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ANWR Arctic National Wildlife Refuge; What is at stake; removed USFWS website; photos, maps, descriptions

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snow, flowers, mountains, lakeArctic National Wildlife Refuge
Refuge Information | Wildlife | Habitat | People
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Why we archived the ANWR website at

The arctic soil is so cold that the ground beneath the tundra surface remains frozen all year. This permanently frozen ground is called permafrost. Each summer, when the sun warms the tundra surface, the top few inches of soil thaw. This melted part is called the active layer. Plant roots grow within the active layer, and insects burrow here.

Beneath the tundra in the northern part of the Arctic Refuge, the active layer thaws to about 18 inches (about half a meter) below the surface. Farther south, the active layer thaws deeper. The active layer also thaws deeper beneath lakes, rivers, and roads because the water and bare soil absorb and hold more summer heat.

This web page includes:

Steps showing the thawing and freezing cycle
Animation of the cycle

Steps showing the thawing and freezing cycle:

Under the tundra in the northern part of the Arctic Refuge, the active layer begins to thaw after the winter snows melt in early summer. Snow can fall in any month, but it doesn't usually stay on the ground until September. What date do you think the active layer is melted deepest? You may be surprized...

Here's how the active layer changes throughout the year (These dates are averages. The actual dates on any year may be slightly earlier or later.):

active layer frozen in winterOn May 15, the tundra soil is still buried under winter snow, and the active layer is completely frozen.

active layer thawingBy June 1, the snow has begun to melt, but the active layer remains frozen.

active layer thawingOn June 15, the active layer is already thawed half way (50%) to its maximum depth. It is about 9 inches (23 cm) deep. The sun remains above the horizon for 24 hours each day, and plants are producing new growth.

active layer thawingBy July 1, the active layer has thawed to 75% of its total depth. It is about 13.5 inches (34.5 cm) deep.

active layer thawingOn July 15, the active layer has thawed to 85% of its total depth. It is about 15 inches (38 cm) deep.

active layer thawingOn August 1, the active layer has thawed to 90% of its total depth. It is about 16 inches (40.5 cm) deep.

active layer thawingBy August 15, the active layer has thawed to 92% of its total depth. It is about 16.5 inches (42 cm) deep. Autumn has come to the tundra. The air is cooler, and plants are finishing their growth for the year.

active layer freezingOn September 1, the active layer has thawed to 94% of its total depth. It is about 16.75 inches (42.5 cm) deep. Air temperatures are now below freezing, and the soil surface begins to refreeze.

active layer freezingOn September 15, the active layer has thawed to 96% of its total depth. It is about 17.25 inches (43.25 cm) deep. The soil surface continues to freeze down into the active layer.

active layer freezingBy October 1, the active layer has thawed to 98% of its total depth. It is about 17.75 inches (44.5 cm) deep.

active layer freezingOn October 15, the active layer has thawed to its maximum depth of 18 inches (about 45.5 cm). The soil above it is refreezing rapidly. Did you guess that the active layer would reach its maximum depth in mid October?

active layer freezingBy November 1, there is just a narrow region above the base of the active layer that is not frozen.

active layer frozen in winterBy November 15, the active layer has completely frozen, and will remain this way until early summer.

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Animation of the cycle:

animated cylce of active layerActive layer in animation (watch the base of the active layer carefully):

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Refuges: where wildlife comes first

Refuge Information | Wildlife | Habitat | People
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Text and graphics by USFWS staff
Last modified 28 July 2000

Why we archived the ANWR website at

Note: This is the archive of the FWS Arctic National Wildlife Refuge website. In December, 2001 FWS took this website offline, making it unavailable to the public. It includes 90 plus pages of information and many maps. As of 2006 the important information contained in this, the original "unsanitized" version of the FWS website, has yet to return to the internet, so we will continue to maintain it here as a permanent archive to help inform activists and concerned citizens. If you find any broken links, please report them to me at [email protected] and I will attempt to make the repairs. January, 2008 update - A small part of the original information that was present in 2001 has made it back into the current ANWR website. There is also an archive that contains a small amount of the original information, but it is not readily available from the main website.

Click here to visit our homepage. Click here for NRDC's message about ANWR from Robert Redford.

For more information on why this website was "pulled," Check here. And, you can also view the maps of caribou calving areas that the FWS did not want you to see here.

January 29, 2008: Visit Our New ANWR News for Updates

This page should be cited as follows:

U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. 2001. Potential impacts of proposed oil and gas
       development on the Arctic Refuge’s coastal plain: Historical overview and
       issues of concern. Web page of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge,
       Fairbanks, Alaska. 17 January 2001.

Archived by Visit us at is an independent firm specializing in the publication of educational and research resources. We created the first U.S. based interactive toxic chemical facility maps on the internet in 1996 and we have been online ever since. Learn more about us and view some of our projects and services.

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