when she spotted two unusual pieces of cord that had been excavated from a Baffin Island site by an earlier archaeologist and stored at the Canadian Museum of Civilization in Gatineau, Quebec.

Sutherland noticed that the strands bore little resemblance to the animal sinew Arctic hunters twisted into cordage. The cords turned out to be expertly woven Viking yarn, identical in technique to yarn produced by Viking women living in Greenland in the 14th century.

The discovery prompted Sutherland to scour other museum collections for more Viking artifacts from Baffin Island and other sites. She found more pieces of Viking yarn and a small trove of previously overlooked Viking gear, from wooden tally sticks for recording trade transactions to dozens of Viking whetstones.

The artifacts came from four sites, ranging from northern Baffin Island to northern Labrador, a distance of a thousand miles (1,600 kilometers). Indigenous Arctic hunters known as the Dorset people had camped at each of the sites, raising the possibility that they had made friendly contact with the Vikings.

Intrigued, Sutherland decided to reopen excavations at the most promising site, a place known as Tanfield Valley on the southeast coast of Baffin Island. In the 1960s U.S. archaeologist Moreau Maxwell had excavated parts of a stone-and-sod building there, describing it as “very difficult to interpret.” Sutherland suspected that Viking seafarers had built the structure.

Clues Etched in Bronze, Brass, and Iron

Since 2001 Sutherland’s team has been exploring Tanfield Valley and carefully excavating surviving parts of the mysterious ruins. They have discovered a wide range of evidence pointing to the presence of Viking seafarers: pelt fragments from Old World rats; a whalebone shovel similar to those used by Viking settlers in Greenland to cut sod; large stones that appear to have been cut and shaped by someone familiar with European stone masonry; and more Viking yarn and whetstones. And the stone ruins bear a striking resemblance to some Viking buildings in Greenland.

Still, some Arctic researchers remained skeptical. Most of the radiocarbon dates obtained by earlier archaeologists had suggested that Tanfield Valley was inhabited long before Vikings arrived in the New World. But as Sutherland points out, the complex site shows evidence of several occupations, and one of the radiocarbon dates indicates that the valley was occupied in the 14th century, when Viking settlers were farming along the coast of nearby Greenland.

In search of other clues to help solve the mystery, Sutherland turned to the Geological Survey of Canada. Using a technique known as energy dispersive spectroscopy, the team examined the wear grooves on more than 20 whetstones from Tanfield Valley and other sites. Sutherland and her colleagues detected microscopic streaks of bronze, brass, and smelted iron—clear evidence of European metallurgy, which she presented October 7 at a meeting of the Council for Northeast Historical Archeology  in St. John’s, Canada.

Norse-Native American Trade Network?

Sutherland speculates that parties of Viking seafarers travelled to the Canadian Arctic to search for valuable resources. In northern Europe at the time, medieval nobles prized walrus ivory, soft Arctic furs, and other northern luxuries—and Dorset hunters and trappers could readily stockpile such products. Helluland’s waters teemed with walruses, and its coasts abounded in Arctic foxes and other small fur-bearing animals. To barter for such goods, Viking traders likely offered bits of iron and pieces of wood that could be carved into figurines and other goods, Sutherland says.

If Sutherland is correct, the lines of evidence she has uncovered may point to a previously unknown chapter in New World history in which Viking seafarers and Native American hunters were partners together in a transatlantic trade network. “I think things were a lot more complex in this part of the world than most people assumed,” Sutherland said. James Tuck agreed. “It’s pretty convincing that there was a much larger Norse presence in the Canadian Arctic than any of us thought.”

 

Busy with another project I almost let a month go by without posting something.

Here is a simple image I made a few years ago; two bull caribou strive for dominance, with the sun setting in the background. More of a study than a finished piece, though it does appear on a few items at my Zaazzle store. I like the colors and one of these day I will make a more polished version.

Click on the image for a full-size view.

two bull caribou strive for dominance

Caribou Duel

Ragnarok

The Icelandic whaling ship Hvalur 9, sailing a blood-red sea, fires an explosive harpoon at a group of fleeing Fin Whales.

Click on image for full-size view.

ragnarok for the fin whales

Iceland resumes killing Fin Whales

Iceland is set to resume killing Fin Whales this year in contravention of an International Whaling Commission (IWC) moratorium. We learned recently that meat from the endangered Fin Whale was being made into luxury dog treats in Japan. “The most likely reason for shops to sell the whale meat dog treat is to target affluent Japanese who want to show off their wealth with something different,” said Nanami Kurasawa, executive director of the Japan-based Dolphin and Whale Action Network. “The product description identifies the meat as being Fin Whale of Icelandic origin. Its use in pet food suggests that new markets are being explored.”Due to international public reaction the company has just announced that it will cease manufacturing the treats, but Fin Whale met will still be imported and sold for human consumption.

The same firm also makes dog treats from Mongolian horses and kangaroos.

It seems to me that the much-touted Japanese love of nature stops at the waters edge of the home islands.

Ragnarok is the Norse end times legend. Ragnarok will be a great battle resulting the destruction of Valhalla and the deaths of several of the Norse gods: Odin, Thor, Týr, Freyr, Heimdallr, and Loki. A number of natural disasters will occur, and the world will be submerged in water. The catastrophic nature of Ragnarok seems appropriate given the resumption of hunting this endangered species.

The Fin Whale is believed to be the second largest animal ever to have lived on the planet after the blue whale. A full-grown adult can be almost 90 feet in length and weigh 75 tons. Fin Whales are extremely fast, they can outrun most any vessel. They usually ignore ships, but will occasionally race vessels, smashing into waves on a parallel course at a safe distance.

Such speed enabled them to avoid the near extermination suffered by the slower Right Whale until the invention of steam, and later, diesel engines; and the introduction of explosive harpoon heads.

In the 1950s and early 1960s, 30,000 Fin Whales were killed each year. Between 1905 and 1976, 725,000 Fin Whales were reportedly caught in the Southern Ocean, 74,000 in the North Pacific between (1910-1975) and 55,000 in the North Atlantic (1910-1989).

Japan has killed 18 Fin Whales in the last eight Antarctic whaling seasons (ten in the southern summer of 2005-6, three in 2006-7, zero a year later, one in both 2008-9 and 2009-10, two in 2010-11 and one in 2011-12). The score was zero again this year. Since the season of 2007-8, they had allocated themselves a quota of 50 Fin Whales per year, but the ever more effective interventions by Sea Shepherd have prevented these slaughter numbers.

Greenland has an IWC quota of 19 Fin Whales, the North Atlantic subspecies, per year. Greenland wanted to increase their ‘large whale’ quota, but this was refused, because investigations showed that whale meat was freely sold in over a hundred stores in Greenland and was served in tourist restaurants as ‘whale barbeque’ or ‘Greenland sushi.’ Greenland kills whales under an aboriginal permit that demands that all the products from the killed whales must be used for the subsistence of the original human population. The Greenlanders however went commercial with whale meat even making it available in Denmark shops.

Earlier this year, Greenland did what all the whale poachers of the world do when they disagree with the IWC – they ignored this impotent body’s decision and set their own quota – but they kept their fin whale take at 19.

Commercial whaling was discontinued in Iceland in 1986 when the IWC moratorium came into effect, but they used the familiar so-called scientific whaling excuse until 1989. Most of that catch was used as feed on fur farms in Iceland. In 1992, Iceland left the IWC, but could not resume whaling as IWC member Japan was not allowed to import whale meat from a non-member. They rejoined in 2002 with a reservation to the moratorium. In 2009, they set their own quota at 154 Fin Whales per year. That year, they caught 125 of these animals; 148 a year later.

In 2012, Iceland decided for the second consecutive year not to kill Fin Whales. In 2011, there was no demand for whale meat in Japan as a result of the earthquake and tsunami occurring in March of that year. The earthquake reportedly damaged two of the whale meat processing plants with which the Icelanders do business. Business? Yes! Where the appetite for Minke whale meat is small in Iceland, the market for fin whale meat is non-existent. The hunt is only pursued for the export profit from Japan, a glorified subsidizing scheme as Japan’s warehouses are full of unsold whale meat, but that nation fears the day that they are the last slaughterers of whales on the planet.

Sea Shepherd is in the forefront of the effort to protect whales and other marine life. Visit Sea Shepherd’s web site and/or support them by buying t-shirts here.

Compiled from multiple sources.

Qaanaaq

A fractal depiction of the Northern Lights reflected off the surface of the Arctic Ocean.

Click on image for full-size view.

qaanaaq

The Northern Lights

I entitled this Qaanaaq after a settlement in northern Greenland; one of the northernmost inhabited spots on the planet. I like the sound of the word and it seemed appropriate for the image.

This image is available on numerous items through Zazzle.com; not at my wildlife store, but at Fractal Fire, where I post my fractal art.

The taiga during the short summer season. The taiga, covering a large art of the world, but little understood by most people, is threatened due to climate change.

Click on image for full-size view.

Summer in the taiga

An image of the North American taiga (boreal forest) during the short summer period.

The Taiga is a nearly continuous belt of coniferous trees across North America and Eurasia overlying formerly glaciated areas and areas of patchy permafrost. The term “boreal forest” is sometimes used to refer to the more southerly part of the biome, while taiga is used to describe more barren areas of the north approaching the tree line and the tundra biome. The term “boreal” is taken from Boreas, Greek god of the north wind.

The taiga is the world’s largest terrestrial biome accounting for 29% of the world’s forest cover. It stretches over Eurasia and North America. Winters are very cold , summers are warm, rainy, and humid. In North America it covers most of inland Canada and Alaska as well as parts of the extreme northern continental United States (northern Minnesota through the Upper Peninsula of Michigan to Upstate New York and northern New England). It also covers most of Sweden, Finland, much of Norway, lowland/coastal areas of Iceland, much of Russia, northern Kazakhstan, northern Mongolia, and northern Japan. However, the predominant tree species varies. For example, the taiga of North America consists of mainly spruces; Scandinavian and Finnish taiga consists of a mix of spruce, pines and birch; Russian taiga has spruces, pines and larches depending on the region, the Eastern Siberian taiga being a vast larch forest.

The growing season, when the vegetation in the taiga comes alive, is usually slightly longer than the climatic definition of summer as the plants of the boreal biome have a lower threshold to trigger growth. For the Taiga Plains in Canada, growing season varies from 80 to 150 days. Data for locations in southwest Yukon gives 80–120 frost-free days. High latitudes mean that the sun does not rise far above the horizon, and less solar energy is received than further south. But the high latitude also ensures very long summer days, as the sun stays above the horizon nearly 20 hours each day, with only around 6 hours of daylight occurring in the dark winters, depending on latitude. The areas of the taiga inside the Arctic circle have midnight sun in mid-summer and polar night in mid-winter.

The taiga experiences relatively low precipitation throughout the year , primarily as rain during the summer months, but also as fog and snow. Snow may remain on the ground for as long as nine months in the northernmost extensions of the taiga. Muskeg (bogs) occur in poorly drained, glacial depressions. Sphagnum moss forms a spongy mat over ponded water. Growing on this mat are species of the tundra such as cottongrass and shrubs of the heath family. Black spruce and larch ring the edge.

Taiga soil tends to be young and poor in nutrients. It lacks the deep, organically enriched profile present in temperate deciduous forests. The thinness of the soil is due largely to the cold, which hinders the development of soil and the ease with which plants can use its nutrients. Fallen leaves and moss can remain on the forest floor for extended periods in the cool, moist climate. Acids from evergreen needles further leach the soil. Acidic soil often limits flora diversity to little more than lichens and some mosses. Herbs and berries can be found in clearings and areas with a prevalence of deciduous trees. The boreal forest is home to many types of berries such as raspberry, cranberry, cloudberry), bilberry and lingonberry. Diversity of soil organisms in the boreal forest is high, comparable to the tropical rainforest.

Since North America and Asia used to be connected by the Bering land bridge, a number of animal and plant species colonized both continents and are distributed throughout the taiga biome. Others differ regionally, typically with each genus having several distinct species, each occupying different regions of the taiga. Taigas also have some small-leaved deciduous trees like birch, alder, willow, and poplar; mostly in areas escaping the most extreme winter cold. Southernmost regions of the taiga may have trees such as oak, maple, elm, and tilia scattered among the conifers.

Evergreen species in the taiga have a number of adaptations specifically for survival in harsh taiga winters, although larch, the most cold-tolerant of all trees,is deciduous:

– Taiga trees tend to have shallow roots to take advantage of the thin soils.

– Many species of tree found there seasonally alter their biochemistry to make them more resistant to freezing, called “hardening”.

– The conical or spire-shaped promotes shedding of snow and prevents loss of branches.

– Needleleaf – narrowness reduces surface area through which water may be lost (transpired), especially during winter when the frozen ground prevents plants from replenishing their water supply and dessication could become problematic. The needles of boreal conifers also have thick waxy coatings–a waterproof cuticle–in which stomata are sunken and protected from drying winds.

– Evergreen habit – retention of foliage allows the trees photosynthesize with their older leaves in late winter and spring when light is good but temperatures are still too low for new growth. Larch are dominant in areas underlain by nearly continuous permafrost and having a climate even too dry and cold for the waxy needles of spruce and fir. Dark needles promotes maximum heat absorption allowing for photosynthesis at temperatures lower than would otherwise be the case.

A wide variety of wildlife are found in the taiga. Insects play a critical role as pollinators, decomposers, and as a part of the food web. Many nesting birds rely on them for food especially in the months of February and March. The cold winters and short summers make the taiga a challenging biome for reptiles and amphibians, which depend on environmental conditions to regulate their body temperatures, and there are only a few species in the boreal forest including red-sided garter snake, common European adder, blue-spotted salamander, northern two-lined salamander, Siberian salamander, wood frog, northern leopard frog, boreal chorus frog, American toad, and Canadian toad. Most hibernate underground in winter. Fish of the taiga must be able to withstand cold water conditions and be able to adapt to life under ice covered water. Species in the taiga include Alaska blackfish, northern pike, walleye, longnose sucker, white sucker, various species of cisco, lake whitefish, round whitefish, pygmy whitefish, arctic lamprey, various grayling species, brook trout (including sea-run brook trout in the Hudson bay area), chum salmon, Siberian taimen, lenok and lake chub.

The taiga is home to a number of large herbivorous mammals, such as moose and reindeer/caribou. Some areas have populations of other deer species such as the elk (wapiti) and roe deer.The largest animal in the taiga is the wood bison, found in northern Canada, Alaska and has been newly introduced into the Russian far-east. There is also a range of rodent species including beaver, squirrel, mountain hare, snowshoe hare, North American porcupine and vole. These species have adapted to survive the harsh winters in their native ranges. Some larger mammals, such as bears, eat heartily during the summer in order to gain weight, and then go into hibernation during the winter. Other animals have adapted layers of fur or feathers to insulate them from the cold. Predatory mammals of the taiga must be adapted to travel long distances in search of scattered prey or be able to supplement their diet with vegetation or other forms of food (such as raccoons). Mammalian predators of the taiga include Canada lynx, Eurasian lynx, stoat, Siberian weasel, least weasel, sable, American marten, North American river otter, European otter, American mink, wolverine, Asian badger, fisher, gray wolf, coyote, red fox, brown bear, American black bear, Asiatic black bear, polar bear and Siberian tiger.

More than 300 species of birds have their nesting grounds in the taiga. Siberian Thrush, White-throated Sparrow, and Black-throated Green Warbler migrate to this habitat to take advantage of the long summer days and abundance of insects found around the numerous bogs and lakes. Of the 300 species of birds that summer in the taiga only 30 stay for the winter. These are either carrion-feeding or large raptors that can take live mammal prey, including Golden Eagle, Rough-legged Buzzard (also known as the Rough-legged Hawk), and Raven, or else seed-eating birds, including several species of grouse and crossbills.

Large areas of Siberia’s taiga have been harvested for lumber since the collapse of the Soviet Union. In some cases, after clearcutting of trees, topsoil was also removed for shipment to Japan. In Canada, eight percent of the taiga is protected from development. The main forestry practice in the boreal forest of Canada is clearcutting, which involves cutting down most of the trees in a given area, then replanting the forest as a monocrop (one species of tree) the following season. Industry officials claim that this process emulates the natural effects of a forest fire, which they claim clearcutting suppresses, protecting infrastructure, communities and roads. However, from an ecological perspective, this is a falsehood, for several reasons, including: a) Removing most of the trees in a given area is usually done using large machines which disrupt the soil greatly, and the dramatic diminution of ground cover permits large-scale erosion and avalanches, which further damage the habitat and sometimes endangers infrastructure, roads, and communities. b) Clearcutting removes most of the biomass from an area, and the various macro and micro-nutrients it contains. This sudden decrease in nutrients in an area contrasts with a forest fire, which returns most of the nutrients to the soil. c) Forest fires leave standing snags, and leave patches of unburned trees. This helps preserve structure and micro-habitats within the area, whereas clearcutting destroys most of these habitats. In the past, clearcuts upwards of 110 km² have been recorded in the Canadian boreal forest. However, today 80% of clearcuts are less than 260 hectares(2.6 square km). Some of the products from logged boreal forests include toilet paper, copy paper, newsprint, and lumber. More than 90% of boreal forest products from Canada are exported for consumption and processing in the United States. However with the recession and fewer US homes being built, that has changed. Some of the larger cities situated in this biome are Murmansk, Arkhangelsk, Yakutsk, Anchorage, Yellowknife, Tromsø, Luleå, and Oulu.

Most companies that harvest in Canadian forests are certified by an independent third party agency such as the Forest Stewardship Council (FSC), Sustainable Forests Initiative (SFI), or the Canadian Standards Association (CSA). While the certification process differs between these groups, all of them include forest stewardship, respect for aboriginal peoples, compliance with local, provincial or national environmental laws, forest worker safety, education and training, and other environmental, business, and social requirements. The prompt renewal of all harvest sites by planting or natural renewal is also required.
Climate change

The zone of latitude occupied by the boreal forest has experienced some of the greatest temperature increases on Earth, especially during the last quarter of the twentieth century. Winter temperatures have increased more than summer temperatures. The number of days with extremely cold temperatures (e.g., −20 to −40 °C) has decreased irregularly but systematically in nearly all the boreal region, allowing better survival for tree-damaging insects. In summer, the daily low temperature has increased more than the daily high temperature. In Fairbanks, Alaska, the length of the frost-free season has increased from 60–90 days in the early twentieth century to about 120 days a century later. Summer warming has been shown to increase water stress and reduce tree growth in dry areas of the southern boreal forest in central Alaska, western Canada and portions of far eastern Russia. Precipitation is relatively abundant in Scandinavia, Finland, northwest Russia and eastern Canada, where a longer growth season (i.e. the period when sap flow is not impeded by frozen water) accelerate tree growth. As a consequence of this warming trend, the warmer parts of the boreal forests are susceptible to replacement by grassland, parkland or temperate forest.

In Siberia, the taiga is converting from predominantly needle-shedding larch trees to evergreen conifers in response to a warming climate. This is likely to further accelerate warming, as the evergreen trees will absorb more of the sun’s rays. Given the vast size of the area, such a change has the potential to affect areas well outside of the region. In much of the boreal forest in Alaska, the growth of white spruce trees are stunted by unusually warm summers, while trees on some of the coldest fringes of the forest are experiencing faster growth than previously.

Recent years have seen outbreaks of insect pests in forest-destroying plagues: the spruce-bark beetle (Dendroctonus rufipennis) in Yukon and Alaska; the mountain pine beetle in British Columbia; the aspen-leaf miner; the larch sawfly; the spruce budworm (Choristoneura fumiferana); the spruce coneworm.

Many nations are taking direct steps to protect the ecology of the taiga by prohibiting logging, mining, oil and gas production, and other forms of development. In February 2010 the Canadian government established protection for 13,000 square kilometres of boreal forest by creating a new 10,700 square kilometre park reserve in the Mealy Mountains area of eastern Canada and a 3,000 square kilometre waterway provincial park that follows alongside the Eagle River from headwaters to sea.

Two Canadian provincial governments, Ontario and Quebec, introduced measures in 2008 that would protect at least half of their northern boreal forest. Although both provinces admitted it will take years to plan, work with Aboriginal and local communities and ultimately map out precise boundaries of the areas off-limits to development, the measures are expected to create some of the largest protected areas networks in the world once completed.

The taiga stores enormous quantities of carbon, more than the world’s temperate and tropical forests combined, much of it in wetlands and peatland. In fact, current estimates place boreal forests as storing twice as much carbon per unit area as tropical forests.