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Ecological Framework of Canada
Northern Arctic Ecozone

Landforms and Climate

  1. Felsenmeer (frost-shattered rock)
  2. Boulder barricade
  3. Coastal plain
  4. Patterned ground
  5. Scarp
  6. Dissected plateau
  7. Raised beach terraces
  8. Sedimentary outcrop
  9. Frost-heaved rock
  10. Solifluction lobes

Much of the Northern Arctic Ecozone consists of low rolling plains covered with soil and rock debris left by glaciers. In these areas, the landscape may be covered by nothing more than frost-patterned soils, frost-shattered limestone, and sandstone for hundreds of square kilometres. The area has numerous landscape features more commonly associated with the badlands of the American southwest.

Many coastlines are characterized by wide flat plains that extend up to 10 km inland. Most of these coastal plains were once submerged beneath the sea. Following their release from the crushing weight of glacial ice, they have rebounded over the past few thousand years. Ancient beach terraces that now lie far from shore testify to the uplifting. Some shorelines are closely paralleled by lines of "boulder barricades" pushed there by sea ice carried ashore by strong tides and storm waves.

Broad plateaus are common in the interior area. They often show deep V-shaped cuts along their shoulders where past or present streamflows have cut through their sedimentary layers. On some islands, the plateau edges are sheer cliffs that create inaccessible coastlines. Some cliffs located beside productive marine waters provide protected nesting habitat for colonies of seabirds such as Thick-billed Murres and Northern Fulmars.

Perennial frozen ground known as permafrost lies beneath the entire ecozone. Under a thin active layer, which freezes in winter and thaws each summer, permafrost may extend almost 1 km downwards. The constant freezing and thawing creates unstable soils that form cell-like shapes known as "patterned ground."

Summers are short and cold, with mean daily temperatures above freezing only in July and August. Daily winter temperatures average less than -30oC in the coldest area of this ecozone, the northern islands. Snow cover usually lasts from September to June, but it can fall during any month. Annual ecozone precipitation is less than 250 mm except in southeast Baffin and Labrador where it can exceed 500 mm. While the northern islands have the least precipitation of the arctic ecozones, moisture is plentiful -- in lakes and rivers, in muskegs and permafrost, in the snow cover, in the permanent ice, and in the Arctic Ocean.