Arctic Cordillera Ecozone

No! There's the land. (Have you seen it?)
It's the cussedest land that I know,
From the big, dizzy mountains that screen it
To the deep, deathlike valleys below.
Some say God was tired when He made it;
Some say it's a fine land to shun;
Maybe; but there's some as would trade it
For no land on earth – and I'm one.
~Robert Service

The Arctic Cordillera Ecozone encompasses the northeastern fringe of Nunavut and northern Labrador, and is defined by the Arctic Cordillera Mountain Range, which spans the ecozone's entire area. Covering the mountain peaks and blanketing the many valleys, polar ice fields and alpine glaciers create icy scenery unique to the Arctic. The rugged landscape and harsh climate limit the diversity of plants and animals that inhabit this ecozone.

Temperature and precipitation vary considerably between the northern and southern parts of the Arctic Cordillera. Its northern reaches are cold and dry throughout the year, with a mean winter temperature of -35°C, and average summer temperatures of -2°C. Precipitation averages 20 cm, which is not sufficient for many plant species. These cold temperatures and the lack of precipitation limit the growing season and, as a result, the vegetation is sparse and dwarfed.

In contrast, the more southerly areas of the Arctic Cordillera possess average winter temperatures of -16°C, and summer temperatures of 6°C, with a mean annual precipitation of 60 cm. The summer is short and cool, but long hours of sunlight and ample precipitation enable a substantial growing season and promote a greater diversity of vegetation.

Ice fields are present in some lowland areas, while alpine glaciers cap the mountain peaks of the Arctic Cordillera Ecozone. The highest mountain peaks reach 2000 m, but many of these peaks appear much lower because valley glaciers hide their base. Nunataks, created where mountain peaks protrude from the thick, glacial ice, dot the landscape. Where glaciers are not present, valley walls are rocky or covered by morainal debris – evidence of past glacial movement. Although there are numerous glaciers and ice fields, approximately 75% of the landscape is exposed bedrock. As this uncovered bedrock indicates, soil is limited in the Arctic Cordillera, but when it is present, cryosolic soils – soils that contain permanently frozen materials and have a mean temperature of 0°C – are dominant.

Vegetation in the Arctic Cordillera must be extremely resilient because of the climatic and geographical factors that limit its growth. Due to high winds and lack of soil, higher elevations are devoid of much macro-vegetation, although mosses and lichens cling to rocky surfaces. The lower mountain slopes and coastal areas support herbaceous tundra vegetation, including purple saxifrage and arctic poppy. Clumps of vegetation are common at lower elevations, as the grouping of plants creates windbreaks. Small shrubs, such as arctic willow, are able to survive only in the most southerly areas of the Arctic Cordillera, where temperatures and precipitation are more favourable.

Throughout the ecozone, all plants must conserve water, as it is frozen for ten months of the year. These plants are also adapted to frigid temperatures; some use snow as insulation and many are dormant throughout the winter. The short growing season produces small, stunted vegetation. Keeping leaves very low to the ground is advantageous because, during the spring snow melt, the dark ground absorbs the sun's radiation, warms the plant, and allows it to begin growing.