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  • Print publication year: 2018
  • Online publication date: July 2018

5 - Terrestrial Environments and Surface Types of the Polar Regions


Polar terrestrial environments are predominantly polar desert or tundra. Polar desert occurs in the Canadian High Arctic, northern Greenland, the Eurasian Arctic islands and the Antarctic Dry Valleys. Tundra is widespread, comprising barrens, graminoids, shrub tundra, and wetlands. Both environments are widely underlain by permafrost (12-18 percent of the northern hemisphere). Subsea permafrost is widespread on Arctic continental shelves. Ground ice forms palsas and pingos and melting ground ice forms thermokarst. Periglacial features include patterned ground and rock glaciers. Permafrost temperatures are rising due to global warming. Arctic lakes are frozen for 7-9 months of the year. Thermokarst lakes are widespread in tundra regions. Proglacial lakes are common in the Himalaya. Perennially frozen and subglacial lakes occur in Antarctica. Lake and river breakup/freeze up is occurring 5-6 days earlier/later. Arctic rivers flow mainly into the Arctic Ocean and have extensive deltas. Glaciers and ice caps are mainly in the eastern Canadian Arctic, around Greenland, in the western Eurasian Arctic, in the Antarctic Peninsula, and around the ice sheet. Recent mass loss in the Arctic was 73 percent of the global total. Glacial landscapes are erosional – scoured bedrock to fiords - and depositional – moraines and drumlins; eskers and kames are fluvioglacial.

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