Climate and geography
Taiga is the world's second-largest land biome, after deserts and xeric shrublands, covering 17×106 km2 (6.6×106 sq mi) or 11.5% of the land area of the Earth. The largest areas are located in Russia and Canada. The taiga is the terrestrial biome with the lowest annual average temperatures after the tundra and permanent ice caps. Extreme winter minimums in the northern taiga are typically lower than those of the tundra. The lowest reliably recorded temperatures in the Northern Hemisphere were recorded in the taiga of northeastern Russia. The taiga or boreal forest has a subarctic climate with very large temperature range between seasons, but the long and cold winter is the dominant feature. This climate is classified as Dfc, Dwc, Dsc, Dfd and Dwd in the Köppen climate classification scheme, meaning that the short summer (24 h average 10 °C (50 °F) or more) lasts 1–3 months and always less than 4 months. In Siberian taiga the average temperature of the coldest month is between −6 °C (21 °F) and −50 °C (−58 °F). There are also some much smaller areas grading towards the oceanic Cfc climate with milder winters, whilst the extreme south and (in Eurasia) west of the taiga reaches into humid continental climates (Dfb, Dwb) with longer summers. The mean annual temperature generally varies from −5 °C to 5 °C (23 °F to 41 °F), but there are taiga areas in eastern Siberia and interior Alaska-Yukon where the mean annual reaches down to −10 °C (14 °F). According to some sources, the boreal forest grades into a temperate mixed forest when mean annual temperature reaches about 3 °C (37 °F). Discontinuous permafrost is found in areas with mean annual temperature below 0 °C, whilst in the Dfd and Dwd climate zones continuous permafrost occurs and restricts growth to very shallow-rooted trees like Siberian larch. The winters, with average temperatures below freezing, last five to seven months. Temperatures vary from −54 °C to 30 °C (−65 °F to 86 °F) throughout the whole year. The summers, while short, are generally warm and humid. In much of the taiga, −20 °C (−4 °F) would be a typical winter day temperature and 18 °C (64 °F) an average summer day.
The taiga in the river valley near Verkhoyansk
, at 67°N, experiences the coldest winter temperatures in the northern hemisphere, but the extreme continentality of the climate gives an average daily high of 22 °C (72 °F) in July.
The growing season, when the vegetation in the taiga comes alive, is usually slightly longer than the climatic definition of summer as the plants of the boreal biome have a lower threshold to trigger growth. In Canada, Scandinavia and Finland, the growing season is often estimated by using the period of the year when the 24-hour average temperature is +5 °C (41 °F) or more. For the Taiga Plains in Canada, growing season varies from 80 to 150 days, and in the Taiga Shield from 100 to 140 days. Some sources claim 130 days growing season as typical for the taiga. Other sources mention that 50–100 frost-free days are characteristic. Data for locations in southwest Yukon gives 80–120 frost-free days. The closed canopy boreal forest in Kenozersky National Park near Plesetsk, Arkhangelsk Province, Russia, on average has 108 frost-free days. The longest growing season is found in the smaller areas with oceanic influences; in coastal areas of Scandinavia and Finland, the growing season of the closed boreal forest can be 145–180 days. The shortest growing season is found at the northern taiga–tundra ecotone, where the northern taiga forest no longer can grow and the tundra dominates the landscape when the growing season is down to 50–70 days, and the 24-hr average of the warmest month of the year usually is 10 °C (50 °F) or less. High latitudes mean that the sun does not rise far above the horizon, and less solar energy is received than further south. But the high latitude also ensures very long summer days, as the sun stays above the horizon nearly 20 hours each day, with only around 6 hours of daylight occurring in the dark winters, depending on latitude. The areas of the taiga inside the Arctic Circle have midnight sun in mid-summer and polar night in mid-winter.
Lakes and other water bodies are common in the taiga. The Helvetinjärvi National Park
, Finland, situated in the closed canopy taiga (mid-boreal to south-boreal)
with mean annual temperature of 4 °C (39 °F).
The taiga experiences relatively low precipitation throughout the year (generally 200–750 mm annually, 1,000 mm in some areas), primarily as rain during the summer months, but also as fog and snow. This fog, especially predominant in low-lying areas during and after the thawing of frozen Arctic seas, means that sunshine is not abundant in the taiga even during the long summer days. As evaporation is consequently low for most of the year, precipitation exceeds evaporation, and is sufficient to sustain the dense vegetation growth. Snow may remain on the ground for as long as nine months in the northernmost extensions of the taiga ecozone.
In general, taiga grows to the south of the 10 °C July isotherm, but occasionally as far north as the 9 °C (48 °F) July isotherm. Rich in spruces, Scots pines in the western Siberian plain, the taiga is dominated by larch in Eastern Siberia, before returning to its original floristic richness on the Pacific shores. Two deciduous trees mingle throughout southern Siberia: birch and Populus tremula.
Late September in the fjords
, Norway. This oceanic part of the forest can see more than 1,000 mm precipitation annually and has warmer winters than the vast inland taiga
The southern limit is more variable, depending on rainfall; taiga may be replaced by forest steppe south of the 15 °C (59 °F) July isotherm where rainfall is very low, but more typically extends south to the 18 °C (64 °F) July isotherm, and locally where rainfall is higher (notably in eastern Siberia and adjacent Outer Manchuria) south to the 20 °C (68 °F) July isotherm. In these warmer areas the taiga has higher species diversity, with more warmth-loving species such as Korean pine, Jezo spruce, and Manchurian fir, and merges gradually into mixed temperate forest or, more locally (on the Pacific Ocean coasts of North America and Asia), into coniferous temperate rainforests where oak and hornbeam appear and join the conifers, birch and Populus tremula.
The area currently classified as taiga in Europe and North America (except Alaska) was recently glaciated. As the glaciers receded they left depressions in the topography that have since filled with water, creating lakes and bogs (especially muskeg soil) found throughout the taiga.
In Sweden the taiga is associated with the Norrland terrain.