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12.12: Polar Climates

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    What types of animals live here?

    The polar climate is harsh. Plants are small and low to the ground. What types of animals can live under these conditions? In alpine areas, small mammals that seek protection in rocks are common. The marmot on the left is an example. Large animals must be prepared to live exposed to frigid cold. Musk ox live in the farthest north parts of North America and Greenland. Additionally, large animals like caribou can migrate to more hospitable places in winter.

    Polar Climates

    Polar climates are found near the North and South Poles. They also occur on high mountains at lower latitudes. The summers are very cool, and the winters are frigid. Precipitation is very low because it’s so cold. The growing season is very short. Tundra refers to areas with permafrost. Permafrost is a lower layer of soil that is permanently frozen. Tundra also refers to a treeless plain with small plants. You can see examples of polar climates pictured below.

    Polar Tundra

    The polar tundra climate (Figure below) occurs near the poles. Tundra climates have permafrost. Permafrost is layer of ground below the surface that is always frozen, even in the summer. Only small plants, such as mosses, can grow in this climate.

    Polar tundra in the Northwest Territories, Canada

    Polar tundra in the Northwest Territories, Canada.

    Alpine Tundra

    The alpine tundra climates (Figure below) occurs at high altitudes at any latitude. They are also called highland climates. These regions are very cold because they are so far above sea level. The alpine tundra climate is very similar to the polar tundra climate.

    Alpine Tundra in the Rocky Mountains, Colorado

    Alpine Tundra in the Rockies, Colorado.

    Ice Caps

    Ice caps are areas covered with thick ice year round. Ice caps are found only in Greenland and Antarctica. Temperatures and precipitation are both very low. What little snow falls usually stays on the ground. It doesn’t melt because it’s too cold.


    • Tundra is land with permafrost, no trees, and small hardy plants.
    • Permafrost is land with permanently frozen soil.
    • Tundra is found near the poles and up on high mountains.


    1. What is permafrost? Where do you think it is found?
    2. What is tundra? Why is tundra found at the polar regions and in the high mountains?
    3. What are ice caps? How does the ice accumulate?

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