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Ellesmere Island is part of the Qikiqtaaluk Regionmarker of the Canadianmarker territory of Nunavutmarker. Lying within the Canadian Arctic Archipelagomarker it is considered part of the Queen Elizabeth Islandsmarker, with Cape Columbiamarker being the most northerly point of land in Canada. It comprises an area of , making it the world's tenth largest island and Canada's third largest island. The Arctic Cordillera mountain system covers much of Ellesmere Island, making it the most mountainous in the Canadian Arctic Archipelago. The Arctic willow is the only woody species to grow on Ellesmere Island.


The first human inhabitants of Ellesmere Island were small bands drawn to the area for Peary caribou, muskox, and marine mammal hunting about 2000–1000 BC.

As was the case for the Dorset (or Palaeoeskimo) hunters and the pioneering Neoeskimos, the Post-Ruin Island and Late Thule culture Inuit used the Bache Peninsulamarker region extensively both summer and winter until environmental, ecological and possibly social circumstances caused the area to be abandoned. It was the last region in the Canadian High Arctic to be depopulated during the "Little Ice Age", attesting to its general economic importance as part of the Smith Soundmarker culture sphere of which it was occasionally a part and sometimes the principal settlement component.

Vikings from the Greenlandmarker colonies reached Ellesmere Island, Skraeling Islandmarker and Ruin Island during hunting expeditions and trading with the Inuit groups. Unusual structures on Bache peninsula may be the remains of a late-period Dorset stone longhouse.

The first European to sight the island after the height of the "Little Ice Age" was William Baffin, in 1616; said "Age" lasted until roughly 1850. Ellesmere Island was named in 1852 by Edward Inglefield's expedition after Francis Egerton, 1st Earl of Ellesmere. The Americanmarker expedition led by Adolphus Greely in 1881 crossed the island from east to west. The Greely expedition found fossil forests on Ellesmere Island in the late 1880s. Stenkul Fiord was first explored in 1902 by Per Schei, a member of Otto Sverdrup's 2nd Norwegian Polar Expedition.

The Ellesmere Ice Shelf was documented by the British Arctic Expedition of 1875–76, in which Lieutenant Pelham Aldrich's party went from Cape Sheridanmarker ( ) west to Cape Alert ( ), including the Ward Hunt Ice Shelf. In 1906 Robert Peary led an expedition in northern Ellesmere Island, from Cape Sheridan along the coast to the western side of Nansen Soundmarker (93°W). During Peary's expedition, the Ice Shelf was continuous; a modern estimate is that it covered .


Satellite image montage showing Ellesmere Island and its neighbours

Protected areas

More than one-fifth of the island is protected as Quttinirpaaq National Parkmarker (formerly Ellesmere Island National Park Reserve), which includes seven fjords and a variety of glaciers, as well as Lake Hazenmarker, North America's largest lake north of the Arctic Circle. Barbeau Peakmarker, the highest mountain in Nunavut ( ) is located in the British Empire Rangemarker on Ellesmere Island. The most northern mountain range in the world, the Challenger Mountainsmarker, is located in the northeast region of the island. The northern lobe of the island is called Grant Landmarker.

In July 2007, a study noted the disappearance of habitat for waterfowl, invertebrates, and algae on Ellesmere Island. According to John P. Smol of Queen's Universitymarker in Kingston, Ontariomarker, and Marianne S. V. Douglas of the University of Albertamarker in Edmontonmarker, warming conditions and evaporation have caused low water levels changes in the chemistry of ponds and wetlands in the area. The researchers noted that "In the 1980s they often needed to wear hip waders to make their way to the ponds...while by 2006 the same areas were dry enough to burn."

Glaciers and ice caps

Large portions of Ellesmere Island are covered with glaciers and ice, with Manson Icefield and Sydkap in the south; Prince of Wales Icefield and Agassiz Ice Cap along the central-east side of the island, along with substantial ice cover in Northern Ellesmere Island. The northwest coast of Ellesmere Island was covered by a massive, long ice shelf until the 20th century. The Ellesmere Ice Shelf was reduced by 90 percent in the twentieth century due to global warming, leaving the separate Alfred Ernest, Ayles, Milne, Ward Hunt, and Markham Ice Shelves. A 1986 survey of Canadian ice shelves found that of ice calved from the Milne and Aylesmarker ice shelves between 1959 and 1974. The Ward Hunt Ice Shelf, the largest remaining section of thick (>10 m, >30 ft) landfast sea ice along the northern coastline of Ellesmere Island, lost of ice in a massive calving in 1961-1962. It further decreased by 27% in thickness ( ) between 1967 and 1999.

The breakup of the Ellesmere Ice Shelves has continued in the 21st century: the Ward Ice Shelf experienced a major breakup during summer 2002; the Ayles Ice Shelf calved entirely on August 13, 2005; the largest breakoff of the ice shelf in 25 years, it may pose a threat to the oil industry in the Beaufort Seamarker. The piece is . In April 2008, it was discovered that the Ward Hunt shelf was fractured into dozens of deep, multi-faceted cracks and in September 2008 the Markham shelf (50 km2 / 20 square miles) completely broke off to become floating sea-ice.


Schei and later Nathorst described the Paleocene-Eocene (ca. 55 Ma) fossil forest in the Stenkul Fiord sediments. The Stenkul Fiord site represents a series of deltaic swamp and floodplain forests. The trees stood for at least 400 years. Individual stumps and stems of >1 m (>3 ft) diameter were abundant. Abundance of Metasequoia and possibly Glyptostrobus trees.

In 2006, University of Chicagomarker paleontologist Neil H. Shubin reported the discovery of the fossil of a Paleozoic (ca. 375 Ma) fish, named Tiktaalik roseae, in the former stream beds of Ellesmere Island. The fossil exhibits many characteristics of fish, but also indicates a transitional creature that may be a predecessor of amphibians, reptiles, dinosaurs, mammals, and eventually humans.

Insect ecology

Ellesmere Island is noted as being the northernmost occurrence of eusocial insects; specifically, the bumblebee Bombus polaris. There is a second species of bumblebee occurring there, Bombus hyperboreus, which is a parasite in the nests of B. polaris.


In 2006, the population of Ellesmere Island was recorded as 146. There are three settlements on Ellesmere Island including Alertmarker (pop. 5), Eurekamarker (pop. 0), and Grise Fiordmarker (pop. 141). Politically, it is part of the Qikiqtaaluk Region.

Canadian Forces Station Alert is the northernmost settlement in the world. With the end of the Cold War and the advent of new technologies allowing for remote interpretation of data, the overwintering population has been reduced to 50.

Eureka, which is the second northernmost settlement in the world, consists of three areas, "Eureka Airportmarker" which includes "Fort Eureka" (the quarters for military personnel maintaining the island's communications equipment), the Environment Canada Weather Station and the Polar Environmental Atmospheric Research Laboratory (PEARL), formally the Arctic Stratospheric Ozone (AStrO) Observatory.

See also


External links

Further reading

  • Dick, Lyle. Muskox Land Ellesmere Island in the Age of Contact. Calgary: University of Calgary Press, 2001. ISBN 1552380505
  • Eberle, Jaelyn, and Malcolm McKenna. 2002. "Early Eocene Leptictida, Pantolesta, Creodonta, Carnivora, and Mesonychidae (Mammalia) from the Eureka Sound Group, Ellesmere Island, Nunavut". Canadian Journal of Earth Sciences. 39: 899-910.
  • Kobalenko, Jerry. The Horizontal Everest Extreme Journeys on Ellesmere Island. New York, NY: Soho, 2002. ISBN 1569472661
  • Manseau, Micheline, Lyle Dick, and Natasha Lyons. People, caribou, and muskoxen on northern Ellesmere Island historical interactions and population ecology, ca. 4300 BP to present = Humains, caribous et boeuf musqués dans le nord de l'Île d'Ellesmere : interactions historiques et écologie des populations, v. 4 300 AA jusqu'à aujourd'hui = Inuit, tuttuit, ammalu umimmait aisuittup qikiqsuluata uannaqpasinggani : uatsiarisnisait qanuiliusninggit ammalu amiruninnginnit nasainiq uumajurnit, ca 4300 BP maannamut. [Ottawa]: Parks Canada = Parcs Canada, 2005. ISBN 066268835X
  • Schledermann, Peter, and Karen Margrethe McCullough. Late Thule Culture Developments on the Central East Coast of Ellesmere Island. Copenhagen: Danish Polar Center, 2003. ISBN 8790369645

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