Canadian Arctic Archipelago

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The following article is from The Great Soviet Encyclopedia (1979). It might be outdated or ideologically biased.

Canadian Arctic Archipelago


a group of islands belonging to Canada and located off the northern coast of North America. Area, 1.3 million sq km. The largest islands are Baffin, Ellesmere, Victoria, Banks, and Devon. The archipelago is located within the continental shelf. On the north and the east it is washed by the Arctic Ocean (Beaufort Sea, Lincoln Sea, Robson and Kennedy channels, Kane Basin, Smith Sound, and Baffin Bay) and on the southeast and south, by the Atlantic Ocean (Davis Strait, Hudson Strait, and Foxe Basin). The depth of the straits ranges from 150 to 300 m.

In the east the terrain is high-mountainous. The eastern shores of Ellesmere, Devon, and Baffin islands, which are made up of ancient crystalline rocks, are deeply indented by fjords, have rocky cliffs, and are difficult to reach. The plateau-like summits, which are up to 1, 500–3, 000 m Ijigh, are covered with ice caps. The central and southern portions of the archipelago are occupied by low-mountain ridges, hilly uplands, and benched plateaus from 200–500 m high, which consist primarily of sedimentary rocks of the Paleozoic era. The coasts of Victoria, Banks, and Prince of Wales islands are, for the most part, perpendicular and deeply dissected by valleys. The northwestern part of the archipelago (Prince Patrick, Mackenzie King, Borden, and Ellef Ringnes islands) is a low-lying area made up of friable marine deposits and characterized by extensive permafrost forms of terrain. The most important minerals are petroleum and natural gas (Melville, Bathurst, and Cornwallis islands) and iron ores (the northern part of Baffin Island).

The climate is arctic and extremely harsh. In the east it is moister and in the west, sharply continental. The average January temperature ranges from − 23°C in the southeast to − 35°C in the northwest, and the average July temperature varies from 7°C in the south to 4°C in the north. The absolute minimum temperatures go as low as − 50°C. The total annual precipitation ranges from 400–450 mm in the southeast to 100 mm and less in the north. Perennially frozen soils are prevalent everywhere.

Today, glaciation is widely developed in the north and northeast (total area, 154, 000 sq km). At the northern tip of Ellesmere Island there is a region of shelf ice up to 20 km wide that gives rise to arctic ice islands. The boundary of the perennial pack ice runs along the northwestern edge of the archipelago. The northwest maritime route is difficult to reach. During the summers the eastern straits (Hudson, Davis, and Lancaster), as well as the bodies of water along the continental coastline (Amundsen Gulf, Dolphin and Union Strait, and Queen Maud Gulf), are the most free of ice.

The flora of the Canadian Arctic Archipelago includes 340 species of higher plants. In the extreme north the vegetation of the arctic wastelands prevails. The south is characterized by mossy-lichen and mossy-scrub tundras on typical tundra soils, for the most part rocky. The fauna of the archipelago consists chiefly of polar species—reindeer, polar bears, arctic foxes, lemmings, and alpine partridges. The most typical indigenous species is the musk ox. The coastal waters are inhabited by seals, whales, and Atlantic walruses.

The population of the Canadian Arctic Archipelago (several thousand persons, primarily Eskimo) is engaged in sea hunting, hunting, and fishing. The most important populated points are Frobisher Bay (population, 1, 631 in 1966), which is the site of an international airport, Cambridge Bay, with its trading post and large airport, and Resolute, which has a scientific observatory.


Agranat, G. A., A. B. Kupriianov, and V. F. Puzanova. Naselenie i resursy Amerikanskogo Severa. Moscow, 1963.
Antipova, A. V. Kanada: Priroda i estestvennye resursy. Moscow, 1965.
Dunbar, M., and K. Greenaway. Arctic Canada From the Air. Ottawa, 1956.
Swithinbank, C. Ice Atlas of Arctic Canada. Ottawa, 1960.
Thompson, H. A. The Climate of the Canadian Arctic. Ottawa, 1967.


The Great Soviet Encyclopedia, 3rd Edition (1970-1979). © 2010 The Gale Group, Inc. All rights reserved.
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