What Is the Human Impact on the Tundra?

Human impact on the tundra has generally not been a positive one. Because the tundra is such a delicate environment, even the slightest change in conditions can threaten the entire biome. Recent human activities have largely undermined the habitat of the indigenous wildlife through pollution and overdevelopment.

Snow-covered tundra
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Snow covered tundra

Hunting

Herd of musk oxen
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Musk oxen

The overhunting of endangered species in the early 1900s resulted in the eradication of animals such as the musk oxen in the Alaskan tundra, which sailors coveted for the food and clothing it offered. Eventually, governments began to recognize the issue and responded by enacting laws to protect the tundra animals. Because of this, musk oxen and caribou numbers are slowly rising again in places such as Canada where they were once close to extinction.

Global Warming

Stream flowing through snow
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Rising temperatures will melt glaciers and permafrost, flood the surrounding areas and kill the delicate plant species

Global warming will continue to have an inevitable effect on the tundra, the world's most fragile biome. Rising temperatures will melt glaciers and permafrost, flood the surrounding areas and kill the delicate plant species.

Oil Drilling

International Ice Patrol Searches Atlantic For Icebergs
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A tugboat tows an iceberg off a possible collision course with an oil drilling platform

Oil drilling pollutes the water, land and air surrounding the tundra. Russia's nickel mines serve as a vivid example of the effect that oil drilling can have on the habitat. Many plants and animals have either been killed or have permanently fled the area after the area became contaminated by the harmful gases and materials released during drilling.

Overdevelopment

White cottongrass on Arctic tundra
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Fragile plant life in the tundra

Building roads and structures in the tundra has attracted much more human traffic to an area where merely stepping on the fragile plant species can kill them. Without plants to contain the soil, the earth quickly erodes and threatens to destroy the entire biome.

Pollution

Rusting barrels polluting Arctic tundra
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Rusting oil barrels in the tundra

Air pollution leads to the release of chlorofluorocarbons, which deplete the ozone layer and expose the tundra to harmful ultraviolet rays. Pollution particles, gathering in thick clouds, can also be absorbed by the plant life, contaminating the food source for animals in the region.