At Vostok Station (S78°28′ E106°50′), the lowest reliably measured temperature on earth of -128.6°F (-89.2°C) was measured in 1983 (Turne et al. 2009). The Russian research station is located at an elevation exceeding 11,000 feet above sea level. Below the station is 4 km of ice. At the base of the ice is the largest of 200 lakes buried beneath the Antarctic ice sheet, Lake Vostok. In 2012, the Russian Antarctic Expedition completed drilling through the ice to reach the surface of the lake. It is estimated that the lake has been isolated for 15 million years.Samples were collected,and the discovery of an unclassified microbe was reported in 2013. But cutbacks in research funding have stopped further progress at the lake (Gramling, 2015; Gramling, 2012).

References: Gramling, Carolyn. 2015. Mysterious Arctic Lake Will Remain Out of Reach. Science 350:494.

Gramling, Carolyn, 2012. A tiny window opens into Lake Vostok, while vast continent awaits. Science 335:789.

Turne, John et al. 2009. Record Low Surface Air Temperature at Vostok Station, Antarctica. Journal of Geophysical Research 114:D24002. DOI:10.1029/2009JD012104.


Queen Elizabeth Islands

In the 20th century, the Queen Elizabeth Islands tended to retain sea ice throughout the summer. As the Arctic Ocean moves toward being ice free in the next 20 years, the Queen Elizabeth Islands may be one of the last refuges of summer sea ice.

The High Arctic Tundra ecoregion includes all the islands north of Parry Channel and Lancaster Sound, as well as northern Prince of Wales Island and Somerset Island. The Middle Arctic Tundra ecoregion includes Banks Island, Victoria Island, southern Prince of Wales and Somerset Islands, and the Boothia Peninsula.

High Arctic Tundra ecoregion

Ramsar Site

Polar Bear Pass National Wildlife Area, Nunavut Territory (N75o35’ W98o51’), is 263,648 ha on Bathurst Island. Habitats are lakes, tundra ponds, meadows of grass, sedge, moss, and lichens. The area is important for breeding shorebirds such as sanderling and red phalarope, king eider snow geese, gulls, jaegars, sanderlings, Atlantic brant. A research station is on the property. Adjoining the area on the north is Quasuittuq National Park.

National sites

Beechey Island Sites National Historic Site, Nunavut Territory (N74o43’ W91o51’) includes four archaeological sites on Beechey Island and one offshore shipwreck. Beechey Island is off the southwestern tip of Devon Island. In May 1845, Sir John Franklin left London (Greenhithe) on an expedition to find the Northwest Passage. He entered Lancaster Sound. On Beechey Island is his wintering camp during 1845-1846. Also on Beechey Island are Northumberland House, Cape Riley, and message cairns associated with the expedition. The expedition and its two ships, the HMS Erebus and HMS Terror, left the island in 1846 and headed south. By September 1846, both ships were stuck in ice off King William Island. By 1848, 24 men were dead, including Franklin. The remainder of the crew attempted to cross overland in present-day Nunavut but were not found. The two shipwrecks were found in 2014 and 2016 (Pringle, 2019). The HMS Breadalbane National Historic Site (N74o41’ W91o50’) is one mile south of Beechey Island in 100 m of water. The ship was crushed by ice and sank in 1853. The waters surrounding Beechey Island are part of Tallurutiup Imanga National Marine Conservation Area.

Prince Leopold Island Migratory Bird Sanctuary (N74o3’ W90o4’) is 307 km2 in the Parry Channel northeast of Somerset Island. Vertical cliffs rise 250 m above sea level, providing ledges where 200,000 pairs of seabirds nest. Seabirds protected are northern fulmer, Atlantic black-legged kittiwake, thick-billed murre, black guillemot. Also present are brant, eider, jaeger, raven, and snow bunting. It is an Important Bird and Biodiversity Area.

Quasuittuq National Park, Nunavut (N76o 0’ W100o0’), is 11,000 km2 on Bathurst Island, Helena Island (N76o20’ W100o3’), Vanier Island (N76o9’ W103o25’), Massey Island (N76o0’ W103o2’), Marc Island (N75o52’ W103o36’), and Alexander Island (N75o52’ W102o46’). The park protects habitat for endangered Peary caribou and muskoxen. It includes marine areas of May Inlet and Young Inlet. The park is cooperatively managed with the Qitiqtani Inuit Association. Adjoining the park on the south is the Polar Bear Pass National Wildlife Area.

Seymour Island Migratory Bird Sanctuary (N76o48’ W101o16’) is 5,302 ha 30 km north of Bathurst Island. On the island is an ivory gull breeding area. It is an Important Bird and Biodiversity Area.

Tallurutiup Imanga National Marine Conservation area is located in Lancaster Sound and includes the waters to the south of Devon and Cornwallis Island, the waters surrounding Griffith Island, and water to the north of Somerset Island. Beechey Island National Historic Site and Prince Leopold Island Migratory Bird Sanctuary are within the marine conservation area. The marine area protects narwhals and seabirds. Cape Liddon Important Bird Area (N74o40’ W91o10’) is on Devon Island adjacent to the marine conservation area. Vertical cliffs rise 300 m, providing nesting areas for northern fulmer, common eider, and black guillemot. Nearby Caswall Tower is a sea stack and also part of the IBA.

Other sites

The Advanced Modular Incoherent Scatter Radar (AMISR), a project of the National Science Foundation, is in Resolute (N74o42’ W94o50’) on Cornwallis Island. The science project is focused on studying global climate trends. Data collected from the atmosphere and ionosphere at polar latitudes provides an opportunity for early detection of climate change phenomena. At this latitude, coupling occurs between the solar wind and Earth’s magnetic field, atmosphere, and thermosphere. One radar points both north, deep into the polar ice cap, and a second points south. Both radars provide measurements of ionospheric parameters. AMISR also monitors space weather, which can potentially damage and disrupt power grids and satellite communications (www.amisr.com).

Cheyne Islands, Nunavut Territory (N76o20’ W97o30’) are 3 small islands off the eastern coast of Bathurst Island. These islands are an Important Bird Area for breeding Ross’ gull; and are one of only two known breeding areas.

North Kent Island (N76o40’ W90o6’) and Calf Island (N76o27’ W89o31’), Nunavut Territory, make up an Important Bird Area for black guillemot and common eider. He steep cliffs offer nesting areas. A nearby polynya attracts marine mammals.

Eastern Prince Patrick Island Coast, Northwest Territories (N76o W119o) is an Important Bird Area and includes the lowlands at Wooley Bay, Walker Inlet, Mould Bay, Green Bay, and Intrepid Inlet, along with Eglinton Island. A large percentage of the population of the West Arctic Brant uses this area.

Washington Point-Baille Hamilton Island, Nunavut Territory (N75°50’ W94°20’) has 200-m coastal cliffs offering nesting sites for black-legged killiwake, glaucus gull, and black guillemot.

Middle Arctic tundra ecoregion

National Site

Aulavik National Park, Northwest Territories, is 12,274 km2 on Banks Island and home to muskoxen and Peary caribou. The park includes Thomsen River, the northernmost navigable river by canoe. Habitats are a broad valley and low hills with deeply cut badlands. Dwarf willows and wet sedge meadows are along the river. The Thomsen River and surroundings are part of the Banks Island Migratory Bird Sanctuary, an Important Bird Area for molting lesser snow geese and black brant. In the park, Mercy Bay (N74o4’ W119o0’) is the resting place of the wreck HMS Investigation, which was trapped in ice in 1851.

Other sites:

Creswell Bay, Nunavut Territory (N72o40’ W93o20’) is a large bay with mudflats on Somerset Island and an Important Bird Area for breeding shorebirds such as white-rumped sandpiper, red phalarope, black-bellied plover,and sanderling. Also, snow geese and king eider are present.



Pringle, Heather. 2019. Uncovering an Arctic Mystery. National Geographic 236(3):100-103.


Walgreen Coast

This post includes parts of the Eights Coast, Walgreen Coast, and Bakutis Coast. The Eights Coast extends between Pfrogner Point (S72o37’ W89o35’) and Cape Waite (S72o42’ W103o1’) The Walgreen Coast extends from Cape Waite to Cape Herlacher (S73o52’ W114o12’), and the Bakutis Coast extends west of Cape Herlacher to Dean Island (S74o42’ W127o5’). These points are on the Amundsen Sea embayment, an area fed by two large glaciers and smaller ones (Haynes, Pope, Smith, and Kohler), all of which are retreating (Blaustein, 2014). The West Antarctic Coast is generally bordered by ice shelves, which up until now have buttressed ice streams from the continental glaciers and slowed their discharge. These ice shelves are also losing mass, reducing the buttressing effect (Paolo, Fricker, and Padman, 2015)

Glaciers flowing into the Amundsen Sea along the Walgreen Coast, especially the large Pine Island (S75o10’ W100o0’) and Thwaites (S75o30’ W106o45’) glaciers, exhibit the largest ice mass loss of any glaciers on Earth. Ice loss occurs as above-freezing water flows underneath the glaciers and melts them at their grounding line—the point where the glacier loses contact with bedrock and goes afloat to become an ice shelf. Problems with melting of these glaciers pre-dates recent global warming. In the 1940s, warm ocean waters from an El Nino event began an incursion beneath Pine Island Glacier. This warm water remained under the glacier and never refroze when the sea waters became colder in subsequent decades (Smith et al., 2017; Voosen, 2016). In more recent years, above-freezing water re-entered the areas underneath these glaciers, attacking the grounding lines, which are below sea level by several hundred meters. The retreat of grounding lines raises fears of catastrophic collapse and rapid sea level rise (Silvano et al., 2018).

Thwaites Glacier is now thinning as much as 4 meters per year and its grounding line is migrating inland (Milillo et al., 2019). This melting is likely to continue this century, with grounding lines retreating about 1 km per year. However, as the glaciers become smaller, it is expected that underlying rock being weighted down by the glacial ice will rebound and change the grounding line in the 23rd century (Larour et al., 2019; Steig, 2019).  This bedrock uplift in response to ice loss delays the collapse of the West Antarctic ice sheet under moderate warming scenarios (Barletta et al., 2018).

Ellsworth Land Tundra ecoregion is east of Pine Island Glacier and includes the Jones Mountains, Thurston Island, and Hudson Nunatuks, which are volcanic cones extending above the ice sheet. On Thurston Island are nunatuks which extend above the ice and are called the Walker Mountains. On the Noville Peninsula of Thurston Island is the Sikorski Glacier (S71o50’ W98o30’), an Important Bird Area for the emperor penguin. Four island groups in the Amundsen Sea are also Important Bird Areas. Brownson Islands (S74o10’ W103o30’) are an important bird area for the emperor penguin and seabirds. Edwards Islands (S73o50’ W103o10’), Schaefer Islands (S73o39’ W103o20’), and Lindsey Islands (S73o38’ W103o10’) are important bird areas for the adélie penguin and seabirds (Harris et al., 2015).

Marie Byrd Land Tundra includes the Walgreen Coast and Bakutis Coast west of Pine Island Glacier. On the Bear Peninsula at Hummer Point (S74o20’ W110o20’) is an Important Bird Area for the emperor penguin (Harris et al., 2015). Scattered throughout Marie Byrd Land inland of the glaciers and ice shelves are large volcanoes, such as Mount Frakes (S76o48’ W117o42’) and Mount Takahe (S76o17’ W112o5’) in the Crary Mountains and Toney Mountain (S75o48’ W115o50’ in the Kohler Range. All three volcanoes reach 11,000 to 12,000 feet in elevation. Further to the south is the 4,000 to 6,000-foot Hollick-Kenyon Plateau.


Barletta, Valentina R., et al., 2018. Observed rapid bedrock uplift in Amundsen Sea embayment promotes ice-sheet stability. Science 360:1335-1339. 10.1126/science.aao1447.

Blaustein, Richard J. 2014. Antarctic Tipping Points—the fate of the Amundsen Sea glaciers. www.nature.com/scitable/blog/eyes-on-environment/antarctic_tipping_points_the_fate.

Harris, C.M., et al. 2015. Important Bird Areas in Antarctica 2015. BirdLife International and Environmental Research and Assessment Ltd., Cambridge, England.

Larour, E., et al. 2019. Slowdown in Antarctic mass loss from solid Earth and sea-level feedbacks. Science 364:969. 10.1126/science.aav7908.

Milillo, P., et al. 2019. Heterogeneous retreat and ice melt of Thwaites Glacier, West Antarctica. Science Advances 5:eaau3433. 10.1126/sciadv.aau3433.

Paolo, Fernando S., Helen A. Fricker, and Laurie Padman. 2015. Science 348:327-331. 10.1126/science.aaa0940.

Silvano, Alessandro et al., 2018. Freshening by glacial meltwater enhances melting of ice shelves and reduces formation of Antarctic bottom water. Science Advances 4:eaap9467. 10.1126/sciadv.aap9467.

Smith, J.A. et al. 2017. Sub-ice-shelf sediments record history of twentieth-century retreat of Pine Island Glacier. Nature 541:177-180. 10.1038/nature20136.

Steig, Eric J. 2019. How Fast will the Antarctic Ice Sheet Retreat? Science 364:936-937. 10.1126/science.aax2626.

Voosen, Paul. 2016. In the 1940s, warm oceanwaters found Achilles’s heel of crucial Antarctic ice sheet. 10.1126/science.aal0421. https://www.sciencemag.org/news/2016/11/1940s-warm-ocean-waters-found-achilless-heel-crucial-antarctic-ice-sheet.

Ecoregions of Taymyr and Severnaya Zemlya

Taymyr-Central Siberian tundra Ecoregion

The Asian landmass reaches its furthest north point at Cape Chelyakin in the Taymyr Peninsula. To the south is the Taymyr-Central Siberian tundra ecoregion. To the west of the peninsula is the Kara Sea, dotted with islands, and to the east is the Laptev Sea. The area is drained by the Taymyr, Khatanga, Pyasina, and Anabar Rivers. West of the Khatanga Gulf, the peninsula and Severnaya Zemlya are administratively part of Krasnoyarsk, while east of the Khatanga Gulf is the Sakha Republic, which includes the Anabar and Olenek River drainages and Begichev Island.

The Taymyr Peninsula contains two of the largest Russian state nature reserves, the Great Arctic and Taymyr. These areas consist of multiple units. The World Wildlife Fund considers them to be part of its Global 200 ecoregions—the most important for biodiversity in the world.

The coast of the peninsula is dotted with islands and is the summer habitat of migratory waterfowl—four species of geese, Betwick’s swan, and ducks. The Great Arctic Nature Reserve contains 80 percent of the nesting and moulting habitat of the brent goose. On coastal cliffs are nests of peregrine falcon and snowy owl. Marine mammals include fox, reindeer, musk ox, and lemmings, while marine mammals include seals and whales (Mazurov et al., 2012).

Permafrost-preserved horse and wolf bones have provided information important to understanding the domestication of the horse and dog. Based on 35,000-year-old wolf bones found along the Bolshaya Balakhnaya River, Skoglund et al. (2015) were able to recalibrate the wolf mutation rate; and conclude that dogs converged from wolves at least 27,000 years ago. Wolves in Siberia were in the ancestry of high latitude dog breeds.

Based on horse bones radiocarbon dated to 42,000 and 16,000 years Before Present, Schubert et al. (2014) were able to compare ancient genomes to those of today’s domestic horse. The ancient population contributed to the genetics of current breeds. Domestication gene changes focused on muscular and limb development, joints, and the cardiac system. Other gene changes focused on cognitive function, including social behavior, learning, fear response, and agreeableness. These changes were key to taming horses for domestication. Horses are believed to have been domesticated about 5,500 years ago in Kazakhstan. Modern Przewalski’s horse, the last remaining wild horse, is not believed to be the direct ancestor of modern horses. There are believed to be three genetically distinct populations of ancient horses: the archaic group in Taymyr, the ancestors of Przewalski’s horses in Kazakhstan, and the ancestor of modern domestic horses, which is still missing (Leonardi et al., 2018).

Man and the Biosphere Reserve

Taymyr Nature Reserve is 1,781,928 ha in 5 units, protecting the breeding range of red-breasted goose and the summer breeding range of reindeer. The Ary-Mas unit (N72°25’ E102°0’) of 15,611 ha contains the northernmost Dahurian larch forest on terraces above the New River. The main core unit to the west of Lake Taymyr (N74°0’ E100°0’) includes part of the Byrranga Mountain Range, with 96 glaciers, rising to 1,000 m. It is part of the Lower Verkhnyaya Tayyr River Important Bird Area. The Lukunsky Unit (N72°2’ E105°0’) is 9,005 ha and includes Lake Levinson-Lessing. On the Laptev Sea is the Pronchishchev Bay (N76°0’ E115°0’), which includes a walrus rookery, polar bear habitat, marine mammals, and nesting coastal bird areas. The Bikada area to the east of Lake Taymyr (N75°0’ E106°0’) is 937,760 ha.

Ramsar Site—wetland of international importance

Gorbita Delta (N73°0’ E95°0’) is 75,000 ha containing the most important goose breeding area in Taymyr area. White-fronted goose, red-breasted goose, and bean goose use the 80-km-long river valley for breeding. It is an Important Bird Area.

Other sites

Great Arctic Nature Reserve is 4,165,200 ha extending along the Kara Sea and including many of its islands. Some of the major sites include Kara Sea Islands (Sergei Kirov, Voronina, Izvestiy TSIK, Arkticheskiiy Institute, Sverdrup, and Uedineniya), the Nordenskjold Archipelago (N76°35’ E96°40’), Pyasina Gulf (N74°0’ E80°0’), Middendorf Bay (N75°50 E92°30’), Lower Taymyr (N76°E100°), and Chelyuskin (N77°44’ E104°15’), and Brekhovsky Islands (N70°30’ E82°45’). The Nordenskjold Archipelago is an Important Bird Area and includes Ledyanyye Islands, Vkhodnoy Island, Nansen Island, Taymyr Island, Votyochnyye Islands, Litke Islands, Russky Island, Pakhtusov Island, Vilkitsky Island, and Tsivolka Island. The Lower Taymyr unit is also the Nizhnyaya Taymyr River Important Bird Area.

Also on the Kara Sea, Lower Leningrad River (N76°21′ E102°13′) is an Important Bird Area.

In the Khatanga Gulf area of the Laptev Sea, Gusikha River and Lower Balakhnaya River (N73°54′ E106°21′), and Khara-Tumus Peninsula and Nordvik Bay (N73°47′ E110°57′) are Important Bird Areas.

On the Laptev Sea, Olenek Bay (N73°6′ E119°36′), Preobrazheniya Island (N74°39′ E112°57′), and Terpyey-Tumus Area (N73°30′ E117°9′) are Important Bird Areas.

Inland on the Taymyr Peninsula, Anabar River (N70°34′ E112°58′), Dudypta River Plains (N71°32′ E93°31′), Kurluska Lake and Middle Boganida Valley (N71°29′ E97°3′), and Volochanka River Basin (N70°41′ E93°51′) are Important Bird Areas.

Arctic Desert Ecoregion

Between the Taymyr Peninsula and the North Pole are the Northern Lands or Severnaya Zemlya, consisting of large glaciated islands—Bolshevik Island, October Revolution Island, Kamsomalets Island, and Pioneer Island. These islands make up the Arctic Desert ecoregion.

Until the 2010s, the Vilkitsky Straight between the Taymyr Peninsula and Bolshevik Island remained frozen throughout the summer. In recent years, it has become ice-free, allowing navigation in the summer.

Severnaya Zemlya provides habitat for cliff-nesting seabirds such as the little auk, kittiwake, black guillemot, ivory gull, and glaucous gull. Inland are nesting areas for brent goose, purple sandpiper, and snow bunting (de Korte, Volkov, and Gavrilo, 1995).  The islands are also a major gathering point for polar bears. The archipelago is attractive because there is year-round contact with sea ice (Belikov et al. 1998).

However, the year-round sea ice may be changing. The eastern Eurasian Basin is evolving toward a state of less sea ice and a new Arctic climate state. Record-breaking sea-ice loss occurred in 2007 and 2012 for both the Amerasian Basin and the Eurasian Basin. The Eurasian Basin has been nearly ice-free at the end of summer since 2011. Warm Atlantic water appears to be getting into the basin. The area east of Svalbard is melting quickly. This warming continues to move east toward Severnaya Zemlya (Polyakov et al., 2017).


Belikov, Stanislav E. 1998. Polar Bears of the Severnaya Zemlya Archipelago of the Russian Arctic. Ursus 10:33-40.

Grimm, David. May 21, 2015. Arctic find confirms ancient origin of dogs. http://sciencemag.org/news/2015/05/arctic-find-confirms-ancient-origin-dogs

J. de Korte, A.E. Volkov, M.V. Gavrilo. 1995. Bird Observations in Severnaya Zemlya, Siberia. Arctic 48:222-234.

Leonardi, Michela et al. 2018. Late Quaternary horses in Eurasia in the face of climate and vegetation change. Science Advances 4:eaar5589 (10.1126/sciadv.aar.5589).

Mazurov, Yuri L. et al. 2012. Natural Heritage of Taimyr: Challenges for its Conservation and Sustainable Use. Geography, Environment, Sustainability 5:88-103 (10.15356/2071-9388-03v05-2012-07).

Polyakov, Igor, et al. 2017. Greater role for Atlantic inflows on sea-ice loss in the Eurasian Basin of the Arctic Ocean. Science 356:285-291. (10.1126/scienceaai8204)

Schubert, Mikkel et al. 2014. Prehistoric genomes reveal the genetic foundation and cost of horse domestication. Proceedings National Academy of Sciences 111:E566-E5669 (10.1073/pnas.1416991111).

Skoglund, Pontus et al. 2015. Ancient wolf genome reveals an early divergence of domestic dog ancestors and admixture into high-latitude breeds. Current Biology 25:P1515-P1519 (10.1016/j.cub.2015.04.019).


Iberian Sclerophyllous and Semi-Deciduous Forests

Iberian sclerophyllous and semi-deciduous forests include holm oak forests mostly transformed into an agricultural landscape of olive and almond groves. In wilder spots, a dense shrubland called maquis is found. There are wild olive and carob woodlands. A number of endangered animals are hanging on in the ecoregion, including the Iberian lynx, the Spanish imperial eagle, and the great bustard. Wolves are also present. An endemic shrub, Securineia tinctora, is found in the Guadiana and Tajo river basins.

World Heritage Sites

Alhambra, Generalife, and Albayzin World Heritage Site (N37o11’ W3o35’) recognizes the remains of Arabic Spain from the 13th to the 15th centuries. The Alhambra (red castle) has been called Spain’s most beautiful monument and one of the best examples of Islamic art and architecture in the world.

The Alhambra was built in 1333 as a fortified castle and was used as a royal palace. It was modified by Christians in 16th century. The structure reflects the last centuries of Muslim rule in Spain. It is the only completely preserved complex from the Islamic period. After the Christian conquest in 1527, Charles V built a Renaissance palace within the Alhambra which sharply contrasts with the rest of the complex, and the mosque was replaced by a church. In 1829 the American writer Washington Irving stayed at the Alhambra and was instrumental in publicizing it to the world.

The Generalife was the vegetable garden and rural residence of the emirs, known for intelligent use of water from an aqueduct.

The Alhambra and Albayzin are on two adjacent hills, separated by the Darro River. The Albayzin has been continuously occupied since the Arabic period. A residential district that retains its Moorish vernacular architecture, it is a medieval town with narrow streets and small squares, the best illustration of Moorish town planning. It was enhanced by Christian contributions of Spanish Renaissance and Baroque elements.

Historic Center of Évora World Heritage Site (N38o34’ W7o54’) protects the medieval walled city that was undamaged during the 1755 earthquake that devastated other cities. Within the city are 20 centuries of history, but Évora’s golden age was the 15th century, when it was the residence of Portuguese kings. It is the finest example of the architecture of the golden age of Portugal and was the model for the architecture of much of Brazil. Ruins of the royal palace of Évora are in the public gardens. Still visible today are the Roman temple and the Roman aqueduct, the 13th century Cathedral of Évora, and the 15th century Santa Clara convent, São Francisco convent and church (including the Capela dos Ossos, or Chapel of Bones), and São João Evangelista church and Os Lóios Convent. At the Capela dos Ossos, the walls are covered with skulls and bones. The center of town is Giraldo Square. Along the streets are whitewashed houses decorated with tiles (azuelos) and wrought-iron balconies from the 16th to 18th centuries.

Biosphere Reserve

Parque Natural de la Sierra de Grazalema is an International Biosphere Reserve with limestone caverns, high peaks, and rare plants and animals including the endemic Spanish fir and Egyptian vultures. Cork oak and holm oak groves are present. Rainfall in the park is noted as the highest in Spain. White villages within the park include:

  • Zahara de la Sierra (N36o50’ W5o24’), a high elevation town with a view of a reservoir and a castle built in the 13th century by the Moors.
  • Grazalema (N36o46’ W5o22’), a high elevation village built in the Moslem era. It is famous for textiles made from wool. The main square has a church, bars, and restaurants.

Other sites:

Convento do Espinheiro Hotel, Évora, Portugal (N38o36’5” W7o53’20”) dates to 1458 on the site where an apparition of the Virgin Mary was seen above a thorn bush (espinheiro). The facility was visited frequently by Portuguese royalty.

Monsaraz (N38o26’36” W7o22’51”) is a medieval walled town on an isolated mountaintop in eastern Portugal. Dramatic views are possible from the town and the fort. Medieval fortifications enclose a castle and the town and were built in the 12th to 14th centuries. Additional fortifications were added in the 17th century after the restoration of Portuguese independence. The new fortifications were responsive to the invention of firearms. In the former town hall of the municipality of Monsaraz is the Museu do Fresco. The frescoe was discovered in 1958 during renovations to the structure and was located behind a wall. It is believed to date to the 14th century and depicts good and bad government similar to a 1340 painting in Siena, Italy. Also in town is the House of the Inquisition, which contains a museum about Jewish residents prior to the Reconquest.

Olivenza, Extremadura Autonomous Region, Spain (N38o41’ W7o6’) is administered as part of Extremadura but is claimed by Portugal based on treaties dating back to 1297. Although the Guadiana River is the de facto boundary between the two countries, the border is not shown on a Portuguese highway map purchased in Lisbon (Turinta Mapas, Portugal, 1:600.000), suggesting the boundary is in dispute. The town contains Manueline (Portuguese) architecture, and the Church of Santa Maria Magdalena exemplifies this architectural style.

A city since Roman times, Ronda (N36o45’ W5o10’) is the largest of Andalucia’s white villages, with a population of was conquered first by the Berbers in 713 and then by the Christians in 1485. A railroad was completed to the mountain town (elevation 2,460 feet) from Algeciras in 1892 to provide relief from the heat of Gibraltar in the summer. Ernest Hemingway and Orson Welles spent time in the city.

Arab baths at the entrance to city in the river gorge at Ronda (El Tajo) are the best preserved in Spain. The baths are at the confluence of the Culebras Creek with the Guadelevín River, which ensured a reliable water supply. The Arab baths were used as steam baths. It was obligatory for all outsiders visiting the city to use them. The baths were in an area of small shops including potters and tanners.

The Puente Nuevo (New bridge) was completed over the Rio Guadelevín in 1793. It is 390 feet above El Tajo canyon floor. The former town hall is now a hotel adjacent to the bridge.

Plaza de Toros de Ronda is the oldest bull ring in Spain, dating to 1572. The current complex contains a horse-training facility and a museum of bullfighting in addition to the bull ring.

The Museum of Ronda is in Mondragon Palace, which was the palace of Moorish kings after 1314. It exhibits three architectural styles, including a Mudehar-style patio, Castillian-style patio, and Noble Hall, with a flat alfarje ceiling. Exhibits track the archaeological history of the area from caves in the mountains dating to 500,000 years before present through the Late Antiquity period after the Romans.

Hotel Catalonia Reina Victoria, Ronda (N36o44’48” W5o10’10”) was built in 1906 on a cliff overlooking the mountains. It was the residence of the poet and writer Rainer Maria Rilke, who was born in Prague and wrote in the German language on existential themes.


Southwest Iberian Mediterranean sclerophyllous and mixed forests

Southwest Iberian Mediterranean sclerophyllous and mixed forests (PA 1221) are found on the Atlantic coastal strip of southern Portugal and Spain, especially in the Guadiana, Tajo, and Guadalquivir River basins. The most common forest is of cork oaks, mixed with other genera such as Laurus, Arbutus, Erica, and Ilex. Holm oak and holly oak are also common. Scleroophyllous forests typically have evergreen leaves, which are thick and leathery and small to conserve water.

World Heritage Sites within this ecoregion include:

Monastery of Batalha World Heritage Site, Leiria District,Portugal (N39o39’33” W8o49’34”) was constructed at the end of the 14th century. It is considered a masterpiece of Gothic art. King John I built the structure in gratitude for a victory at the battle of Aljubarrota in 1385 over the Castilians, in which King John obtained the throne and independence of Portugal. In the chapel are the tombs of the king and his wife, as well as his sons.

Complex of Belem (Monastery of the Hieronymites and Tower of Belem) World Heritage Site, Lisbon Municipality, Portugal, includes the Tower of Belem (Torre de Belem) and the Jeronimos Monastery (Hieronymites Monastery). Both commemorate Portuguese power in the Age of Discovery in the 15th and 16th centuries. The Tower of Belem (N38o41’30” W9o12’57”) was built on a small island from 1514 to 1520 for defense of the Tagus estuary and is considered an architectural jewel of its time. It commemorates the maritime discoveries of Portugal and is a ceremonial gateway to Lisbon. The nearby Hieronymites Monastery (N38o41’50” W9o12’25”) was built to provide spiritual assistance to seafarers and to pray for the king.

The University of Coimbra World Heritage Site, Coimbra District, Portugal (N40o12’30’ W8o25’30”), includes the hilltop campus and botanical gardens of the university (Alta area), including the hilltop the Royal Palace of Alcazaba (Paco das Escolas or University Palace) and the Joanine Library with baroque décor and documents extending back to medieval times; as well as buildings along Sofia Street (N40o12’44” W8o25’47”) including the 12th century Cathedral of Santa Cruz. As the country’s oldest university (dating from 1290), Coimbra played a key role in the institutional and architectural development of universities throughout the Portuguese colonies. It has outstanding universal value as a university city hilltop location for the Portuguese world encompassing four continents in the colonial era.

Historic Center of Córdoba World Heritage Site, Autonomous Community of Andalusia, Spain, includes the Mosque-Cathedral of Córdoba, the Judería, the Roman Bridge, the Torre de la Calahorra, and Molino de Albolafia (flour mills). Other notable sites are the Sinagoga, Caballerizas Reales (Royal Stables), and Alcazar de los Reyes Christianos (Fortress of Christian Monarchs). This area became urban in Roman times and has subsequently been occupied for thousands of years by Visigoth, Islam, Judaism, and Christian peoples. In the 8th century, 300 mosques, other palaces, and other public buildings were built in the city, and Cordoba was the main urban and cultural focus of the western world.

  • Mosque-Cathedral of Córdoba (N37o52’45” W4o46’45”), or the Great Mosque, is one of the world’s greatest Islamic buildings and the most important monument in the western Islamic world. Construction began in 786 and it was expanded to its current size in 991. Unique features are double arches in the roof, a ribbed vault with intertwined arches, and 856 columns, some recycled from Roman ruins, to hold up the arches. The arches have a distinctive terracotta and white-striped pattern. An intricate mihrab, or prayer niche, faces Mecca. With the conquest of Córdoba in 1236, the mosque was converted into a church. The church is known as the Capilla Mayor, and is a Gothic chapel built completely inside of the mosque in the 15th A Renaissance cathedral was built inside the mosque in the 16th and 17th centuries. Entrance to the Mosque-Cathedral is through the Patio of the Oranges, which has orange trees and fountains.
  • Judería (Jewish Quarter) is to the west and north of the Great Mosque. The narrow cobblestone streets and whitewashed walls are typical of Andalusia. However, there are also the Courtyard Houses of Córdoba, which are distinctive in being communal and built around interior courtyards. This design is believed to be of Roman origin. The Andalusian touch is the hanging flower gardens that adorn the walls of the courtyards, with a fountain in the middle and a well to catch rainwater. Some patios date to the 10th The annual Courtyards Festival in May is a World Heritage Event.
  • Puente Romano (Roman bridge) features 16 arches and its appearance was enhanced by an 8th century Moorish reconstruction. It was featured in the Game of Thrones television series. Today it is a pedestrian-only bridge.
  • Museum Torre de la Calahorra (N37o52’32” W4o46’36”) is in a tower built to protect the Roman bridge and guard the entrance to the city that is noted during the Islamic Period. In 1369, additions were made to make the tower a more effective defensive structure. The museum features exhibits on life in Córdoba during the 10th century when Christians, Muslims, and Jews lived there.
  • Molino de Albolafia includes a water wheel which has been on the city logo since the 13th They are first believed to be built by Romans but are also known to have carried water to the Emir’s palaces in the Islamic period. They were taken out of operation during the Christian reconquest.
  • Sinagoga dates to 1315 and was believed to be a family synagogue.
  • Caballerizas Reales date to 1567.
  • Alcazar de los Reyes Christianos is the palace where Ferdinand and Isabella met Columbus and dates to the 13th and 14th

Cathedral, Alcázar, and Archivo de Indies in Seville World Heritage Site (N37o23’0” W5o59’30”) commemorates three adjacent buildings in Seville, Autonomous Community of Andalusia, Spain. Together, they are an exceptional testimony to the civilization of Islamic and Christian Andalusia. The sites epitomize the Spanish golden age, with vestiges of Islamic culture, Christian ecclesiastical power, royal sovereignty, and trading power.

  • Real Alcázar and Gardens of Sevilla, begun in the 10th century as the palace of the Moslem governor, was reconstructed on the same site by Moorish workers working for the Christian King, Peter the Cruel of Castile, in the 1360s. It is currently used as the Spanish royal family residence when in Seville and is the oldest royal palace in Europe still being used. The palatial buildings and extensive garden display cultural treasures from the Renaissance to Neoclassical periods. It is directly associated with the discovery of the New World and its colonization, for within the Alcazar is Cuarto del Almirante, or Admiral’s Hall, headquarters of the House of Trade with the Americas, where plans for history’s greatest expeditions were made, including Magellan’s circumnavigation of the globe. The Italian Renaissance gardens extend south from the Alcazar. Episodes of the Game of Thrones TV series were filmed at the Alcazar.
  • Jewish Quarter (Santa Cruz district) occupies the city adjacent to the Alcazar. A wall was constructed to separate Jews from the rest of the city following the Reconquest. After 1391, most Jews left after the reconquest persecuted the population of non-Christians.
  • Catedral de Sevilla (Cathedral of St. Mary of the See) is the largest Gothic cathedral (seat of the bishop) in the world and one of the largest churches in the world. It was constructed from 1184 to 1198 as a mosque. Following the reconquest in 1248, the mosque was used as a Cathedral. The Gothic Cathedral was constructed between 1434 and 1517. In the 1500s, Renaissance-period works were added, and in the 1600s Baroque phases were added. Inside the cathedral are several tombs, including that of Christopher Columbus. Giralda Tower on the east wall is the former minaret of the mosque and is now used as the bell tower of the cathedral. It dates to 1195 and is considered a masterpiece of Islamic architecture. The top of the tower can be reached by a walkway of 34 ramps and a final flight of stairs.
  • The General Archive of the Indies dates to 1598 and contains valuable historic documents on the colonization of the Americas. The building is Spanish Renaissance architecture and is between the Cathedral and Alcazar.

The Cultural Landscape of Sintra, Lisbon District, Portugal, is described as “an extraordinary and unique complex of parks, gardens, palaces, country houses, monasteries and castles, which create an architecture that harmonizes with the exotic and overgrown vegetation, creating micro-landscapes of exotic and luxuriant beauty…This syncretism between nature and ancient monuments, villas and quintas [estates] with monasteries and chalets influenced the development of landscape architecture throughout Europe.” (https://whc.unesco.org/en/list/723 ). The following properties are included in the World Heritage site:

  • The Convent of the Capuchos (Arrabalde convent) (N38o47’3” W9o26’17”) was founded in 1374, destroyed in a 1755 earthquake, rebuilt, and abandoned in 1834.
  • The Chalet and Garden of the Countess of Edla (N38o47’6” W9o23’57”) was built as a retreat in the 19th century for King Fernando II and his future wife, the Countess of Edla.
  • The Park and Palace of Montserrate (N38o47’40” W9o25’15”) was built in the 19th century and is considered one of the most beautiful architectural and landscape Romantic properties in Portugal. The Farmyard of Monserrate served the palace of Montserrate and today is managed to reflect the cultural heritage of agriculture in the region.
  • The Moorish Castle (N38o47’33” W9o23’21”) was built in the 8th and 9th
  • The Park and Palace of Pena (N38o47’15” W9o23’25”) are the greatest expression of European Romanticism in Portugal, built by King Ferdinand II in the 19th It is one of the seven wonders of Portugal. The gardens contain 500 tree species. The Pena Farm and Stables were used for carriage rides and contain a hillside planted with tea.
  • The National Palace of Sintra (N38o47’51” W9o23’26”) is in the town center. A grandiose and magnificent palace of the kings of Portugal, it is the best preserved medieval royal residence in Portugal. It was built as a Moorish fort in the 11th century, conquered by Christians in 1147, and improved by various kings from 1281 to the 16th The silhouette has remained the same since the 16th century. The palace retains geometric tiles and arched windows of Moorish era. Distinctive cone-shaped chimneys are visible in the kitchen area. One of the most important features of the national palace is facing with tiles, the finest example on the Iberian Peninsula. Management of the state-owned property is by Parques de Sintra-Monte da Lua, S.A., a non-profit corporation.
  • Other buildings in the World Heritage site are the Palace of Seteais (late 18th /early 19th century), the Regaleira estate (late 17th century), the Town Hall (early 20th century), and 4 churches in Sintra.

International Biosphere Reserve in the ecoregion:

Parque Natural de la Sierra de Grazalema, Cádiz Province, Autonomous Community of Andalusia, Spain, is an International Biosphere Reserve with limestone caverns, high peaks, and rare plants and animals including the endemic Spanish fir and Egyptian vultures. Cork oak and holm oak groves are present. Rainfall in the park is noted as the highest in Spain.  White villages within the park include:

  • Quesos El Bosqueño (N36o45’ E5o31’), an artisan cheese-making factory in the village of El Bosque (the forest), which makes traditional cheeses from goat and sheep milk.
  • Zahara de la Sierra (N36o50’ W5o24’), a high elevation town with a view of a reservoir and a castle built in the 13th century by the Moors.

Other sites in the ecoregion of note include:

Coimbra District, Portugal

Conimbriga Museum and Archaeological Park (N40o5’57” W8o29’37”), Condeixa-a-Nova, Portugal, preserves the remains of a large Roman settlement, which was constructed by the Romans from their arrival in 139 BC until barbarian invasions in 468. It is considered the best-preserved Roman ruin in Portugal.  The walled settlement was served by an aqueduct, baths, and Roman road, which can still be viewed. The Repuxos House (Fountain House) contains a garden with original irrigation system and 500 water jets which are still operational.

Pousada de Coindeixa Coimbra, Condeixa-a-Nova (N40o7’2” W8o29’4”), is a restored building used as a hotel on the site of the 16th century former palace of the Almadas, a noble family.

Evora District, Portugal

Cromeleque dos Almendres (N38o33’27” W8o3’40”) is a double circle of 95 stones erected about 5000 B.C. This makes it 2,000 years older than Stonehenge and the oldest megalithic monument in Europe. The monument is associated with the development of Neolithic communities in Europe. The stones’ flattened side faces the sun, and some have geometric carvings. The stone circles are a short walk from a parking area on a hilltop forested with cork oak trees. The hilltop is the drainage dividing line of the three largest rivers in Portugal, the Tagus, Sado, and Guadiana. The site is accessible from the village of Nossa Senhora de Guadalupe via signed dirt roads. On the drive to the parking area is another marked side trail to the Menhir dos Almendres (N38o33’50” W8o2’54”), a single granite monolith rising 4 meters. A line from the menhir to the stone circle marks sunrise in the summer solstice.

Lisbon District, Portugal

Palace of the Arches (Vila Gale Collection Palacio dos Arcos, Paco de Arcos, Oeiras Municipality, Lisbon District, Portugal), is a hotel built in the 15th century; the king watched ships leaving for India from the balcony. The current hotel is dedicated to Portuguese poetry, with verses from famous poetry on the walls of public areas. Public gardens are adjacent to the palace (N38o41’48” W9o17’21”).

Lisbon Municipality sites include:

  • National Azuelejo (Tile) Museum (N38o43’28” W9o6’50”) displays hundreds of ornate patterns in the rooms of the former Convent of Madre Deus, 1509. The decorative tiles date from the 15th century to the present. Also, ceramics and porcelain are also displayed.
  • The Alfama District (N38o43’ W9o8’) of Lisbon is a former Muslim district with a maze of narrow streets and home of Fado music.
  • Restoration Square (Restauradores) (N38o43’ W9o8’30”) and Baixa District (downtown) including the Santa Justa elevator. The name celebrates the restoration of the independence of Portugal in 1640, after 60 years of having a shared king with Spain.
  • Parque Eduardo VII (N38o43’50” W9o9’17”) provides a panoramic view of Lisbon and the Tejo (Tagos) River from a hill above the city. It was named for an English king who visited in 1902.

Parque Natural Sintra-Cascais is 14,583 ha and includes megalithic monuments, the Guincho-Oitavas dunes, Guincho Beach, Ribafria estate, Ramalhao Palace, the Sanctuary of Peninha, and the Cultural Landscape of Sintra World Heritage Site. It is the westernmost point on the European continent. The Cultural Landscape of Sintra World Heritage Site (see) is within this park. Also, the coastal overlook, rocky coastline, and wildflowers at Cape Raso, Guincho Beach, Cascais Municipality (N38o43’ W9o29’), are part of the park. A view to the north is of Cape Roca, the westernmost point in the European continent.

National Palace and Gardens of Queluz (N38o45’0” W9o15’30”), Sintra Municipality, Lisbon District, Portugal, is a royal residence located west of Lisbon. It is a landmark of both Portuguese architecture and landscape design from the 18th and 19th centuries and includes baroque, rococo, and neoclassical influence. It is sometimes compared with Versailles. The structure was built as a summer palace in 1747 and transferred to state management in 1908. The Queluz Gardens surround the palace on three sides and include a botanical garden, a channel for boat or gondola rides, a maze garden, hanging garden, and Malta garden. Management of the state-owned property is by Parques de Sintra-Monte da Lua, S.A., a non-profit corporation.

Santarém District, Portugal

Campanhia das Lezirias is a state-run farm located at the confluence of the Tagus and Sado Rivers. It is currently 20,000 ha in area and is managed for agriculture (rice), cattle, breeding of Lusitano horses (the oldest saddle horse breed in the world), and forestry.  The farm includes the Estate Monte de Braco de Prata (restaurant, horse sports activity center, and stud farm (N38o52’47” W8o51’45”), the cork oak forest (N38o49’ W8o51’), and the Catapereiro Winery (N38o48’47” W8o52’56”).

Cádiz Province, Andalusia, Spain

Arcos de la Frontera (N36o44’52” W5o48’24”) is dramatically positioned on a rocky cliff above the Guadalete River. There is a tangled labyrinth of cobblestone streets with a castle at the high point. The castle has shields of the Dukes of Arcos on the outside. An overlook and hotel are adjacent to the castle. The town was at the frontier in the 13th century battles with the Moors.

Seville Province, Andalusia, Spain

Hotel Inglaterra, Sevilla, is an 1857 hotel is located on Plaza Nueva (N37o23’20” W5o59’45”), opposite the city hall. It features a rooftop bar with a panoramic view of the city including the cathedral. In the 19th century, monarchs visiting Seville stayed at the Iglaterra Inn. Behind the city hall was a prison that held Cervantes. During his time in jail in 1598 he conceived the idea of Don Quixote, the most influential work of Spanish literature.

Plaza de España, Sevilla (N37o22’35” W5o59’10”), was built for the Ibero-American Exposition of 1929 as a semi-circular brick building in the Renaissance style. It was the location for the filming of movies such as Star Wars and Lawrence of Arabia. Today it offers a park-like setting along the Guadalquivir River.

Great Slave Lake and Queen Maud Gulf

North of the 60th parallel in Northwest Territories and Nunavut Territory, the boreal forests become sparser and grade into tundra vegetation. This post describes four ecoregions located between the 60th and 70th parallels in this region. Muskwa-Slave Lake forests ecoregion was described last month. The Great Slave Lake, the deepest lake in North America at 600 m and the 10th largest in the world (500 km by 225 km), is named after a First Nations people, known as the Slave or Dene. The largest river flowing into the lake is the Slave River, from the south, and the lake drains from its west side by the Mackenzie River, an Arctic Ocean tributary. On the north side of the lake is Yellowknife, the capital of the Northwest Territories.

Low Arctic Tundra

This ecoregion in Nunavut Territory and Northwest Territories consists of shrubby tundra vegetation including willow and heath. It includes much of the area south of Coronation Gulf and Queen Maud Gulf in Nunavut.

Ramsar Site in Low Arctic Tundra

Ahiak Migratory Bird Sanctuary (formerly Queen Maud Gulf MBS) is 6,292,818 ha; this makes it the world’s second largest Ramsar site. The site is managed by the Canadian Wildlife Service, part of Environment and Climate Change Canada, and the Ahiak Co-Management Committee (settlements of Cambridge Bay, Gjoa Haven, and Umingmaktok). The vast flat expanse of tundra meadows and marshes is the nesting ground for 450,000 Ross’s geese, 90 percent of the world’s population. Also 8% of the Canadian population of snow geese nest here. There are about 60 goose colonies, the largest of which is at Karrak Lake, where there is a research station (N67o14’ W100o16’). In addition to research on lesser snow and Ross’s geese, there is also research on Arctic fox (http://www.usask.ca/biology/fox/). Access to the sanctuary requires a permit. Other animals are barren ground caribou (calving ground), musk oxen, wolves, grizzly, and wolverine. Habitats are web meadow, marsh tundra, dry tundra, rock and boulder fields.

National Sites in the Low Arctic Tundra

Bloody Falls National Historic Site and Kugluk/Bloody Falls Territorial Park (N67o45’ W115o22’) is an archaeological site on Coppermine River terraces which records pre-contact hunting and fishing sites. The falls was also the site of the 1771 Bloody Falls Massacre, where Inuit were killed by Chipewayans while on a survey of the Coppermine River.

Thelon River is designated as a Canadian Heritage River between Eyeberry Lake (N63o10’ W104o40’) and Baker Lake (N64o16’ W96o8’). The Thelon is the largest river flowing into Hudson’s Bay, at 900 km in length, and is an unaltered drainage basin. Much of the Heritage River flows through the Thelon Wildlife Sanctuary. The Thelon is an important bird area for Canada geese, greater white-fronted geese, and snow geese.

Territorial and Other Sites in the Low Arctic Tundra

The Back River Volcanic complex is a 2.7-billion-year-old stratovolcanic complex including the Heywood Range (N64o47’W107o50’) and Peacock Hills, roughly bounded by the Back and Contwoyto Rivers, Keish Lake (N65o2’ W108o21’), Regan Lake (N65o5’ W107o48’), Gold Lake (N64o50’ W107o42’), and Jim Magrum Lake (N64o44’ W108o2’) (Villenueve et al., 2001). To the east, the Back River Gold District is a proposed mine complex south of Bathurst Inlet. Open-pit mining would take place near Goose Lake (N65o33’ W106o26’) and George Lake (N65o55’ W107o28’) (Rescan Environmental Services Ltd., 2012). An open-pit diamond mine is located at Lac de Gras (N64o31’ W110o34’) northeast of Yellowknife.

Bathurst Inlet (N67o35’ W108o10’) hosts the Bathurst caribou herd, which was made up of 500,000 individuals in the 1980s, has declined to less than 10,000 today. The cause of the decline and whether it is a natural fluctuation are debated, but the drastic loss in a few years is cause for concern (Government of Northwest Territories, 2019). The topography around the inlet includes sea cliffs used by raptors.

Daring Lake Tundra Ecosystem Research Station (N64o52’ W111o36’) is operated by the government of Northwest Territories to conduct long-term research on the tundra ecosystem, including global change and caribou grazing.

Middle Back River Important Bird Area extends from Pelly Lake (N65o58’ W101o40’) to Lower Garry Lake (N65o53’ W100o0’). It provides nesting habitat for Canada goose, lesser snow goose, and other waterfowl. Molting Canada geese are observed in shoreline grass and sedge habitats. Snow geese breed at Pelly Lake. The Back River was formerly known as Back’s Great Fish River.

Thelon Wildlife Sanctuary is 52,000 km2 in both Nunavut Territory and Northwest Territories and was established in 1927 to protect muskoxen. It is also the calving grounds for the Beverly caribou herd. It extends from Moraine Lake on the Baillie River (N64o10’ W105o55’) on the west to Wharton Lake in the east (N64o4’ W100o0’) and from Dubawnt Lake in the south (N63o10’ W102o5’) to the Back River-Consul River confluence in the north (N65o41’ W102o2’).

Wilburforce Falls on the Hood River (N67o6’ W108o48’) at 49 m is the highest cataract north of the Arctic Circle.

Middle Arctic Tundra

To the north of the Low Arctic Tundra, this ecoregion includes Victoria island and parts of the Kent Peninsula in the Coronation Gulf. Vegetation includes Arctic willow, herbs, and lichens. The Dolphin and Union caribou herd migrate across the straight between Victoria Island and mainland Nunavut. They spend time on Victoria Island for summer grazing and the shoreline from Bathhurst Inlet west to Northwest Territories for winter use (NWT Species at Risk, 2019; Torney et al., 2018).

Territorial and Other Sites in the Middle Arctic Tundra

Ovayok Territorial Park (N69o10’ W104o43’) includes a prominent esker rising to 210 m east of Cambridge Bay. The park is known for sitings of muskox.

Jenny Lind Island (Qikiqtaryuaq Island) (N68o42’ W102o0’) is a low-lying island with low lying wetlands, and is an Important Bird Area for nesting snow geese and Ross’ geese.

Walker Bay Research Station (N68o21’ W108o6’) is on the Kent Peninsula south of the Augustus River. Research on lemmings, a keystone prey for Arctic fox, snowy owl, weasel, and jaegers is conducted here. The longest record of lemming dynamics and habitat use in the Canadian Arctic has been compiled here (Dupuch et al. 2014).

Northern Canadian Shield Taiga

This area is mostly in the Northwest Territories south of the limits of tree growth. It is east of Great Bear Lake and north and east of Great Slave Lake. Vegetation is stunted black spruce and tamarack, with a ground cover of dwarf birch and ericaceous shrubs. Sedges and sphagnum moss are also common.

National Sites in the Northern Canadian Shield Taiga

Kazan River is designated as a Canadian Heritage River from Ennadai Lake (N61o15’ W100o57’) to Baker Lake (N64o2’ W95o29’). Three waterfalls are present between Angikuni Lake (N62o15’ W100o0’) and Yathkyed Lake (N62o43’ W97o55’). Further downstream is Kazan Falls and gorge. Muskoxen are commonly seen by canoeists.

Fort Reliance National Historic Site (N62o47’ W108o56’) is at the northeastern end of Great Slave Lake at the mouth of the Lockhart River. This was a Hudson’s Bay Company Fort and trading post dating to 1855. The remains of 4 fireplaces and chimneys are at the site.

Thelon River is designated as a Canadian Heritage River between Eyeberry Lake (N63o10’ W104o40’) and Baker Lake (N64o16’ W96o8’). The Thelon is the largest river flowing into Hudson’s Bay, at 900 km in length, and is an unaltered drainage basin. The Thelon is an important bird area for Canada geese, greater white-fronted geese, and snow geese.

Territorial and Other Sites in the Northern Canadian Shield Taiga

Fort Confidence (N66o53’ W119o3’) was a Hudson’s Bay Company post at Dease Arm of Great Bear Lake from 1837 to 1848. The remains of stone and clay chimneys are still present.

Nicholson Lake Impact Crater (N62o40’ W102o41’) is 12 km in diameter, on the Dubawnt River, and dates to 400 million years ago. It contains a large island in its center.

North Arm, Great Slave Lake, Important Bird Area (N62o34’ W115o14) is a staging area for spring-migrating waterfowl, including Canada geese, scaup, pintail, tundra swan, gulls and terns.

Pilot Lake Impact Crater (N60o17’ W111o1’) is 6 km in diameter and dates to 445 million years ago. It is northeast of Fort Smith and stands out prominently as a circular lake in an area where most are irregularly shaped.

Old Fort Providence (N62o17’ W114o6’) is on Wool Bay on Great Slave Lake, southeast of Yellowknife. This was the site of an early trading post on the lake, dating to 1786, established by the North West Company. The remains of 4 buildings are spread over 1 ha.

Port Radium (N66o5’ W118o2’), on Great Bear Lake, was the site of a mine producing uranium, pitchblende, and silver from 1930-1982. Radioactive mine tailings were cleaned up in 2007.

Thelon Wildlife Sanctuary is 52,000 km2 and was established in 1927 to protect muskoxen. It is also the calving grounds for the Beverly caribou herd. It extends from Moraine Lake on the Baillie River (N64o10’ W105o55’) on the west to Wharton Lake in the east (N64o4’ W100o0’) and from Dubawnt Lake in the south (N63o10’ W102o5’) to the Back River-Consul River confluence in the north (N65o41’ W102o2’).

Park on Route 3 (Yellowknife Highway)

Fred Henne Territorial Park (N62o28’ W114o25’) is at km 335 on Route 3 adjacent to Yellowknife. It includes the 4-km Prospector’s Trail.

Parks on Route 4 (Ingraham Trail)

Yellowknife River Territorial Park (N62o31’ W114o19’) is east of Yellowknife at km 8 on Route 4.

Prosperous Lake Territorial Park (N62o32’ W114o9’) is at km 20 on Route 4.

Madeline Lake Territorial Park (N62o33’ W114o4’) is on Route 4 at km 24. There is a canoe launch on the lake.

Pontoon Lake Territorial Park (N62o33’ W114o2’) is at km 26 on Route 4.

Prelude Lake Territorial Park (N62o34’ W113o59’) is at km 28 on Route 4.

Powder Point Territorial Park (N62o31’ W113o44’) is at km 44 on Route 4, overlooking Prelude Lake.

Hidden Lake Territorial Park (N62o33’ W113o39’) is a 3,000-ha park on Route 4 at km 46. It includes Cameron Falls.

Cameron River Crossing Territorial Park (N62o30’ W113o33’) is on Route 4 at km 55. It includes Ramparts Waterfall.

Reid Lake Territorial Park (N62o29’ W113o28’) is on Route 4 at km 59 near the Cameron River.

Northwest Territories Taiga

This ecoregion is west of Great Slave Lake, extending north to Great Bear Lake, and includes open stunted black spruce with dwarf birch, Labrador tea, and willow.

National Sites in the Northwest Territories Taiga

Edehzhie Dehcho Protected Area and National Wildlife Area (N62o W118o) is 1,425,000 ha, including the Horn Plateau west of Great Slave Lake and Mills Lake area along the Mackenzie River. The expansive area of boreal forests and wetlands is jointly managed by the Dehcho First Nations and the Canadian Wildlife Service, part of Environment and Climate Change Canada. Wildlife includes caribou, moose, and wolves.

Territorial Sites in the Northwest Territories Taiga

Mackenzie Bison Sanctuary is bordered by Great Slave Lake on the east and Route 3 (Frontier Highway) on the west for 50 miles; it is on the north side of the Mackenzie River ferry. On Frontier Highway, km 24 is Mackenzie River and km 26 is the bison sanctuary boundary. The Mackenzie population of wood bison descended from a population of 18 individuals released north of Fort Providence in 1963. Numbers currently fluctuate between 500 and 2,000. In recent years the population has suffered from anthrax outbreaks. In addition, lakes are expanding in area due to climate change. The resulting landscape flooding is reducing their habitat (Korosi et al., 2017). Chan Lake Territorial Park (N61o54’ W116o32’) is at km 124 on Route 3 at the north end of the Mackenzie Bison Sanctuary.

Martin Lake (Lac La Martre) (N63o21’ W117o58’) is the third largest lake in the Northwest Territories and is noted as a migratory bird staging area.

North Arm Territorial Park (N62o43’ W116o5’) is on Route 3, km 232, at Great Slave Lake.


Dupuch, Angelique et al. 2014. Landscapes of fear or competition? Predation did not alter habitat choice by Arctic rodents. Oecologia 174:403-412 (DOI:10.1007/s00442-013-2792-7).

Korisi, Jennifer B.  et al. 2017. Broad-scale lake expansion and flooding inundates essential wood bison habitat. Nature Communications 8:14510 (10.1038/ncomms14510).

Northwest Territories Government, Environment and Natural Resources. 2019. Barren-Ground Caribou. https://www.enr.gov.nt.ca/en/services/barren-ground-caribou (accessed February 23, 2019).

NWT Species at Risk. Dolphin and Union Caribou. https://www.nwtspeciesatrisk.ca/species/dolphin-and-union-caribou (accessed February 23, 2019).

Rescan Environmental Services, Ltd. 2012. The Back River Project, Project Description. Prepared forSabina Gold and SilverCorporation. Accessed February 10, 2019, at https://backriverproject.com/about/.

Thelon: https://www.gov.nu.ca/sites/default/files/ED_Thelon_ENG.pdf

Torney, Collin J. et al. 2018. Inferring the rules of social interaction in migrating caribou. Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society B 373:20170385 (DOI: 10.1098/rsstb.2017.0385)

Villenueve, Mike, et al. 2001. Geochronology of the Back River volcanic complex, Nunavut-Northwest Territories. Geological Survey of Canada Current Research 2001-F2. Accessed February 10, 2019 at http://publications.gc.ca/collections/Collection/M44-2001-F2E.pdf.


Muskwa-Slave Lake Forests, Part 2

Muskwa-Slave Lake forests, Part 2

This ecoregion is in northern Alberta, British Columbia, and Northwest Territories and includes the area to the south of Great Slave Lake. Sites in Alberta and British Columbia were described in a previous post. Vegetation consists of closed stands of quaking aspen, spruce, and balsam fir with lesser amounts of balsam poplar and black spruce. Sporadic permafrost, wetlands, and bogs cover up to one-half of the land. The ecoregion supports large-scale mammal migrations.

The Great Slave Lake, the deepest lake in North America at 600 m and the 10th largest in the world (500 km by 225 km), is named after a First Nations people, known as the Slave or Dene. The largest river flowing into the lake is the Slave River, from the south, and the lake drains from its west side by the Mackenzie River, an Arctic Ocean tributary.

World Heritage Sites in Muskwa-Slave Lake Forests:

Wood Buffalo National Park, the largest national park in Canada at 44.8 million ha, is in Alberta and Northwest Territories. Established to protect the last remaining herds of the wood bison subspecies, it was later found to be the only remaining nesting ground of the whooping crane. Vegetation is the largest undisturbed grass and sedge meadows in North America, with a patterned landscape of muskeg, shallow lakes, coniferous and mixed forest. The park is also a Dark Sky Preserve.

Wood bison calving grounds are in the Peace-Athabasca Delta (N58ᵒ50’ W112ᵒ0’) and in the Darrow Creek meadows area (N59ᵒ25’ W111ᵒ37’) of the park, both in the eastern areas of the park. Wood bison are North America’s largest land mammal. In this park, the predator-prey relationship between wolves and wood bison has continued, unbroken, over time. The whooping crane nesting grounds (N60ᵒ15’ W113ᵒ15’), a Key Biodiversity Area and Important Bird Area, are in the northeastern portion of the park. Extensive salt plains (N59ᵒ50’ W112ᵒ10’) are accessible from Route 5. Wood Buffalo National Park contains the finest example of gypsum karst in North America (N60ᵒ20’ W114ᵒ15’). Other park sites are the Birch River (N58ᵒ15’ W113ᵒ25’), Garden River (N58ᵒ43’ W113ᵒ48’), Peace Point (N59ᵒ8’ W112ᵒ27’), Buffalo Lake (N60ᵒ15’ W115ᵒ20’) and an area of upland tundra (N59ᵒ35’ W114ᵒ50’).

Ramsar Sites in Muskwa-Slave Lake Forests

Peace-Athabasca Delta (N58˚50’ W112˚0’), within Wood Buffalo National Park, is the largest freshwater delta in the world’s boreal forests, spanning 3 river deltas (Athabasca, Birch, and Peace) and four large freshwater lakes. An Important Bird Area and Key Biodiversity Area, the delta is one of the most important nesting, resting and feeding areas for waterfowl in North America, and is also a wood bison calving ground. Vegetation is open grass and sedge meadows. The delta provides thousands of miles of shoreline for nesting waterfowl from all four flyways. Breeding species include Canada goose, mallard, gadwall, American wigeon, northern pintail, green-winged teal, blue-winged teal, northern shoveler, canvasback, whooping crane, bald eagle, and osprey.

Whooping Crane Summer Range (N60ᵒ15’ W113ᵒ15’), is within Wood Buffalo National Park and is the only remaining nesting area for whooping crane. The thousands of marshes, shallow ponds, streams, lakes, and bogs within this area provide habitat at the northern limit of boreal forest. It is an important Bird Area and Key Biodiversity Area.

National Sites

Edehzhie Dehcho Protected Area and National Wildlife Area (N62o W118o) is 1,425,000 ha, including the Horn Plateau west of Great Slave Lake and Mills Lake area along the Mackenzie River. The expansive area of boreal forests and wetlands is jointly managed by the Dehcho First Nations and the Canadian Wildlife Service, part of Environment and Climate Change Canada. Wildlife includes caribou, moose, and wolves. Mills Lake Important Bird Area (N61o27’ W118o17’) is a widening of the Mackenzie River near the confluence with the Horn River. It is an important September-October migration stop for greater white-fronted geese, tundra swan, snow geese, Canada geese, ducks, and coots.

Fort Resolution National Historic Site (N61o10’ W113o45’) is the site of the oldest trading post in the Northwest Territories, dating to 1819. The site is on a peninsula on the Great Slave Lake near the present-day town of the same name. No remains are present.

Hay River Missions National Historic Site (N60o52’ W115o44’) is on the right bank (facing downriver) of the Hay River at its confluence with Great Slave Lake. The site is the half-way point of a 2,500-mile waterway between Athabasca Landing north of Edmonton and the Arctic Ocean. In 1868, Hudson’s Bay Company opened a fur trading post and Catholic mission at the site. Between 1893 and 1937, an Indian residential school was on the site. In 1909, St. Peter’s Anglican Church was constructed at one end of the settlement, and in 1940, St. Anne’s Roman Catholic Church was constructed at the other end. The national historic site consists of the two churches, remains of a rectory, associated cemeteries, and spirit houses. Together, these represent a cultural landscape that commemorates decades of interaction between K’atl’odeechee First Nation and settler populations.

Territorial and other sites

Beaver Lake Important Bird Area (N61o7’ W117o12’) is a wide part of the Mackenzie River at the west end of Great Slave Lake. It is important for tundra swans.

South Shore Great Slave Lake Important Bird Area extends along the shoreline from the Slave River Delta (N61o18’ W113o38’) to Taltson River (N61o26’ W112o48’). It is an important spring and fall migration stop for tundra swans, snow geese, ducks, and Canada geese.

Parks on Route 1 (Mackenzie Highway)

60th Parallel Territorial Park (N60o0’ W116o59’) is at the Alberta Border on Route 1 and serves as a visitor center for traffic entering the Northwest Territories. There are overlooks of the Hay River.

Twin Falls Territorial Park (N60o31’ W116o3’) includes a trail to both Alexander and Louise Falls, on Hay River south of Enterprise at km 72 on Route 1.

McNallie Creek Territorial Park (N60o47’ W116o35’) is north of Enterprise at km 120 on Route 1 and includes a 17-m waterfall.

Lady Evelyn Falls Territorial Park (N60o58’ W117o20’) is on Route 1 at km 167. The falls are on the Kakisa River south of Route 1.

Kakisa River Territorial Park (N61o0’ W117o20’) is on Route 1, km 169, and includes a trail to Lady Evelyn Falls.

Sambaa Deh Falls Territorial Park (N61o9’ W119o51’) is on Route 1, km 325, at the Trout River. The park includes two waterfalls and is noted for coral fossils.

Park on Route 2 (Great Slave Route)

Hay River Territorial Park (N60o52’ W113o44’) is at the mouth of Hay River off Route 2, km 46, at Vale Island.

Parks on Route 3 (Yellowknife Highway)

Dory Point Territorial Park (N61o15’ W117o29’) is on Route 3, km 21, at the Mackenzie River.

Fort Providence Territorial Park (N61o20’ W117o37’) is at Fort Providence on the north side of the McKenzie River, Route 3 km 33.

Mackenzie Bison Sanctuary is bordered by Great Slave Lake on the east and Route 3 (Frontier Highway) on the west for 50 miles; it begins on the north side of Mackenzie River bridge; km 26 is the bison sanctuary boundary. The Mackenzie population of wood bison descended from a population of 18 individuals released north of Fort Providence in 1963. Numbers currently fluctuate between 500 and 2,000. In recent years the population has suffered from anthrax outbreaks. In addition, lakes are expanding in area due to climate change. The resulting landscape flooding is reducing their habitat (Korosi et al., 2017).

Parks on Route 5 (Fort Smith Highway)

Little Buffalo River Falls Territorial Park (N60o2’ W112o42’) is west of Fort Smith at km 215 on Route 5.

Queen Elizabeth Territorial Park (N60o1’ W111o55’) is in Fort Smith at km 261 on Route 5, and includes views of the Slave River and white pelican colonies.

Fort Smith Mission Territorial Park (N60o0’ W111o53’) is in the center of town at 25 Mercredi Avenue. It was briefly the capital of the Northwest Territories and includes the remaining buildings and a grotto from Oblate Catholic Mission.

Park on Route 6 (Fort Resolution Highway)

Little Buffalo River Crossing Territorial Park (N61o0’ W113o46’) is at km 67 on Route 6 south of Fort Resolution.


Korisi, Jennifer B.  et al. 2017. Broad-scale lake expansion and flooding inundates essential wood bison habitat. Nature Communications 8:14510 (DOI: 10.1038/ncomms14510).


Budd, Knox, and Sabrina Coasts

East Antarctic Tundra Ecoregion

The Budd, Knox, and Sabrina Coasts of East Antarctica were first reported by the U.S. Exploring Expedition in 1840. They are all part of Wilkes Land, named for the officer in charge of the expedition. From west to east, the Knox Coast extends from Cape Hordern (S66o15’ E100o31’), to the Hatch Islands (S66o32’ E109o16’), the Budd Coast extends from the Hatch Islands to Cape Waldron (S66o34’ E115o33’), and the Sabrina Coast extends from Cape Waldron to Cape Southard (S66o E122o3’). Cape Poinsett (S65o46’ E113o13’), Cape Folger (S66o8’ E110o44’), and Cape Nutt (S66o38’ E108o12’) were first observed by the US Exploring Expedition. With the exception of the Antarctic Peninsula in West Antarctica, Cape Poinsett is the furthest north point of continental Antarctica. Inland of these points, the East Antarctic Ice Sheet in Wilkes Land reaches elevations of 6,000 to 9,500 feet above sea level.

Up until recently, the East Antarctic Ice Sheet at Wilkes Land has been assumed to be the most stable part of Antarctica and the least likely to melt with global warming. The glaciers discharging in Wilkes Land were thought to be grounded at bedrock and isolated from warm ocean water currents. Recent research suggests this assumption is wrong.

In this map area, the majority of glaciers with ocean termini retreated between 2000 and 2012. Wilkes Land overlies a large subglacial basin which is connected to the sea. Miles, Stokes, and Jamieson (2016) suggest that the glacial retreat is related to a reduction in sea ice, which increases the incursion of warm deep water toward the glacier terminus. If this is the cause of the retreat, it is likely that ice loss from Wilkes Land would be a major contribution to sea level rise.

Greene et al. (2017) and Rintoul et al. (2016) studied the Totten Glacier (S67o0’ E116o20’) on the Sabrina Coast and found that glacial retreat is due to incursion of warm water to the grounding line of the glacier. This is the point where the glacier transitions to an ice shelf. Rintoul et al. (2016) found that a deep trough is allowing the warm water to reach the glacier under the sea ice. Greene et al. (2017) found another mechanism, increased wind, could also allow warm water to reach the grounding line. Atmospheric carbon dioxide increases will cause surface winds to intensify around Antarctica. Increased wind on the ocean surface would cause warm deep water to upwell, surmount the continental shelf, and melt the ice from below. This appears to be happening to the Totten Glacier and is a cause for concern because the glacier drains a vast basin, most of which is below sea level. Thus, Totten Glacier is believed subject to rapid collapse, potentially causing a sea level rise worldwide of 3.5 m.

The ice cap at Law Dome (S66o44’ E112o50’) on the Budd Coast rises to 1,395 m in elevation and has been the subject of climate research for several decades. Recently, it was determined that when Western Australia suffers a drought, Law Dome experiences heavy snowfall. The pattern is so intense that it is outside the range of natural variation observed for the area in the last 750 years (van Ommen and Morgan, 2010; Berardelli, 2010). Cores from the ice cap have been useful in studying atmospheric carbon dioxide levels because the heavy snowfall allows delineation of individual yearly layers. Data from the ice cores indicates that preindustrial carbon dioxide levels going back to 1006 ACE ranged from 275 to 284 ppm, with lower levels between 1550 and 1800 A.D.  (Etheridge et al., 1998). Studies of methanesulfonic acid as a proxy for biological activity indicate that there has been a 20% decline in sea ice extent in East Antarctica since 1950; before 1950, sea ice was routinely 1 degree of latitude further north in extent (Curran et al., 2003; Wolff, 2003).

Australia’s Casey Station (S66o17’ E110o32’) is located in the Windmill Island area and used for scientific research on bedrock geology and structure of the East Antarctic ice sheet, ocean acidification, Adelie penguins, and moss beds (http://www.antarctica.gov.au/living-and-working/stations/casey).

On the Budd Coast in the Windmill Islands area are four specially protected areas.

Antarctic Specially Protected Area (ASPA) 103: Ardery Island (S66o22’ E110o27’) and Odbert Island (S66o22’ E110o32’) protect breeding colonies of four species of fulmarine petrels, Antarctic petrel, southern fulmar, cape petrel, and snow petrel. These birds typically nest on cliffs. Other breeding bird populations are Wilson’s storm petrel and Antarctic skua. On Odbert Island is a breeding population of Adelie penguins. Vegetation is moss, lichen, and algae. The 244-ha site is an Important Bird Area.

ASPA 135: Northeast Bailey Peninsula (S66o17’ E110o32’) is the most important botanical sites in Antarctica, used for scientific reference studies. The 28-ha site is just to the east of Casey Station. The low rounded ice-free rocky outcrops include three extensive moss fields, lichens, bryophytes, algae, and fungi.

ASPA 136: Clark Peninsula (S66o15’ E110o36’) is 940 ha noted for its extensive floral community and significant breeding populations of Adelie penguins and south polar skuas. Flora includes lichen, moss, bryophyte, algae, and cyanobacteria.

ASPA 160: Frazier Islands include three small islands with a total area of 60 ha. In combination, the three islands provide the largest known breeding colony of the southern giant petrel. Also breeding on Nelly Island (S66o14’ E110o11’) are snow petrel, cape petrel, Antarctic petrel, Wilson’s storm petrel, southern fulmar, and South Polar skua. On Dewart Island (S66o14’ E110o10’), the cape petrel also breeds. Charlton Island (S66o13’ E110o9’) is the smallest of the islands in the protected area.

On the Knox Coast is the Bunger Hills area with two historic sites. The Bunger Hills are generally ice-free. Historic Site and Monument 10: Soviet Oasis Station Observatory (S66o16’ E100o45’) is a magnetic observatory building from 1956. HSM 49: Bungar Hill Pillar (S66o16’ E100o45’) is a concrete monument established by the first Polish Antarctic expedition in 1959, which measured acceleration due to gravity.


Berardelli, Phil. 2010. Australia, Antarctica Linked by Climate. https://www.sciencemag.org/news/2010/02/australia-antarctica-linked-climate (accessed January 19, 2019).

Curran, Mark A.J. et al. 2003. Ice Core Evidence for Antarctic Sea ice Decline Since the 1950s. Science 302:1203-1206. (DOI: 10.1126/science.1087888).

Etheridge, D.M. et al. 1998. Historical CO2 records from the Law Dome DE08, DE08-2, and DSS ice cores. In Trends: A Compendium of Data on Global Change. Carbon Dioxide Information Analysis Center, Oak Ridge National Laboratory.

Greene, Chad A. et al. 2017. Wind causes Totten Ice Shelf melt and acceleration. Science Advances 3:e1701681. (DOI: 10.1126/sciadv.1701681).

Management Plan for Antarctic Specially Protected Area 103: Ardery Island and Odbert Island, Budd Coast, Wilkes Land, East Antarctica. Final Report of the Thirty-Sixth Antarctic Treaty Consultative Meeting, Volume II, 2015. https://www.ats.aq/devPH/apa/ep_protected_search.aspx?type=2&lang=e (accessed January 18, 2019).

Management Plan for Antarctic Specially Protected Area 135: North-east Bailey Peninsula, Budd Coast, Wilkes Land. Final Report of the Thirty-Sixth Antarctic Treaty Consultative meeting, Volume II, 2015. https://www.ats.aq/devPH/apa/ep_protected_search.aspx?type=2&lang=e (accessed January 18, 2019).

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Miles, Bertie W.J., Chris R. Stokes, and Stewart S.R. Jamieson. 2016. Pan-ice-sheet glacier terminus change in East Antarctica reveals sensitivity of Wilkes Land to sea-ice changes. Science Advances 2:e1501350 (DOI: 10.1126/sciadv.1501350).

Rintoul, Stephen Rich et al. 2016. Ocean heat drives rapid basal melt of the Totten Ice Shelf. Science Advances 2:e1601610 (DOI: 10.1126/sciadv.161610).

Van Ommen, Tas D. and Vin Morgan. 2010. Snowfall increase in coastal East Antarctica linked with southwest Western Australian drought. Nature Geoscience 3:267-272 (DOI: 10.1038/ngeo761).

Wolff, Eric W. 2003. Whither Antarctic Sea Ice? Science 302:1164 (DOI: 10.1126/science.1090004).


East Siberian Taiga

Central Siberian Plateau: Tunguska, Siberian Traps, and Kraton-3

Location: Irkutsk, Krasnoyarsk, Sakha Republic

This map area is almost completely in the East Siberian Taiga ecoregion, with small areas in the northwest grading into the Taimyr-Central Siberian tundra. The taiga is characterized by larch forests but without large bogs or swamps. On maps this taiga ecoregion occupies the Central Siberian Plateau because of its hillier terrain. It is the most extensive natural forest in the world, but, as seen below, portions have been impacted by natural and man-made activities in the last 100 or so years.

Tunguska Explosion

On June 30, 1908, an explosion over today’s Tunguska Nature Reserve left thousands of trees charred over a 2000-km2 area. The most common explanation for the explosion has been that it was an asteroid or meteorite entry into the atmosphere. However, there is no crater or meteorite debris. One possibility is a natural gas explosion from the abundant resources in the area (Anonymous, 2002) If it was a meteorite, it is possible that heat from an exploding meteorite burned up all the meteorite fragments (2). The explosion coordinates (N60⁰55’ E101⁰57’*), are north of Vanavara and the Stony Tunguska River.

A meteorite would have been about 6 km high and 50-60 m in diameter when it exploded. Underneath the blast, the trees were incinerated but left standing. At 5 to 15 km, trees were blown over with the tops pointing away from the blast. Witnesses in the towns of Kirensk (400 km away) and Vanavara (40 km south) saw a fireball. A hot wind was reported blowing from the north. Russian researchers later found tiny stony particles embedded in trees (Anonymous, 1996; Hartmann, 2018).

A meteorite fall of this size would have injected up to 30 million tons of nitric oxide (NO) into the stratosphere and mesosphere. This would have affected the ozone layer. Turco et al. (1981) found evidence from the Smithsonian Astrophysical Observatory Records that ozone was recovering between 1909 and 1911 from a low in 1908. Ganapathy (1983) found evidence that metallic spheres in the Tunguska area were enriched in iridium, an extraterrestrial signature of impacts.

Lake Cheko (N60o58’ E101o52’) has been investigated as a possible impact crater and found to be potentially caused by an impact (University of Bologna, 2018), but recent studies of the sediment age in the lake suggest it is older than 1908, according to Sputnik News (2017). Also, other fragments should be nearby, and rocks in the area would show trauma if there had been an impact (MacMillan 2008).

The site of the Tunguska Explosion is protected as the Tunguska Nature Reserve (Zapovednik), a 296,000-ha area surrounding the affected site (N60o44’ E101o58’).

Siberian Traps and Devonian-Permian Extinctions

The Central Siberian Plateau landform is made up of volcanic material known as flood basalt. When large-scale volcanic eruptions took place to create these basalts, they created what are known as large igneous provinces (LIPs) or traps. The Central Siberian Plateau is made up of two LIPs, one in the Sakha Republic area and one in the Krasnoyarsk Krai area. The Yukutsk-Vilyuy LIP was formed at the end of the Devonian Period (359 million years ago) (Ivanov et al., 2015). This date is associated with an end-Devonian mass extinction of sea life, where up to 87 % of species went extinct. However, the Devonian is also the time when land plants evolved vascular features and seeds. During this time, the first forests spread across the land. It is possible that this vegetation of the earth could also have led to the mass extinctions in the sea because as the plants colonized new habitats, more nutrients could have been released from the soil and the water could have been muddied. Vast algal blooms would live off the additional nutrients and cause anoxia in the oceans and cooling worldwide as levels of carbon dioxide were reduced. The end-Devonian mass extinction was a re-setting of life on Earth, allowing new animal types to evolve in the following periods, the Carboniferous and Permian. The Yukutsk-Vilyuy LIP is associated with a chain of kimberlite fields (diamond mines) that stretches nearly 1,000 km in a southwest to northeast direction across this part of Siberia (Kravchinsky et al., 2002).

The second LIP is associated with the end of the Permian Period, approximately 250 million years ago (Campbell et al., 1992). This is called the Siberian traps and is the largest known LIP. The date of the Siberian traps coincides with the Earth’s most catastrophic mass extinction at the end of the Permian period (Reichow et al., 2004). At this time, volcanism released large masses of sulfate aerosols, chlorine, fluorine, and carbon dioxide in a short period, as little as 60,000 years, triggering warming. The chlorine and fluorine would have damaged the ozone layer. It is believed that curtailment of photosynthesis from global dimming led to rapid carbon dioxide buildup, warming, and shallow water anoxia (Saunders and Reichow, 2009). The extra carbon dioxide from the Siberian traps dissolved in the oceans, harming creatures that create calcium carbonate shells. On land, there was a collapse of land plants. The collapse was so severe that there are virtually no coal deposits known from the early Triassic period. The end-Permian extinction could have been a cascading series of events that affected the entire biosphere (Sutherland, 2016). Initially, the volcanic eruptions released enough carbon dioxide to cause a 10o to 15oC tropical warming. This resulted in unbearably hot temperatures on land; organisms were also likely affected by ultraviolet radiation from a collapsed ozone shield. The marine extinction was most severe at high latitudes and its severe effects were likely due to hypoxia, or deoxygenation of the oceans. Organisms at tropical latitudes were preadapted to tolerate low oxygen and high temperatures, and thus were better able to survive the global warming (Kump, 2018; Penn et al., 2018).

‘Peaceful’ Nuclear Explosions

Between 1974 and 1987, 11 underground nuclear tests were conducted in the Vilyuy region. Two of the 11 had above-ground fallout (Crate, 1996). At least 7 explosions were conducted in the Neva area (N61o30’ E113o0’) southwest of Mirnyy between 1976 and 1987. These explosions were aimed at stimulating oil production from the bedrock of the area and were considered successful (Nordyke, 2000). The Krystall explosion near Udachnyy (N66o25’ E112o22’) in 1974 was aimed at creating a dam for the tailings pond at the diamond mine near the Daldyn River. Radiation leaked from this explosion and today levels of radiation are 5 times natural background levels (Yakovleva, Alabaster,and Petrova, 2000). The Kratom-3 explosion (N65o56’ E112o20’), which took place on August 24, 1978, was adjacent to the Markha River east of Aykhal (Artamonova, Kozhevnikov, and Antonov, 2018). It was part of a deep seismic testing program to study the crustal structure of the earth. The explosion resulted in a radioactive release during a drizzling rain. The radionuclides contaminated the soil and the larch forest exposed to the cloud was killed. Rehabilitation operations were conducted three years after the explosion and in 2007. The site remains contaminated with strontium-90, cesium-137, and plutonium 238-240, which are present in plants, forest cover, and soil. About 200 m away from ground zero, the plutonium concentration is higher than at Chernobyl (Goryachenkova et al., 2017; Ramzaev, 2009). A long-term effect of this activity has been permafrost degradation, perhaps through flow of heat through the rocks over time (Artamonova, Kozhevnikov, and Antonov, 2013).

Birds and Diamonds

Murukta Depression (N67o43’ E102o20’) is a 315,105-ha Important Bird Area in Evenkiysky District of Krasnoyarsk. The area contains numerous small lakes and marshes adjacent to the Kotuy River. Nearby Lake Yessey (N68o25’ E102o25’) is known for an endangered species (IUCN Red List) of char which is endemic to four lakes in the Taymyr area (Devi and Boguskaya, 2009).

Vilyuy Dam (N63o2’ E112o28) is located on the Vilyuy River and creates a 280-mile-long lake. It supplies electricity to diamond mines at Mir (N62o32’ E114o0’), Aykhal (N65o56’ E111o30’), and Udachny (N66o26’ E112o19’). A diamond mine is also at Nyurba (N63o17’ E118o20’). These mines include large open-pit areas and may include underground components. Unintended environmental consequences have included pollution of many of the rivers in the area with heavy metals, and the hydrologic dam has disrupted river flows (Crate, 1996; Yakovleva, Alabaster,and Petrova, 2000).

Lensk (N60o44’ E114o35’), on the Lena River, is near a cave with an 82’ waterfall and underground lake.

Although transportation is limited in summer months, winter ice roads connect Lensk, Mirny, and Udachny in the Sakha Republic and Tura in Krasnoyarsk Krai.

* All coordinates are approximate.



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