The Great Northern Forest has many names.
Scientists see The Great Northern Forest as the boreal forest ecosystem – the global coniferous forest blanketing the northern hemisphere. The Russians traditionally call it “Taiga”. If you could look at the planet from above, it is the green crown circling the Arctic, the enormous green belt that keeps the earth breathing.
Right now, in December, the forest is covered with snow and it will melt sometime in March or April, in the most northern parts even in May.
In January, in the Russian Siberian region of Yakutsk, the average high temperature is 35 degrees below zero Celsius! Around Helsinki, Finland, it’s a bit milder with an average temperature of six degrees below freezing in January.
Maybe you didn’t know that in July a swimming suit comes handy in Siberia when the average high temperature in Yakutsk is almost the same as on the northern shores of the Mediterranean: 25.5 degrees.
Animals have tricks for surviving the dramatic temperature changes. Many animals in the Great Northern Forest change colour based on the seasons: the Snowshoe Hare and Mountain Hare for instance are white during winter months and brown in the summer. Also the Least Weasel and even the Peary Caribou turn white in winter. The Siberian Salamander can survive temperatures of -35 degrees. It does this by replacing its water with natural ‘antifreeze’ chemicals. Not recommended for humans though, and alcohol won’t help.
Many humans would also be happy to be bear-like during the dark winter months. It hibernates underground nearly half its lifetime. It even gives birth underground during the long winter months. When it wakes up in the spring this top predator starts to eat, but not only meat. It also enjoys nuts, berries, fruit, leaves, and rootseats.
The Great Northern Forest is full of surprises. Snow and tigers usually don’t associate well, but the largest wild cat in the world, the Siberian Tiger, lives in the boreal forest and hunts moose and wild boars.
There is no forest without trees. The conifers – mostly pine and spruce – have adapted well to survive the long winters and short summers. Their needles contain very little sap, which helps prevent freezing. Their dark colour and triangle-shaped sides help them catch and absorb as much sunlight as possible.
Beneath the trees carbon stored in the soil – a lot of it, even more than in tropical forests. We need to protect the home of the Siberian Tiger and the bear and the salamander and countless other species. But the amount of carbon stored in The Great Northern Forest is the key reason to save the bald trees used to snowy winter months.
These trees standing tall for centuries are saving us and all the other species from a catastrophic climate change. Together we can keep these trees standing, join us.
Juha Aromaa is the Communication lead for The Great Northern Forest campaign with Greenpeace Nordic