Tundra Land Biome Description and Characteristics

Conditions can be quite inhospitable in the tundra.

 Xia Yuan/Moment/Getty Images

Biomes are the world's major habitats. These habitats are identified by the vegetation and animals that populate them. The location of each biome is determined by the regional climate. The tundra biome is characterized by extremely cold temperatures and treeless, frozen landscapes. There are two types of tundra, the arctic tundra and the alpine tundra.

Key Takeaways: Tundra Biome

  • The two types of tundra, arctic and alpine, have distinct differences
  • Arctic tundra regions are located between coniferous forests and the north pole, while alpine tundra regions can be anywhere in the world's high elevations
  • Arctic tundra vegetation is mostly limited due to a number of inhospitable conditions.
  • Tropical alpine tundra vegetation consists of a variety of short shrubs, grasses, ​and perennials
  • Animals that live in tundra regions are uniquely suited to endure the harsh conditions


The arctic tundra is located between the north pole and the coniferous forests or taiga region. It is characterized by extremely cold temperatures and land that remains frozen year-round. Arctic tundra occurs in frigid mountaintop regions at very high elevations.

Alpine tundra can be found in high elevations anywhere in the world, even in tropic regions. Although the land is not frozen year-round as in arctic tundra regions, these lands are typically covered in snow for most of the year.

This image shows permafrost melting in the arctic region of Svalbard, Norway. Jeff Vanuga/Corbis/Getty Images


The arctic tundra is located in the extreme northern hemisphere around the north pole. This area experiences low amounts of precipitation and extremely cold temperatures for most of the year. The arctic tundra typically receives less than 10 inches of precipitation per year (mostly in the form of snow) with temperatures averaging below minus 30 degrees Fahrenheit in winter. In summer, the sun remains in the sky during the day and night. Summer temperatures average between 35-55 degrees Fahrenheit.

The alpine tundra biome is also a cold climate region with temperatures averaging below freezing at night. This area receives more precipitation throughout the year than the arctic tundra. The average annual precipitation is around 20 inches. Most of this precipitation is in the form of snow. The alpine tundra is also a very windy area. Strong winds blow at speeds exceeding 100 miles per hour.


Some locations of arctic and alpine tundra include:

Arctic Tundra

  • North America - Northern Alaska, Canada, Greenland
  • Northern Europe - Scandinavia
  • Northern Asia - Siberia

Alpine Tundra

  • North America - Alaska, Canada, U.S.A., and Mexico
  • Northern Europe - Finland, Norway, Russia, and Sweden
  • Asia - Southern Asia (Himalayan Mountains), and Japan (Mt. Fuji)
  • Africa - Mt. Kilimanjaro
  • South America - Andes Mountains


Alaska Cottongrass Tundra
Alaska Cottongrass. NCTC Image Library/USFWS 

Due to dry conditions, poor soil quality, extremely cold temperatures, and permafrost, vegetation in arctic tundra regions is limited. Arctic tundra plants must adapt to the cold, dark conditions of the tundra as the sun does not rise during the winter months. These plants experience brief periods of growth in the summer when temperatures are warm enough for vegetation to grow. The vegetation consists of short shrubs and grasses. The frozen ground prevents plants with deep roots, like trees, from growing.

Tropical alpine tundra areas are treeless plains located on mountains at extremely high altitudes. Unlike in the arctic tundra, the sun remains in the sky for about the same amount of time throughout the year. This enables the vegetation to grow at an almost constant rate. The vegetation consists of short shrubs, grasses, ​and rosette perennials. Examples of tundra vegetation include: lichens, mosses, sedges, perennial forbs, rosette, and dwarfed shrubs.


A moose in the tundra. Chase Dekker Wild-Life Images/Moment/Getty Images

Animals in the arctic and alpine tundra must adapt to cold and harsh conditions. Large mammals of the arctic, like musk ox and caribou, are heavily insulated against the cold and migrate to warmer areas in the winter. Smaller mammals, like the arctic ground squirrel, survive by burrowing and hibernating during the winter. Other arctic tundra animals include snowy owls, reindeer, polar bears, white foxes, lemmings, arctic hares, wolverines, caribou, migrating birds, mosquitoes, and black flies.

Animals of the alpine tundra biome migrate to lower elevations in winter to escape the cold and find food. Animals here include marmots, mountain goats, bighorn sheep, elk, grizzly bears, springtails, beetles, grasshoppers, and butterflies.