Research Branch

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The ecology of the alpine tundra zone

Author(s) or contact(s): BC Ministry of Forests - Research Branch
Source: Research Branch
Subject: Ecology
Series: Brochure
Other details:  Published 1998. Hardcopy is available.


This brochure has been replaced by the Alpine Zones brochure.

Located high in the mountains of British Columbia, the Alpine Tundra Zone is a rugged, treeless environment treasured by skiers and hikers. With short, cool summers and winters too tough for all but sturdy ungulates such as mountain sheep, mountain goats, and caribou, the province's alpine regions are a harshly beautiful land of ice, snow, and rock mixed with tundra and colourful flower meadows.

The Alpine Tundra Zone occurs on mountains throughout British Columbia, but especially along the Coast Mountains, in the north of the province, and in the southeast corner. It also extends beyond the borders of British Columbia to the north, east, and south. In southeastern British Columbia, alpine elevations start at about 2250 m, in the southwest at 1600 m, in the northeast at about 1500 m, and in the northwest at about 1500 to 1000 m.

The Alpine Tundra Zone has the harshest climate of any of the zones in British Columbia. Temperatures are cold for most of the year, with much wind and snow. Temperatures remain low even during the growing season, which has an exceptionally short frost-free period. Mean annual temperatures range from 4 to 0C, and the average monthly temperature stays below 0C from seven to eleven months of the year.

The Alpine Tundra Zone is the only zone in British Columbia where the mean temperature of the warmest month is less than 10C. A great deal of precipitation falls in this zone, mostly as snow.

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Updated October 17, 2008