Physical Geography of Saskatchewan
Introduction Saskatchewan is situated in the central Prairie between Alberta on the west and Manitoba on the east. Its neighbour on the north is the North West Territories, and on the south it borders with the United States. Saskatchewan is rectangular in shape--it is the only Canadian province none of whose borders was determined by the landform feature like river or mountain range. The province is located in the Central Standard Time and doesn't switch on Daylight Saving Time in summer. The population of Saskatchewan is around one million people with the area of 651 900 km2.
Physical and Natural Description Geologic History--Land Formation, Types of Rocks, and Minerals
The northeastern part of Saskatchewan is a part of the Canadian Shield that was formed during Precambrian era and features some of the oldest rocks in the world. The border that separates the Canadian Shield from the rest of the province runs across Saskatchewan from south-east to north-west. This part of the province was formed during Precambrian era and contains igneous and metamorphic rocks. From the minerals found in that part of the Shield the most abundant and the most important for Saskatchewan is the metallic mineral uranium that can be used for building the nuclear reactors or exported to the other countries.
The rest of the province, except for the extreme southwest which is occupied by the Hills, is situated on the Saskatchewan Plain which is a part of the Interior Plains that are, in turn, part of the Great Plains of North America. This part was formed under water when the mountains of the Canadian Shield eroded and deposited on the bottom of the shallow seas that it was surrounded by. The process was completed during the Mesozoic era. This part is relatively flat with gently rolling hills and occasional valleys. The most important minerals that are found in this area composed of soft and hard sedimentary rock are the non-metallic minerals like potash which is widely used as a fertilizer and some oil.
Major Landform Features The major landform feature of the province is the escarpment created by erosion that separates Saskatchewan Plain from Alberta Plain and Manitoba Plain. Except for the Cypress Hills near the U.S. border, Saskatchewan lies on a plain. Its landscape is not absolutely flat--Saskatchewan is the province of gently rolling rounded hills.
Climate Saskatchewan is a part of the two climatic regions: Prairie on the south and Boreal on the north. The climatic characteristics of both are somewhat similar, but there are certain differences. For example, being situated farther north the Boreal region has colder winters and cooler summers. Both regions receive little precipitation, but the Prairie region tends to be drier than Boreal.
Saskatchewan climate is sharply continental. Since there is no mountain range on the north or on the south, the province is open to both cold Arctic air masses and warm air coming from the Gulf of Mexico. This results in long cold winters and hot summers. The annual temperature range in Saskatchewan, therefore, is one of the highest in Canada.
There is very little precipitation in Saskatchewan because the air that is brought to the province from the Pacific coast is dry--it loses all its moisture before it crosses the mountain range in form of relief precipitation. The air that comes from the other directions is also dry. Thus, not only does Saskatchewan have little precipitation, it also receives more sunshine than any other province. The Saskatchewan town of Estevan--a "sunshine capital" of Canada --gets 2540 hours of sunshine per year.
No description of Saskatchewan climate will be complete without mentioning of the blizzards--prairie storms with winds of ~11m/s that can last for six hours or more. It is most likely to occur in February, in southwestern Saskatchewan. Right after those storms the transportation and communication systems are disrupted, so the whole cities can be paralyzed for several days.
Soil and Natural Vegetation. Vegetation Regions. Saskatchewan has three natural vegetation regions--the grassland, the parkland, and the boreal forest. Each one has different soil and different natural vegetation.
The very south of Saskatchewan is occupied by the grassland--the driest area of the province and one of the driest in the country--where only grass can grow. The general trend is that the more precipitation the area receives the taller the grass that can grow in that area. The trees can only grow near the rivers so that they can get enough moisture.
Another vegetation region of the province is the parkland that separates the grassland and the boreal forest. This area is covered with trees--deciduous trees grow in the southern part, while the coniferous trees occupy the north of the region. Parkland is a transitional point between the grassland and the boreal forest.
Finally, the most northern of the three boreal forest occupies the largest area of Saskatchewan. The coniferous trees are the most abundant in that region because they are much more adaptive and can survive harsher conditions as compared to the broad-leaved trees. However, some broad-leaved trees can also be found there.
As the glaciers moved from north to south during the Ice Age, the thick layer of soil was brought to the southern part of the province. Therefore, Prairie (grassland and parkland) has a very good soil and is an ideal region for the certain crops like wheat. Note that originally the soils weren't that good for agriculture, however, as more humus was formed by the decayed vegetation, the wonderful black soils that are ideal for agriculture (chernozem) were produced. Most of the boreal forest, however, grows on the Canadian Shield that has very thin layer of soil that is also less fertile than the black soil of the Prairie region since trees that produce less humus than the grass does.
Wildlife The wildlife of Saskatchewan was largely influenced by people. The "anthropological factor" tends to bring instability to the balanced ecosystem, and in case with Saskatchewan it's not an exception. Most of the wildlife that once was found in the province in abundance is now very rare.
For example, the huge herds of bison--estimated 50 million in total--were once found in Saskatchewan. However by the end of the 19th century, they were hunted out and now live only in protected herds. Black-tailed prairie dog also used to live in southern Saskatchewan in very large numbers. These animals' population was significantly reduced by the farmers because they harmed crops and livestock (their burrows are dangerous for the livestock.) Today the only place where they can be found in the local settings is the Frenchman River valley.
On the north, which is less densely populated, more wildlife was preserved. The moose and beers as well as several smaller mammals were found there. However, the populations of cougar and lynx in Saskatchewan north are small and are currently decreasing.
Coyotes and deer are found all across the province, and the herds of pronghorn live in southwestern part. In the summer millions of ducks nest and breed in Saskatchewan leaving to the south when winter comes. There are fish found in the many lakes of Saskatchewan; nine species of are present in the province.
Not all of the wildlife is desirable. For instance, the grasshoppers are a serious problem because they can harm the farming significantly wiping out a lot of crop.
Ecozone Description--Prairie Prairie occupies the southern part of Saskatchewan. As it was mentioned earlier in the essay, it is not preserved in its natural state because it's a major agricultural area. There are, however, many birds living in Prairie including Partridges, pheasants, and sage grouse. The endangered species found in Saskatchewan are the Prairie Falcon, the Ferrugionus Hawk, the Greater Prairie Chicken, and the Burrowing Owl. Most of the Saskatchewan population lives here mainly working in agriculture, mining and petroleum. Of course, there is much more to say about this ecozone, but the information on climate, wildlife, landform features, and the characteristics of vegetation regions can be found under these corresponding subheadings in the other part of the essay.
Natural Resources Agriculture is the major occupation of the province and something it is famous for and proud of. The Prairie black soil and climate are ideal for cultivation of crops, in particular wheat. More than one half of all the Canadian wheat is grown in Saskatchewan, for this reason the province is often called Canadian breadbasket. Mining is also important in both north and south. The northern part situated on the Canadian Shield possesses a lot of valuable metallic mineral uranium--estimated on third of total Canadian known resources. On the south the non-metallic minerals were left after the shallow seas that covered the region evaporated. The most abundant one is potash that is mined in the southeastern part of the province.
Salt, oil, gold, gravel, and sand are also mined in the province as well as sodium sulphate that is used to make paper. Since there are no oceans or seas anywhere near Saskatchewan fishing is not very important industry of the province. However, there is some fishery on the north because in the northern lakes there are walleye, whitefish, lake trout, and pike present. Most of the Saskatchewan's electricity is produced by burning coal. The two major hydroelectric stations are found on the Churchill River and on the South Saskatchewan River.
Famous Natural Features On of the famous natural features of Saskatchewan is the Cypress Hills. They are found in the extreme southwest of the province, near the U.S. border. These hills rise several hundred metres above the Prairie. Newcomers to the prairies described the Cypress Hills as an island of forest in a sea of grass.
National Park A National Park is an area of area where wilderness is preserved. The most famous Saskatchewan national park is Prince Albert National Park which 3875 km2 in area. It's a region of aspen parkland and boreal forest. It was established as a national park in 1927. Being a preserved and protected area, the park is very rich in wildlife including elk, caribou, moose, deer, lynx, otter, and plains bison. It also features the only protected White Pelican colony in Canada. There are 31 provincial parks and another National Park called Grassland National Park Reserve that is one of the last areas where the colonies of Black-tailed prairie dogs, rattlesnakes, pronghorn, and the Prairie Falcon are found.
Personal Opinion I think that Saskatchewan is a wonderful place to visit. Northern Saskatchewan is well known for its fishing and hunting camps. Another attractions are summer rodeos. If you want to explore Canada no tour will be complete without visiting the legendary prairies, thousands of lakes, wonderful nature of Saskatchewan. Even though history of Saskatchewan is not in the scope of this essay, I have to mention that Saskatchewan is where a lot of Canadian history took place--an example is the creation of the legendary North-West Canadian Mountain Police that earned great respect and reputation for fairness.