Difference Between Arctic Tundra and Alpine Tundra

What is the difference between arctic and alpine tundra?


Our planet is an amazing place. According to our current understanding, it is unique because it has life – the only planet so far in the universe. More than that, its landscape is also fascinating. Some regions are covered with vast stretches of forests and receive heavy rainfall, while others are baren and scorched. Furthermore, there are regions covered with a thick blanket of ice. These regions are known as Tundras.

The term Tundra has Russian origin and means ‘treeless plains.’ True to its name, a Tundra is a vast expanse of mostly flat land, with low rainfall, sub-zero temperatures, low vegetation, and frozen subsoil, known as permafrost.

Around 10% of Earth’s surface can be classified as a Tundra biome. There are three types of Tundra biome – Arctic Tundra, Alpine Tundra, and Antarctic Tundra.

In this post, we will explore in detail the main differences between the Arctic Tundra and Alpine Tundra.

What is Arctic Tundra?

Arctic Tundra is the type of Tundra located in the northern hemisphere around 60 to 70 degrees latitude North. It occupies extensive parts of Canada, Alaska, Russia, Greenland, Siberia, Iceland, and some other parts of Eurasia and northern Scandinavia.

The most distinguishing characteristic of the Arctic Tundra is the permafrost. The land beneath the top layer is permanently frozen – although it may not always be covered with snow.

Arctic Tundra has mainly two seasons – long, freezing winter and short, cool summer. Winter in the Arctic Tundra is 6 to 10 months long with temperatures averaging around -30°C or -22 °F, while in some parts, it could dip to -70°C or -94 °F.

Summer in Tundra only lasts for around 2 to 4 months. Temperatures rise above zero during summer and stick between 3 to 16 degrees Celsius.

Interestingly, during the peak of summer, the sun never goes down the horizon; therefore, the region enjoys 24 hours of daylight. For this reason, Arctic Tundra is also known as the land of the midnight sun. Although the opposite also happens during winter, the sun doesn’t come up for most of the winter.

The soil in Tundra can be divided into two parts. The above active layer melts during summer and allows some vegetation to grow, and a permanently frozen subsoil is known as permafrost. The soil in Arctic Tundra is classified as Gelisol Soil.

What is Alpine Tundra?

The word Alpine refers to the alps – high mountain ranges in Europe. Unlike Arctic Tundra, Alpine Tundra is not limited to the polar region. It can be found anywhere in the world at high altitudes – in high mountain regions.

The closer you are to the equator; you will find the Alpine Tundra at higher altitudes. As you move up north, you will find Alpine Tundra at lower altitudes till you reach the boundary where it merges with Arctic Tundra. The Alps, the Pyrenees and Scandes mountains in Europe, the Caucasus Mountains, the Tibetan Plateau in Asia, etc., have Alpine Tundra.

In the same way as Arctic Tundra, the characteristics of Alpine Tundra are cold, harsh climate, gushing winds, and low vegetation. But the temperature variations are not as extreme as in the Arctic Tundra. Summers are relatively cool, with average temperatures sticking around 4 to 12 °C, and in winter, temperatures remain below zero. Moreover, the further up you go, the lower the temperature will dip.

But, unlike Arctic tundras, there is no permafrost here. The soil remains covered with snow but not frozen. Therefore, it remains well-drained and supports the growth of a variety of plants.

Arctic Tundra vs Alpine Tundra

The Arctic Tundra differs from an Alpine tundra. The Arctic tundra covers about 20% of the land and occupies a wide belt around the polar Arctic region at altitudes between 60 to 75° North. On the other hand, Alpine Tundra can be found anywhere on the Earth at high altitudes, mainly on top of the mountains.

The climate at the Arctic Tundra is characterized by a shorter summer season (2 to 4 months) with temperatures between 0 and 10 ° C. The rest of the year, it’s dark and cold with temperatures consistently below freezing, sometimes even dipping to -70 ° C. Winds are always intense, and rainfall is very scarce.

The climate in the Alpine Tundra is not as extreme as in the Arctic Tundra. While the temperature remains below zero in winters, summers are relatively warmer. During summer, the temperature remains around 4 to 12 °C.

The soil of the Arctic and Alpine Tundra also differs. In the Arctic Tundra, the soil thaws in summer, however only superficially, for a few centimeters. The soil below is perpetually frozen and does not allow the melted water to be absorbed by the underlying soil. Therefore, tall trees cannot grow here; only low vegetation, consisting primarily of lichens, mosses, dwarf willows, etc., grow.

The soil in the Alpine Tundra is covered with snow but not frozen. The altitude and the slope of the land allow good water drainage; however, extreme temperature fluctuations don’t allow larger vegetation to survive. The Alpine Tundra is characterized by the distinct tree line that acts as a separating boundary between the tundra land and the rest of the landscape.

What Is the Difference Between Arctic and Alpine Tundra?

Basis Arctic Tundra Alpine Tundra
Location Arctic Tundra is only limited to the northern hemisphere, particularly in the area surrounding the north pole. You can find Alpine tundra wherever there is a high altitude on Earth
Temperatures Arctic Tundra has two seasons – summer and winter. Cooler summer has 3 to 16 degrees Celsius, and winter is frigid, and the temperature could go to -70 degrees Celsius. No extreme fluctuations in temperature during seasons. Although winters are cold, moreover climatic conditions could drastically change within days.


Low precipitation, around160-250mm, and mainly in the form of snow. Precipitation is higher in comparison to Arctic Tundra. It remains around 850-1000mm.


Arctic Tundra has a frozen sublayer of soil called permafrost permanently, whether the ground is covered in snow or not. Alpine Tundra has snow-covered ground, but permafrost is absent here. It allows better drainage and absorption of water into the soil.
Wildlife Arctic Tundra has characteristic wildlife adapted to the region. Polar bears, Arctic fox, Arctic seals, etc. As Alpine Tundra is not limited to a particular region, wildlife differs from place to place. One species in a specific Alpine tundra may not be found in another. For example, yellow-bellied marmots are native to only North American Alpine Tundra.


Both the Arctic tundra and the Alpine Tundra constitute the most extreme biomes with harsh climatic conditions. Snow and freezing temperatures are common, corresponding to low vegetation and scarce wildlife. Although Arctic and Alpine Tundra characteristics seem somewhat similar, they differ from each other in many aspects. From location to flora and fauna, there are some striking differences. They may appear to be similar white expanses of wasteland, but deep within, they have their unique attributes.

In the above article, we have discussed the difference between the arctic tundra and alpine tundra. If you like it, share it with your friends and family members.

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