The entire island is deeply incised by fjords, and the northern coast is extended by ice shelves - aprons of SEA ICE which are fused to the shore. The north is dominated by the Mountains of Grant Land, a jagged chain of sedimentary rocks some 100 000 years old, and shrouded in ice nearly 900 m thick - remnants of the last ICE AGE. Nunataks, or rock spires, project through the ice; Barbeau Peak (2616 m) is the highest mountain in eastern North America. The land descends southward to Hazen Plateau, dominated by Lake Hazen - the largest lake in the polar region. In central Ellesmere, mountains of the Central Ellesmere Fold Belt rise to 2000 m.
Ellesmere is distinguished by a spectacular landscape and an exceptional and fragile environment. Small herds of MUSKOXEN are dispersed across Hazen Plateau, along with the remnants of a CARIBOU herd decimated by Robert E. Peary in 1909 during his attempt to reach the NORTH POLE. There are numerous species of birds and several other land mammals, but coastal sea ice discourages marine mammals. Thirteen species of SPIDERS occur on Ellesmere Island. Though the climate is extreme, a peculiar "thermal oasis" at Lake Hazen produces surprisingly warm summers. The frost-free period at Tanquary Fiord averages 55 days. Ellesmere is a true polar desert, with only 70 mm of precipitation annually in some places. Consequently vegetation is sparse.
One of the most remote places on Earth, Ellesmere Island has experienced little human activity (see ARCTIC EXPLORATION). However, archaeological evidence shows that the fjords of Hazen Plateau were occupied some 4000 years ago. Excavations of THULE-culture winter houses on BACHE PENINSULA (mid-island), dating from 1250-1350 AD, have uncovered numerous Norse artifacts.
The island was sighted by William BAFFIN in 1616, but was not explored until the 19th century. John ROSS discovered parts of the coastline in 1818; the island was named for the earl of Ellesmere during the Inglefield expedition of 1852. Sir George NARES carried out extensive observations in 1875-76. As part of the First INTERNATIONAL POLAR YEAR activities, an American group led by Adolphus W. Greely explored widely in northern Ellesmere (1881-84) from a base on Discovery Harbour. The expedition ended tragically when supply ships failed to arrive, and only 7 of 26 men survived.
Much of the exploration was incidental to the search for the North Pole. Otto SVERDRUP between 1898 and 1902 mapped several islands in the area of Ellesmere Island. In 1903-04 the Canadian government was moved to send Albert P. LOW to the area to demonstrate Canadian sovereignty; he placed a cairn at the farthest "northing" and installed a flag.
A research camp was established at Lake Hazen during the International Geophysical Year (1957-58), and today there is an abandoned RCMP post (open from 1953 to 1963 and seasonally from 1987 to 1992) at Alexandra Fiord now used as a scientific research base. GRISE FIORD is an important Inuit community. HIGH ARCTIC WEATHER STATIONS are maintained at Eureka and ALERT - the northernmost station in the Canadian Arctic (82° 29´57" N lat). In 1988 QUTTINIRPAAQ NATIONAL PARK was created on the northern part of the island.
Author JAMES MARSH
Links to Other Sites
Sea Ice Climatic Atlas for the Northern Canadian Waters
A basic overview of factors affecting ice in the sea. Click on right side menu for related maps and charts. From Environment Canada.
Quttinirpaaq National Park of Canada
This illustrated Parks Canada web site describes the ecology, geography and history of Quttinirpaaq National Park.
Geology of Hans Island
See a concise geological description of Hans Island and adjacent territory. Also, detailed geological maps of Hans Island (JPEG 2000) can be accessed by clicking on "RSS" in the right side menu. From Natural Resources Canada.
A brief description and detailed map of Ellesmere Island. A University of Guelph website.
Find out about Nunavut's territorial parks, heritage rivers, and other special places. A Government of Nunavut website.
A multimedia feature about Hans Island in the eastern High Arctic region. Includes maps, photos, and the latest news about Hans Island. From the website for "Canadian Geographic."
This article from the journal “NATURE” focuses on the extent of glaciation at the northern margin of the Canadian/Greenland high-latitude Arctic region over the past 30,000 years. Includes a map showing location of Hans Island.
The Muskox Patrol: High Arctic Sovereignty Revisited
A 2003 article about the role of the Royal Canadian Mounted Police in the Canadian government’s quest to secure international recognition of its claims to sovereignty over the High Arctic islands. Includes photos of the ship “Beothic,” the Dundas Harbour RCMP Detachment, and more. From the Arctic Institute of North America.
This article offers a glimpse into scientific research and military activities centred around Canadian Forces Station Alert, located at the northern tip of the most northerly island in Canada's Arctic Archipelago. From “Canadian Geographic” magazine.
Ellesmere Island loses huge ice shelf
A 2008 news story about the breaking away of the Markham Ice Shelf from Ellesmere Island in the Canadian Arctic. From the canada.com website.
The Oldest Arctic Ice
An article about a small remnant of the former Ellesmere Ice Shelf that has been described as the oldest non-glacial ice in the northern hemisphere. From science20.com.
High Arctic ice shelves
An illustrated article about a series of ice shelves located on the coastline of northern Ellesmere Island, Nunavut. See links at the bottom of the page for additional information about ice shelves. From the IPY MERGE program.
Shawnadithit grew anxious waiting for her uncle, Longnon, to return to camp at the junction of Badger Brook and the Exploits River, deep in the wilds of Newfoundland...