Canadian Arctic and Northwest Passage

Arctic and Northwest Passage

Imagine a Polar Desert at the top of the world, extending southward to vast treeless barren plains of Arctic Tundra where the ground is frozen for up to 10 months of the year, rimmed by towering fjords along the eastern coastline of Baffin Island, and you will have a pretty good sense of the Arctic habitat.

Summers of perpetual sunlight reach temperatures as high as 30 degrees Celsius while long and perpetually dark winters can descend to temperatures below minus 50 degrees Celsius. Unlike the Antarctic, which is a continent covered in ice, the Arctic consists of ocean surrounded by land. The relatively stable temperature of the ocean prevents the Arctic from becoming the coldest place on earth. Nevertheless, it is a landscape for the strong of spirit.

Generally defined as being north of the tree-line, the Canadian Arctic encompasses 26% of Canada’s surface land (2.6 million km2) and contains two distinct regions known as the Arctic Lowlands and the Innuitian Region of the high Arctic. The mountainous zone and fjord coastline of the eastern rim of the Arctic, along Baffin Island and Ellesmere Island, is actually a portion of the Canadian Shield region. The southern edge of the Arctic is defined by a 30-150 km border zone separating the Subarctic Boreal Forest from the Arctic Tundra – where trees no longer grow, and the permafrost becomes continuous.

The Arctic Tundra receives only 20-30 cm of precipitation each year and progressively less as one heads northward, until Polar Desert conditions (10cm precipitation/year) prevail at the high latitudes. Despite these harsh conditions, the Arctic is home to a number of resilient animals such as the Muskox, Polar Bears, and the Arctic Fox.