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Boreal Cordillera

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NameColor on MapCEC Code‡
Interior Highlands and Klondike Plateau6.1.1
Alaska Range6.1.2
Copper Plateau6.1.3
Wrangell and St. Elias Mountains6.1.4
Watson Highlands6.1.5
Yukon-Stikine Highlands/Boreal Mountains and Plateaus6.1.6

† Status: ✓ = Complete ○ = Needs Image … = Incomplete ∅ = Stub Only

This code refers to the CEC's Level 3 ecoregion codes for North America, see here.


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Complete w/ Images

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About the Boreal Cordillera

The Boreal Cordillera is an assemblage of mountainous regions in northern British Columbia, southwestern Yukon, and into Alaska. It is the northernmost portion of the Northwestern Forested Mountains region, and it represents the northwesternmost mountains in North America capable of supporting forests at least somewhere on their slopes. It does not include the Brooks Range Tundra, mountains farther north and largely devoid of forest cover, and it is also separate from the Taiga Cordillera farther northeast, a region that has sparser forest cover.

Terrain here varies from the highest, most rugged mountains in North America, to lower mountains and more hilly regions of dissected plateaus. Most of this area was recently glaciated, and many glaciers and ice fields still exist at higher elevations, but many of the mountain peaks here remained above the tops of the glaciers, and there are also broad portions of this region that have never been glaciated. Glaciated areas have deep, U-shaped valleys cutting between steep mountains. Some parts of the region have Karst topography, with extensive eroded limestone and caves.

Summers are short and winters long and cold throughout, but there are wildly different microclimates in different portions of this region, mediated both by altitude and by other factors including orographic lift and rain shadow, and influence of air masses moving from other regions including the Pacific Ocean, the Arctic, and the continent. Permafrost is discontinuous, existing at higher altitudes but being absent at lower altitudes. Rainfall is lowest in valleys and highest on western and west-facing mountain ranges, becoming lower on east-facing slopes and as one moves eastward overall.

Much of the precipitation here falls as snow, which becomes available to lower-altitude areas as it melts and flows downstream. In summer, humid air from the pacific can sometimes lead to violent storms. However, fire is less common here than in regions to the east.

Lower elevations are largely forested, with forests mostly consisting of conifers, fewer mixed forests, and only a few scattered areas where hardwoods are dominant. High elevations open to alpine meadows, tundra, and at the highest elevations, especiall where there are large areas of high elevations, extensive ice fields and glaciers.

To the southwest of this region lies the Marine West Coast Forest, with a much milder, wetter climate influenced by the ocean. However, some of the tallest mountains lie in between these regions, including the Wrangell and Saint Elias Mountains, with the higher altitudes still covered by glaciers, so the transition between these regions is fairly abrupt along much of this border, and there are few areas of smooth climate transition.

To the southeast, continuing along the rocky mountains, this region transitions rather gradually into the Western Cordillera. To the northwest, as one progresses to lower altitudes one reaches the Alaska Boreal Interior, which was mostly spared recent glaciation. Straight to the north over much of this region lies the colder and more barren Taiga Cordillera, and to the east, the Taiga Plain.

Most of this region is sparsely populated, but more populous than some of its northern neighbors. The city of Whitehorse, Yukon is the largest settlement in this region and contains the bulk of this region's population. Mining, particularly gold, but also of other minerals, is the dominant industry here. There is also some forestry, although less than in the flatter boreal forests farther to the east.