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The natural world. Looking pretty for 3.5b years.

Polar Deserts & Plants

Author: Hugh Bollinger/Saturday, January 18, 2014/Categories: natural history, photography, environment

The islands of the 'high arctic' are polar deserts. Baffin, Devon, and Ellesmere islands make up a portion of Canadia's Arctic Archipelago and receive as much moisture as the Sahara. Like other deserts, the polar islands still maintain a few species of plants that eke out an extreme existence.

Ellesmere Island's Oobloyah Valley is fed by receding glaciers into the ice-free valley. It has been dry and ice-free since the ice ages. The island receives less than 3 inches of rain yearly and is classified as hyper-arid. Summer temperatures rarely reach 40F and winters can plunge to nearly -40F. Still, a hardy species of willow and a dwarf evening primrose ( Epilobium latifolium ) are found growing there.

Oobloyah Valley, Ellesmere Island  (credit: NASA)

Like the McMurdo Dry Valleys at the Earth's opposite pole, such special arid locations inform us about desert life at the extremes. They also serve as laboratories for what Mars may be like. It would certainly be interesting to know if plants grow on those arid, red deserts also.


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