Arctic archipelago

Canadian Arctic Archipelago
Polar projection map of the Canadian Arctic Archipelago
Location Northern Canada

75°N 90°W / 75°N 90°W / 75; -90 (Canadian Arctic Archipelago)Coordinates: 75°N 90°W / 75°N 90°W / 75; -90 (Canadian Arctic Archipelago)

Total islands 36,563
Major islands Baffin Island, Victoria Island, Ellesmere Island
Area 1,424,500 km2 (550,000 sq mi)
Territories  Nunavut
 Northwest Territories
Largest city Iqaluit, Nunavut (pop. 6,184)
Population 14,000
Density 0.01 /km2 (0.03 /sq mi)

The Canadian Arctic Archipelago, also known as the Arctic Archipelago, is a Canadian archipelago north of the Canadian mainland in the Arctic. Situated in the northern extremity of North America and covering about 1,424,500 km2 (550,000 sq mi), this group of 36,563 islands comprises much of the territory of Northern Canada – most of Nunavut and part of the Northwest Territories.[1] The Canadian Arctic Archipelago is showing some effects of global warming,[2][3] with some computer estimates giving a 3.5 cm (1.4 in) rise in sea levels by 2100.[4]


British claims on the islands were based on the explorations in the 1570s by Martin Frobisher. Canadian sovereignty, originally (1870–80) only over island portions that drained into Foxe Basin, Hudson Bay and Hudson Strait, over all of them was not established until the 1880 transfer by Britain to Canada of the remaining islands; the District of Franklin was established in 1895, which comprised almost all of the archipelago; the district was dissolved upon the creation of Nunavut in 1999. Canada claims all the waterways of the Northwestern Passages as Canadian Internal Waters; however the United States and most other maritime countries view these as international waters.[5] Disagreement over the passages' status has raised Canadian concerns about environmental enforcement, national security, and general sovereignty. Hans Island, in the Nares Strait east of Ellesmere Island, is a territory currently contested between Canada and Denmark.


The archipelago extends some 2,400 km (1,500 mi) longitudinally and 1,900 km (1,200 mi) from the mainland to Cape Columbia, the northernmost point on Ellesmere Island. It is bounded on the west by the Beaufort Sea; on the northwest by the Arctic Ocean; on the east by Greenland, Baffin Bay and Davis Strait; and on the south by Hudson Bay and the Canadian mainland. The various islands are separated from each other and the continental mainland by a series of waterways collectively known as the Northwestern Passages. Two large peninsulas, Boothia and Melville, extend northward from the mainland.

The archipelago consists of 36,563 islands, of which 94 are classified as major islands, being larger than 130 km2 (50 sq mi), and cover a total area of 1,400,000 km2 (540,000 sq mi).[6] The islands of the archipelago over 10,000 km2 (3,900 sq mi), in order of descending area, are:

Name Location* Area Area rank Population
World Canada
Baffin Island NU 507,451 km2 (195,928 sq mi) 5 1 9,563
Victoria Island NT, NU 217,291 km2 (83,897 sq mi) 9 2 1,707
Ellesmere Island NU 196,236 km2 (75,767 sq mi) 10 3 168
Banks Island NT 70,028 km2 (27,038 sq mi) 24 5 114
Devon Island NU 55,247 km2 (21,331 sq mi) 27 6 0
Axel Heiberg Island NU 43,178 km2 (16,671 sq mi) 32 7 0
Melville Island NT, NU 42,149 km2 (16,274 sq mi) 33 8 0
Southampton Island NU 41,214 km2 (15,913 sq mi) 34 9 721
Prince of Wales Island NU 33,339 km2 (12,872 sq mi) 40 10 0
Somerset Island NU 24,786 km2 (9,570 sq mi) 46 12 0
Bathurst Island NU 16,042 km2 (6,194 sq mi) 54 13 0
Prince Patrick Island NT 15,848 km2 (6,119 sq mi) 55 14 0
King William Island NU 13,111 km2 (5,062 sq mi) 61 15 960
Ellef Ringnes Island NU 11,295 km2 (4,361 sq mi) 69 16 0
Bylot Island NU 11,067 km2 (4,273 sq mi) 72 17 0
* NT = Northwest Territories, NU = Nunavut

After Greenland, the archipelago is the world’s largest high-Arctic land area. The climate of the islands is arctic, and the terrain consists of tundra except in mountainous areas. Most of the islands are uninhabited; human settlement is extremely thin and scattered, being mainly coastal Inuit settlements on the southern islands.

Map with links to islands

Islands not on map


See also

Geography of Canada portal
Arctic portal


Further reading

  • Aiken, S.G., M.J. Dallwitz, L.L. Consaul, et al. Flora of the Canadian Arctic Archipelago: Descriptions, Illustrations, Identification, and Information Retrieval[CD]. Ottawa: NRC Research Press; Ottawa: Canadian Museum of Nature, 2007. ISBN 978-0-660-19727-2.
  • Aiken, S. G., Laurie Lynn Consaul, and M. J. Dallwitz. Grasses of the Canadian Arctic Archipelago. Ottawa: Research Division, Canadian Museum of Nature, 1995.
  • Bouchard, Giselle. Freshwater Diatom Biogeography of the Canadian Arctic Archipelago. Ottawa: Library and Archives Canada = Bibliothèque et Archives Canada, 2005. ISBN 0-494-01424-5
  • Brown, Roger James Evan. Permafrost in the Canadian Arctic Archipelago. National Research Council of Canada, Division of Building Research, 1972.
  • Cota GF, LW Cooper, DA Darby, and IL Larsen. 2006. "Unexpectedly High Radioactivity Burdens in Ice-Rafted Sediments from the Canadian Arctic Archipelago". The Science of the Total Environment. 366, no. 1: 253-61.
  • Dunphy, Michael. Validation of a modelling system for tides in the Canadian Arctic Archipelago. Canadian technical report of hydrography and ocean sciences, 243. Dartmouth, N.S.: Fisheries and Oceans Canada, 2005.
  • Hamilton, Paul B., Konrad Gajewski, David E. Atkinson, and David R.S. Lean. 2001. "Physical and Chemical Limnology of 204 Lakes from the Canadian Arctic Archipelago". Hydrobiologia. 457, no. 1/3: 133-148.
  • Mi︠a︡rss, Tiĭu, Mark V. H. Wilson, and R. Thorsteinsson. Silurian and Lower Devonian Thelodonts and Putative Chondrichthyans from the Canadian Arctic Archipelago. Special papers in palaeontology, no. 75. London: Palaeontological Association, 2006. ISBN 0-901702-99-4
  • Michel, C Ingram, R G, and L R Harris. 2006. "Variability in Oceanographic and Ecological Processes in the Canadian Arctic Archipelago". Progress in Oceanography. 71, no. 2: 379.
  • Porsild, A.E. The Vascular Plants of the Western Canadian Arctic Archipelago. Ottawa: E. Cloutier, Queen's printer, 1955.
  • Rae, R. W. Climate of the Canadian Arctic Archipelago. Toronto: Canada Dept. of Transport, 1951.
  • Thorsteinsson, R., and Ulrich Mayr. The Sedimentary Rocks of Devon Island, Canadian Arctic Archipelago. Ottawa, Canada: Geological Survey of Canada, 1987. ISBN 0-660-12319-3
  • Van der Baaren, Augustine, and S. J. Prinsenberg. Geostrophic transport estimates from the Canadian Arctic Archipelago. Dartmouth, N.S.: Ocean Sciences Division, Maritimes Region, Fisheries and Oceans Canada, Bedford Institute of Oceanography, 2002.

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