Great Canadian Parks / Manitoba

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The Parks / Manitoba / Wapusk National Park


The perception of the tundra as a solid frozen land is not entirely accurate. The permafrost, or frozen portion of the tundra, begins about two feet down. It is ground that has been frozen for at least two years, supporting an upper layer of fragile topsoil on which the suite of arctic plants survive. Since the solidity of the ground allows the plants to grow, if the soil is turned, the tundra vegetation loses its footing and disturbance plants, like willow, invade. Most plants require a minimum growing temperature around 10 degrees C. Keeping close to the ground, tundra vegetation is usually less than 5cm in height, allows them to self-insulate, and avoid the harsh effects of the wind.


The permafrost is part of the reason there is so much water on the landscape. The topsoil layer can only absorb a limited amount, and the excess water pools into shallow tundra ponds, important breeding areas for snow geese and tundra swans.


The tundra has a very acidic composition due to the lichens which decompose other plant matter on its surface. The Northern Studies Centre is supporting a long-term climatology study that is measuring the amounts of methane gas and carbon dioxide emitted by the tundra to determine if there is, in fact, a co-relation between the amount of gases released and the climate.

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