Gathering our bearings

Boreal forest surrounding the Tanana River floodplain, Sept. 29, 2011. The broadleaf trees had lost their leaves at this point -- those yellow trees are all larch ready to drop their needles.

The boreal forest is so vast in its characteristics and reach that it’s often easier to appreciate in bite-size morsels — from mushrooms to squirrels to the aurora.

Sometimes, though, the most amazing of patterns emerge when you step back. The boreal forest (BORE-ee-uhl, in case you were wondering) is a dark spruce-heavy band circles the globe from Canada to Siberia.

The New York Times ran an interactive article about the world’s forests Oct. 1. You can superimpose ancient forests over the current forest extent across the world. Look to Russia and Asia for the boreal forest entry.

As you travel throughout the interactive map, you can see how the small stresses on individual trees translate to a weakened ecosystem. The larch, for an example from Alaska, lost 80 percent of its adult population to a tiny sawfly.

In Alaska, this larch, also known as tamarack, is only found in the forests of the Interior. This blog celebrates Alaska’s boreal forest because of little characteristic flavors like the larch, discontinuously permanently frozen soil, and 130-degree annual temperature swings.

You can find out more about the boreal forest across the border by looking at a new Google Earth tour by the Pew Environment Group of Canada’s boreal forest.

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