Newfoundland's Northern Peninsula sits in what has been described as both a maritime and arctic/alpine climate.
It's largely affected by the Labrador Current which runs through the Gulf of St. Lawrence. Since it runs from
the North Atlantic and arctic areas, this current has a cooling effect on the Northern Peninsula.
The Northern Peninsula
is also subject to a multitude of cyclonic storms exiting the continent by way of the Gulf. Both the winter and summer
storm tracks pass through the general vicinity of the Limestone Barrens.
These two factors combine to create a climate
that can be very harsh at times.
The climate of the Great Northern Peninsula is quite different from our milder southern areas. Along this part of
the island, the first frosts arrive in early-mid September (compared to mid-late October in St. John's). The winters
are long and snow beds may lie well into May, even June. Sea-ice may be present from January until May. Summer
maximums are seldom above 18 C. In summer, average wind speeds are 30 km/h and in winter, gales up to 100 km/h are
not uncommon. Taking these climatic factors into consideration, you can understand how arctic alpine plants would
thrive in this area despite the fact that it is located some 2000 km south of the Arctic Circle.
High winds in the winter dessicate plants that aren't insulated by snow cover. Dessication occurs when winter winds
draw water reserves out of the plants. Since the ground is frozen and the plants can no longer draw water from it,
there is no way to replace the lost water and the part of the plant without water dies. This results in what is
called flagging. Flagging is when trees grow in certain directions and doesn't grow in others. They are also called
Precipitation is also a major factor in the climate of the limestone barrens. Located on or near the coast, the
barrens receive a lot of precipitation every year. In the warmer months it comes as rain which sometimes mixes
with carbon dioxide to form carbonic acid which erodes limestone, making the barrens bumpy, pitted and and filled
with underground streams and caves.
In winter snow is the main form of precipitation. Snow cover has a large part to play in explaining why the plants
of the barrens are so small and flagged as we mentioned above. Ice also has an interesting effect on the barrens.
When water seeps into cracks in the limestone gravel and freezes, the larger pieces of rock are sorted from the
smaller ones, forming frost polygons and stone stripes. This process is so dramatic that people sometimes mistake
frost polygons for Indian/Eskimo tent rings or crop circles.
Climate station on the limestone barrens near Port aux Choix.
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