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Boreal Cordillera

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Map Legend & Subregion List

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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

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

About the Boreal Cordillera

The Boreal Cordillera is a subdivision of the Northwestern Forested Mountains region, representing the most northwesternly portion of this region. This area was mostly recently glaciated, but many of the mountains remained above the tops of the glaciers. This history is reflected in the topography which consists of deep, U-shaped valleys cutting between steep mountains. There are however some areas which escaped recent glaciation. Some parts of the region have Karst topography, with extensive eroded limestone and caves.

This region has short summers and cold winters overall, and wildly different microclimates in different regions, mediated both by altitude and by other factors including orographic lift and rain shadow, and influence of air masses moving from other regions. 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.

Except at higher altitudes, this region is largely forested, with forests mostly consisting of conifers, fewer mixed forests, and only a few scattered areas where hardwoods are dominant.

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.