Back to the ecozone list  
Northern Arctic  
Map of the Arctic Cordillera ecozone  

Location | Climate | Geology and geography | Flora and fauna | Humans | Images

The Arctic Cordillera runs along the northeastern fringe of Nunavut and Labrador, notably on Ellesmere and Baffin Islands.

This ecozone is one of the most inhospitable in Canada. Summer temperatures range from -2 degrees in the mountains of Ellesmere Island to 6 degrees in northern Labrador, but winter brings temperatures as low as -35║C in the north. Precipitation is commonly snow, and the north has an average of only 200mm of precipitation a year, although in Labrador it can reach as much as 600mm annually. Although winter is long and dark, the short growing season is aided by the extremely long days come summer.

Geology and Geography
Photo: Clayton Kennedy, Canadian Museum of NatureContaining soaring mountain peaks and desolate valleys, the northern extent of this ecozone contains mountains that exceed two kilometres in height, some of the highest in the country. This is the only major mountain chain in Eastern Canada. Precambrian rock is the major component of the bedrock. The drier northern section is largely covered with ice caps while glaciers are common at the more humid southern end.

Flora and Fauna

Not much can grow in the harsh conditions, where killing frosts can come at any time during the year and even soil is rare. Three-quarters of the land here is bare rock; and even lichen have a hard time of it. Trees here are barely recognizable stunted versions of themselves. Plants that do grow here are usually tiny species that often grow in thick insulating mats to protect themselves from the cold or are covered in thick hairs that help to insulate and to protect them from the bitter wind.

Some of the plant species found are arctic black spruce, arctic willow, cottongrass, kobresia, moss species, wood rush, wire rush, purple saxifrage, Dryas species, sedges, Diapensia, arctic poppy, mountain avens, mountain sorrel, river beauty, moss campion, bilberry, and arctic white heather.

The conditions here are far too harsh for reptiles and amphibians to survive, and insects are also rare here.
Muskoxen and barren-ground caribou are the only large herbivores in this ecosystem, while polar bears and the arctic wolf are the only large carnivores to be found here. Smaller herbivores include the arctic hare and the collared lemming. Arctic foxes, shorttailed weasels and ermines are some of the smaller carnivores found here. Marine mammals include narwhals, beluga whales, walrus, and ringed and bearded seals.
The furry-legged rock ptarmigan is a common bird in this desolate place. Characteristic birds of prey include the gyrfalcon and snowy owl. Some of the more common shore- and seabirds are the thick-billed murre, black-legged kittiwake, ruddy turnstone, red knot, black guillemot, common ringed plover, little ringed plover and northern fulmar. Songbirds found in the Arctic Cordillera include the hoary redpoll, common redpoll, snow bunting, and lapland longspur. The snow goose, common and king eider, and red-throated loon are some species of waterfowl that live here.

Only about a thousand people live permanently in this region and most of the population is Inuit. Most people live through subsistence activities, such as hunting, trapping and fishing, although gas and oil exploration also provide a living for some.

Bylot Island
Pond Inlet, Baffin Island
Ice tongue, Ellesmere Island
Mokka Fjord, Axel Heiberg Island


Northern Arctic

Back to the ecozone list