Baffin Island

Baffin Island

Baffin Island, 183,810 sq mi (476,068 sq km), c.1,000 mi (1,610 km) long and from 130 to 450 mi (210-720 km) wide, in the Arctic Ocean, Nunavut Territory, Canada. It is the fifth largest island in the world and the easternmost member of the Arctic Archipelago. Baffin Island is geographically and geologically a continuation of Labrador, from which it is separated by Hudson Strait. The western side of the island is covered largely by tundra. There are many freshwater lakes, including Nettilling (1,956 sq mi/5,066 sq km) and Amadjuak. In the east, snow-covered mountain ranges rise more than 8,000 ft (2,440 m). The deeply indented coastline has many fjords. Most of the island's inhabitants are Inuits who live mainly at coastal trading posts. Whaling, fur trading, and fishing are the chief occupations. The posts have stores, post offices, police stations, schools, and occasionally hospitals. Martin Frobisher visited the island between 1576 and 1578, and Iqaluit, formerly Frobisher Bay, in the southeast, is the principal town. The island is named for William Baffin, the British explorer who explored the Arctic in 1616.

Largest island in Canada and fifth largest island in the world (183,810 sq mi [476,068 sq km]), lying between Greenland and the Canadian mainland. Located west of Baffin Bay and the Davis Strait, it is administered as part of Nunavut territory. It was probably visited by Norse explorers in the 11th century. It was sighted by Martin Frobisher during his search for a Northwest Passage (1576–78). It is uninhabited except for a few coastal settlements. The world's northernmost mines are at Nanisvik. In 1972 Auyuittuq National Park was created on the eastern coast.

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Baffin Island (ᕿᑭᖅᑖᓗᒃ, Qikiqtaaluk, Île de Baffin, Old Norse: Helluland) in the territory of Nunavut is the largest member of the Canadian Arctic Archipelago. It is the largest island in Canada and the fifth largest island in the world, with an area of 507,451 km² (195,928 sq mi). It has a population of 11,000 (2007). It is named after British explorer William Baffin. It is likely that the island was known to Pre-Columbian Norse of Greenland and Iceland and maybe the location of Helluland spoken of in the Icelandic sagas (the Eiríks saga rauða and the Grœnlendinga saga).

In September 2008, the local Nunatsiaq News reported archaeological remains of yarn, rats, tally sticks, a carved wooden face mask depicting Caucasian features, and possible architectural remains, which place European traders and possibly settlers on Baffin Island not later than 1000AD. What the source of this Old World contact may have been is unclear; the report states: "Dating of some yarn and other artifacts, presumed to be left by Vikings on Baffin Island, have produced an age that predates the Vikings by several hundred years. So [...] you have to consider the possibility that as remote as it may seem, these finds may represent evidence of contact with Europeans prior to the Vikings' arrival in Greenland."

Geography

Iqaluit, the capital of Nunavut, is located on the southeastern coast. Until 1987, the town shared the name Frobisher Bay with the bay on which it is located.

To the south lies Hudson Strait, separating Baffin from Quebec on the mainland. To the east are Davis Strait and Baffin Bay, with Greenland beyond. The Foxe Basin, the Gulf of Boothia and Lancaster Sound separate Baffin Island from the rest of the archipelago to the west and north.

The Baffin Mountains run along the northeastern shore of the island and are a part of the Arctic Cordillera. Mount Odin is the highest peak, with an elevation of at least 2,143 m (7,030 ft) (some sources say 2,147 m/7,044 ft) (Another peak of note is Mount Asgard, located in Auyuittuq National Park, with an elevation of 2,011 m, (6,596 ft).

The two largest lakes on the island lie in the south-central portion of the island: Nettilling Lake (5066 km², 1,956 sq mi) and Amadjuak Lake further south.

The Barnes icecap is in the central part of the island. It has been in retreat since at least the early 1960s, when the Geographical Branch of the then-Department of Mines & Technical Surveys sent a three-man survey team to the area to measure isostatic rebound and cross-valley features of the Isortoq River.

Politics

Baffin Island is part of the Qikiqtaaluk Region.

Communities (by size)  (2006 population)

Iqaluit 6,184
Pangnirtung 1,325
Pond Inlet 1,315
Clyde River 820
Arctic Bay 690
Kimmirut 411
Nanisivik 0 (From 77 in 2001- Mine Closure)

Additionally, the communities of Qikiqtarjuaq and Cape Dorset are located on offshore islands.

Wildlife

Baffin Island has both year-round and summer visitor wildlife. On land, examples of year-round wildlife are barren-ground caribou, polar bear, arctic fox, arctic hare, lemming and arctic wolf.

Barren-ground caribou herds that migrate in a limited range from northern Baffin island down to the southern part in winter, even to Frobisher Bay peninsula, next to Resolution Island and migrate back north in the summer.

Polar Bears can be found all along the coast of Baffin Island, but are most prevalent where the sea ice is located as pack ice, where their major food sources — ringed seals (jar seal) and bearded seals — live. Polar bears mate approximately every year with from one to three cubs being born around March. Female polar bears may travel 10-20 km (6-12 mi) inland to find a large snow bank where they dig a den in which to spend the winter and later for giving birth.

Arctic fox that can usually be found where polar bears venture on the fast ice close to land in their search for seals. Arctic foxes are scavengers, and often follow polar bears to get their leavings. On Baffin Island, Arctic foxes are sometimes trapped by Inuit, but there is not a robust fur industry.

Arctic hare are found throughout Baffin island. Their fur is pure white in winter and molts to a scruffy dark grey in summer. Arctic hares, besides lemmings are a primary food source for Arctic foxes and Arctic wolves.

Lemmings are also found throughout the island, and are a major food source for Arctic foxes, Arctic wolves and the snowy owl. In the winter, lemmings dig complicated tunnel systems through the snow drifts in order to get to their food supply of dry grasses, and lichens.

The Arctic wolf is also a year-round resident of Baffin Island. Unlike the grey and brown wolves in the southern climes, Arctic wolves often do not hunt in packs, although a male-female pair may hunt together.

In the water (or under the ice) the year-round visitors are mainly the ringed seal.

The ringed seal is a year-round resident of Baffin Island, where it lives off-shore within 8 km (5 mi) of land. During the winter, it makes a number of breathing holes through ice up to 8 ft thick by visiting each one often, and keeping the hole open and free from ice. In March, when a female is ready to whelp, she will enlarge one of the breathing holes that has snow over it, and create a small "igloo" where they whelp one or two pups. Within three weeks the pups are in the water and swimming. During the summer, ringed seals keep to a narrow territory approximately 3 km (2 mi) along the shoreline. If pack ice moves in, they may venture out 4-10 km (2½-6 mi) and follow the pack ice, dragging themselves up on an ice floe to take advantage of the sun.

Summer land visitors to Baffin Island all have wings and all come to nest. Baffin Island is one of the major nesting destinations from the Eastern and Mid-West flyways for many species of migrating birds. Waterfowl include Canada goose, snow goose and brent goose (brant goose). Shore birds include the phalarope, various waders (commonly called sandpipers), murres including Brünnich's guillemot, and plovers. Three gull species also nest on Baffin Island: glaucous gull, herring gull and ivory gull.

Long-range travellers include the arctic tern, which migrates from Antarctica every spring. The variety of water birds that nest here include coots, loons, mallards, and many other duck species.

Water species that visit Baffin Island in the summer are:

Harp seals (or saddle-backed seals), which migrate from major breeding grounds off the coast of Labrador and the south-east coast of Greenland to Baffin Island for the summer. Migrating at speeds of 15–20 km/h (9-12 mph), they all come up to breathe at the same time, then dive and swim up to 1–2 km (0.6-1.2 mi) before surfacing again. They migrate in large pods consisting of a hundred or more seals, to within 1–8 km (0.6-5 mi) of the shoreline, which they then follow, feeding on crustaceans and fish.

Walrus, which actually do not migrate far off land in the winter. They merely follow the "fast ice", or ice that is solidly attached to land, and stay ahead of it as the ice hardens further and further out to sea. As winter progresses, they will always remain where there is open water free of ice. When the ice melts, they move in to land and can be found basking on rocks close to shore. One of the largest walrus herds can be found in the Foxe Basin on the western side of Baffin Island.

Beluga or white whales migrate along the coast of Baffin Island as some head north to the feeding grounds in the Davis Strait between Greenland and Baffin Island, or into the Hudson Strait or any of the bays and estuaries in between. Usually travelling in pods of two or more, they can often be found very close to shore (100 m, 300 ft, or less), where they come up to breathe every 30 seconds or so as they make their way along the coastline eating crustaceans.

Narwhals, which are known for their long, spiraling tusks (males only), can also be found along the coast of Baffin Island in the summer. Much like their beluga cousins they may be found in pairs or even in a large pod of ten or more males, females and newborns. They also can be often found close to the shoreline, gracefully pointing their tusks skyward as they come up for air. When they first arrive, the males arrive a few weeks ahead of the females and young.

The largest summer visitor to Baffin Island is the bowhead whale. Found throughout the Arctic range, one group of bowhead whales are known to migrate to the Foxe Basin, a bay on the western side of Baffin Island. It is still not known whether they visit for the lush sea bounty or to calve in the Foxe Basin.

Climate

Baffin Island lies in the path of a generally northerly airflow all year round, so like much of eastern Canada, has an unusually cold climate. This brings very long, cold winters and foggy, cloudy summers, which have helped to add to the remoteness of the island. Spring thaw arrives much later than normal for a position straddling the Arctic Circle; around early June at Iqaluit in the south-east to early/mid July on the northcoast where glaciers run right down to sea level. Snow, even heavy snow occurs at any time of the year, although is least likely in July and early August. Average annual temperatures at Iqaluit are around -8.5°C, compared with Reykjavik, around 5°C, slightly further north on the other side of Greenland. Sea Ice surrounds the island for most of the year, and until recently, only disappeared completely from the north coast for short unpredictable periods in August, if at all. At present, the sea is only clear of ice off Iqaluit from mid to late June until the end of September. Most of Baffin Island lies above the Arctic Circle and all the communities from Pangnirtung north are subject to Polar night and the midnight sun. For example, the eastern community of Clyde River experiences continuous sunlight from May 14 to July 28, a period of 2½ months. In addition the long period from April 26 until May 13 and from July 29 until August 16 when twilight is the darkest part of the day means the community has just over 3½ months of light. In the winter the sun sets November 22 and does not rise again until January 19 of the next year. However, unlike places such as Alert, twilight occurs for at least 4 hours a day.

Sports & activities

Baffin Island is becoming popular amongst the BASE jumping community as a hotspot due to a wide array of 900 to 1,200 m (3,000 to 4,000 ft) tall cliffs scattered around the island.

References

Further reading

  • Boas, Franz, and Ludger Müller-Wille. Franz Boas Among the Inuit of Baffin Island, 1883-1884 Journals and Letters. Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 1998. ISBN 0802041507
  • Kuhnlein HV, R Soueida, and O Receveur. 1996. "Dietary Nutrient Profiles of Canadian Baffin Island Inuit Differ by Food Source, Season, and Age". Journal of the American Dietetic Association. 96, no. 2: 155-62.
  • Matthiasson, John S. Living on the Land Change Among the Inuit of Baffin Island. Peterborough, Canada: Broadview Press, 1992. ISBN 0585305617
  • Maxwell, Moreau S. Archaeology of the Lake Harbour District, Baffin Island. Mercury series. Ottawa: Archaeological Survey of Canada, National Museum of Man, National Museums of Canada, 1973.
  • Sabo, George. Long Term Adaptations Among Arctic Hunter-Gatherers A Case Study from Southern Baffin Island. The Evolution of North American Indians. New York: Garland Pub, 1991. ISBN 082406111X
  • Sergy, Gary A. The Baffin Island Oil Spill Project. Edmonton, Alta: Environment Canada, 1986.
  • Stirling, Ian, Wendy Calvert, and Dennis Andriashek. Population Ecology Studies of the Polar Bear in the Area of Southeastern Baffin Island. [Ottawa]: Canadian Wildlife Service, 1980. ISBN 0662110978
  • Utting, D. J. Report on ice-flow history, deglacial chronology, and surficial geology, Foxe Peninsula, southwest Baffin Island, Nunavut. [Ottawa]: Geological Survey of Canada, 2007. http://dsp-psd.pwgsc.gc.ca/collection%5F2007/nrcan-rncan/M44-2007-C2E.pdf. ISBN 9780662463672

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