The Alpine Tundra Zone

 

 

The Alpine tundra zone is one of the larger biogeoclimatic zones located within British Columbia, and is found especially along the Coast Mountains and southwest portion of the province. It is a rugged, relatively barren and tree-less environment, sparsely if at all populated because of its harsh climate.


 


Range

The alpine Tundra zone spans a wide area, primarily central to northern pacific coastal Canada. In British Columbia, the alpine tundra zone is one of the larger biogeoclimatic zones, located from about 49-60 degrees latitude. In the Southeast, alpine tundra zones begin at about 2250 meters ASL, while in the Southwest, at around 1600 meters. In the North, this zone can be found at lower levels; from about 1500 meters, and in the Northwest from about 1000-1500 meters. This terrain is often formed by glacial action, leaving stretches of gently rolling terrain combined with areas of steep rugged land with tall cliffs found near the peaks.

              Alpine Tundra Landscape
       

Climate

The climate of the Alpine Tundra is considered the harshest in the province. Due to its relatively high location, colder temperatures are prevalent. Combined high winds, snow and low temperature throughout the year give the Alpine Tundra zone only a very short, frost free break in which growing can take place. The average monthly temperature remains at around -4 to 0 degrees Celsius, while for more than seven months of the year; the average temperature stays below 0 degrees. For this reason, there is lots of snow cover and the zone tends to be more sparsely populated in terms of flora and fauna.

Vegetation

Vegetation in the Alpine Tundra region is relatively scarce due to the harsh climate and poor soil conditions. They occur mostly at the lower and middle areas of the zone, where the land has been glacially formed. Most of these regions are generally composed of smaller shrubs, which are closer to the ground. Some examples include: Krummholz, partridgefoot, kinnikinnick, crowberry, lingonberry, and alpine-azalea. Alpine grasses and flowers are also found, including cinquefoil, woolly pussytoes, lupines, and silky phacelia. Many lichens, mat-forming herbs, dwarf willows, grasses, and sedges also inhabit the more soil bare areas. These low growing flora need to take advantage of the short growing season in order to quickly grow, flower, then release seeds and pollen. Short trees are found, which include mostly Engelmann spruce, mountain hemlock, whitebark pine, yellow-cedar, lodgepole pine, white spruce, and alpine larch.

     Crowberries                   Lupines
   

Wildlife

Wildlife, like vegetation, is relatively sparse as a result of the harsh, cold and windy climate. Little vegetation makes this zone unattractive to wildlife. Several species including; Roosevelt elk, blacktailed deer, mule deer, Golden Eagle, White-tailed Ptarmigan, wolverine and hoary marmot, are mostly summer visitors to the Arctic Tundra zone. Some of the more permanent species are: Stone sheep, mountain goats, white-tailed ptarmigan, and caribou. These species however they tend to live in the lower elevation regions of this zone.

    Mountain Goat      White-tailed Ptarmigan
                                            

Resources

The Alpine Tundra Zone is for the most part, lacking in traditional resources such as oil, metals, and lumber. It does however attract many adventure tourists, skiers, snowmobilers, campers, hikers, horseback rider, and hunters, attracted to the snow, fauna, and beauty of the zone. These popular activities promote tourism and other industries in the Alpine Tundra zone. Heli-Hiking is a great example of such an industry.

Video on Heli-Hiking