Arctic Ecozone+ Status and Trends Assessment
- List of Figures
- List of Tables
- Overview of the Arctic Ecozone+
- Description of the Condition of the Arctic Ecozone+ (Part 1)
- Description of the Condition of the Arctic Ecozone+ (Part 2)
- Ecosystem Goods and Services
- Human Influences
- Appendix 1: Descriptions of Surficial Materials
- Appendix 2: Detailed Land Cover Classes
Overview of the Arctic Ecozone+
- Long-term perspective: the last ice age and its retreat
- Ecozone+ characteristics
- Humans in the Arctic Ecozone+
Long-term perspective: the last ice age and its retreat
At the height of the last glaciation of the Pleistocene, about 20,000 years before present, the Laurentide ice sheet covered the mainland and some of the southern Arctic islands, including Victoria and Baffin islands, while smaller ice caps covered Melville and Bathurst islands and the islands to the northeast (Pielou, 1991). Sea level was about 150 m lower than now. The area that became Banks Island (excluding the southwestern part of the island) and parts of the western Queen Elizabeth Islands were, as they are now, polar desert (Adams and Faure, 1997).
By 13,000 years before present, Banks Island had been separated from the mainland by rising seas. Melville Island, which was connected by land to Prince Patrick Island, as well as some smaller islands to the northeast, had become ice-free (Dyke, 2004). Rising water levels isolated caribou and muskox populations from those in Beringia and, to some extent, from each other, although the animals could still walk across winter ice.
Proxy records from the Arctic Ocean floor and from surrounding land indicate that sea ice has covered at least part of the Arctic Ocean for the past 13 to 14 million years and has been widespread over the past 2 to 3 million years (Polyak et al., 2010). During periods when Earth was warmer, ice cover was reduced in extent. The most recent of these warm periods (prior to the warming of recent years) started near the beginning of the Holocene, about 10,000 years before present (Polyak et al., 2010). Based on records from the Agassiz Ice Cap (Ellesmere Island), average temperatures reached about 3°C above those of the mid-20th century, resulting in loss of multiyear landfast ice (Polyak et al., 2010). Expanses of open water during much of the year isolated islands from the mainland, creating conditions for increasing biological diversity in wildlife and in other terrestrial ecosystem components, either by genetic drift or through adaptations to local environments. Caribou and muskoxen may have thrived during this period because the vegetation changed from polar desert to dry tundra (Adams and Faure, 1997). Thick, multiyear sea ice returned to the Canadian Arctic by about 5,500 years ago and has been present since, based on evidence from Ellesmere Island (England et al., 2008). Figure 4 shows the sequence of vegetation change from the last glacial maximum through the early Holocene.
Overview by region
The Arctic Ecozone+ is characterized by low air and soil temperatures, continuous permafrost, a short growing season and limited vegetation productivity (Bolen, 1998). The area of land is about 3,148,000 km2 and the combined area of lakes, ponds and rivers is about 80,000 km2. The combined length of all the coastlines in the ecozone+ is 179,950 km, almost three-quarters of Canada’s total coastline (Natural Resources Canada, 2010). This extensive and complex interface between terrestrial and marine environments has a dominant influence on Arctic ecosystems and the wildlife and people who live there.
The Arctic Ecozone+ includes three major regions (shown in Figure 5 and described in Table 1), each an ecozone in the National Ecological Classification System (see Preface : Ecological classification system – ecozones+).
|Arctic Cordillera||Northern Arctic||Southern Arctic|
|Northeastern fringe of Nunavut and Labrador, including northeastern Baffin Island, eastern Devon Island,Ellesmere, Axel Heiberg, and Bylot islands, and the Torngat Mountains.||Non-mountainous areas of the Arctic islands plus parts of mainland Nunavut and northern Quebec.||Stretches across mainland Canada, from the Yukon coastal plain to Ungava Bay in northern Quebec.|
|A vast mountain chain (the only major Canadian mountain ranges outside of the Western Cordillera); polar ice fields, and alpine glaciers.||Low, rolling plains covered in frost-patterned soils and broken rock debris left by glaciers; broad plains in coastal zones.||Dominant features are hills and plains, ponds and lakes.|
|Dominated by lichens and some mosses at high elevations and tundra at lower elevations.||Lichens and herbs dominate, with dry tundra interspersed with wetland species.||Low shrubs mixed with herbs, lichens, and sedges such as cotton-grass. Major river valleys support scattered clumps of stunted “krummholz” trees.|
|Sparse; main communities are Pond Inlet, Clyde River, and Qikiqtarjuaq.||Iqaluit, on Baffin Island, is the largest community. Other communities with populations over one thousand include Baker Lake, Cambridge Bay, Igloolik, and Pangnirtung.||Communities are found throughout the ecozone, primarily along the coast. Those with populations over one thousand include Rankin Inlet, Arviat, Puvimituq, and Salluit. Inuvik, in the Mackenzie Delta, is just south of the ecozone+.|
Sources: Environment Canada (Environment Canada, 2005); Ecological Stratification Working Group (1995)
Rivers draining the ecozone+ flow either to Hudson Bay, Ungava Bay, or directly to the Arctic Ocean (Figure 6). The eastern slope of northern Labrador drains to the Atlantic Ocean. Because of its position along the northern rim of the Canadian mainland, the ecozone+ includes the lower reaches and marine estuaries of rivers with drainage basins extending south of the ecozone+. The vast Mackenzie River delta is partly in the Arctic Ecozone+ and partially in the Taiga Plains Ecozone+.
Topography and soils
Descriptions in this section are based on the report of the Ecological Stratification Working Group (1995).
The Arctic Cordillera has rugged mountains over 2,000 m high with massive ice fields and valley glaciers. Nunataks (mountain peaks bare of snow in summer and surrounded by valley glaciers) are common. U-shaped valleys and deep fjords extend far inland. Almost 75% of the landscape is ice or exposed bedrock. Soils are dominated by colluvial and morainal debris.
The western Northern Arctic is mainly lowland plains covered with glacial moraine, marine deposits and outcrops of Paleozoic and Mesozoic sedimentary bedrock. East of Prince of Wales and Somerset islands, granitoid Precambrian bedrock prevails. The permafrost may extend to depths of several hundred metres.
The Southern Arctic is mostly underlain by Precambrian granitic bedrock that occurs as outcrops, except in the west from Great Bear Lake to the Firth River, Yukon, where Cretaceous shales predominate. Soils are dominated by discontinuous glacial deposits except near the coasts where fine-textured marine sediments are more common. The undulating landscape has innumerable lakes, ponds and wetlands and sinuous eskers (raised ridges of gravel deposited by rivers running under the melting Laurentide ice sheet) up to 100 km long. Seasonal thaw layers are of variable thickness, and differences in moisture give rise to a variety of landforms and, consequently, plant and animal habitats.
Because of the low relief in the Southern and Northern Arctic, the high proportion of ice caps and bedrock in the Arctic Cordillera, the generally frozen soils throughout the ecozone+ , and the long seasonal period during which streams are frozen and flow is low or non-existent, stream erosion has not been significant. The melting of ice lenses exposed by fluvial action along rivers and wave action along lake and sea shorelines, however, can cause large-scale slumping and sediment discharge.
Percentages (Figure 7) and distribution (Figure 8) of surficial materials in the Arctic Ecozone+ are presented below and classes of surficial materials are described in Appendix 1. See also the related analysis of land cover in the section on Ecosystem structure (page 88).
Source: Geological Survey of Canada (Geological Survey of Canada, 1994)
Long description for Figure 7
This bar graph shows the following information:
|Surficial materials||Percent of Arctic Ecozone+|
|Fine grained (Glacio) Lacustrine||0|
|Coarse grained (Glacio) Lacustrine||0|
|Coarse grained (Glacio) Marine||2|
|Lag (Glacio) Marine||2|
|Fine grained (Glacio) Marine||5|
The Arctic landscape is shaped by the complex relationships between climate, permafrost, and vegetation (Walker et al., 2003). Permafrost is defined as soil, rock, or sediment that remains at or below a temperature of 0°C for at least two consecutive years. It can contain ice as pore ice, ice wedges, or massive ice bodies. In the Arctic Ecozone+ permafrost is continuous and may be several hundred metres thick and have temperatures colder than –5°C (Heginbottom et al., 1995; Smith et al., 2001a).
Above the permafrost, the soil profile has an active layer that is seasonally frozen. The thickness of the active layer is highly variable depending on aspect, vegetative cover, and the ambient temperature regime. Moisture and gas fluxes are generally confined to this seasonally thawed active layer. Thus permafrost’s presence and influence is through physical and chemical processes in the active layer which operate as thermal and hydrological gradients. Plant roots and nutrients accessible to plants are largely confined to the active layer, as are the burrowing activities of invertebrates and vertebrates.
Humans in the Arctic Ecozone+
(This section is based on the following sources, with additional references as noted, McGhee, 1978; Bone, 1992; Black, 2002; Bonesteel, 2006; Nunatsiavut Government, 2009; Freeman, 2012; Natcher et al., 2012)
The Arctic Ecozone+ is sparsely populated, though its human population approximately tripled between 1971 and 2006 (Figure 9). The majority of the people are Inuit and the ecozone+ covers most of the four Inuit regions established through Canadian comprehensive land claim agreements: 1) the Inuvialuit Settlement Region (parts of the Yukon and the Northwest Territories); 2) Nunavut; 3) Nunavik (part of Quebec); and 4) Nunatsiavut (part of Newfoundland and Labrador). The land and marine areas covered by comprehensive land claim settlements in the ecozone+ are shown in Figure 10. While the terms of these agreements differ, they all provide for wildlife and habitat management by boards or councils with input from Aboriginal regional and local governance bodies, as well as federal and territorial governments. These co-management regimes are a distinguishing element of the Canadian Arctic and central to all aspects of ecological management, monitoring, and research in the Arctic Ecozone+.
SSource: based on population data for the three Arctic ecozones compiled from Statistics Canada (Statistics Canada, 2000; Statistics Canada, 2008b)
Long description for Figure 9
This bar graph shows the following information:
Settlement and economic history
Humans have occupied the western side of Beringia for at least 30,000 years and are known to have crossed into North America by 14,000 years ago, either following the retreat of the Cordilleran and Laurentide ice sheets or routes along the coast of Alaska (Kitchen et al., 2008). About 4,500 years ago the first wave of human inhabitants is thought to have moved across the eastern Arctic from Alaska (Friesen, 2004). Based on distinctive material culture, archeologists have assigned these people several separate cultural phases, the last of which is the Dorset culture. The Pre-Dorset culture was defined by a highly mobile lifestyle, limited tool kits, and limited reliance on food storage (Milne et al., 2012). Between 1000 and 1200 AD the second wave of settlers, the Thule, entered the Arctic from the Bering Strait region. The Thule were the ancestors of the contemporary Inuit and are traditionally thought to have displaced the Dorset culture (Friesen and Arnold, 2008). There is some evidence of intermixing (Helgson et al., 2014). By 1200 to 1300 AD, the Thule had spread across the Arctic to Greenland (Kallreuth et al., 2012). With the Thule culture came a shift to a more sedentary way of life, the introduction of boats, and a high diversity of specialized tools (Anderson, 2004).
Europeans (the Norse) sailed to Baffin Island around 1000 AD, but did not settle. European exploration recommenced in the 16th century, with Martin Frobisher claiming Baffin Island for England in 1576. The 19th century commercial whaling boom began the widespread transition to a mixed economy for the Inuit, with guns and dry goods being received in exchange for food and guiding services. Whaling had a profound influence on the Inuit, introducing alien diseases including typhus that spread rapidly and killed many people, and through impacts such as depletion of caribou for food for whaling crews, and an increasing reliance on European goods. Whaling was replaced in the early 20th century by the fur trade boom centred around the Hudson’s Bay Company trading posts and accompanied by an expansion of the mixed economy to include trapping and trading for a wider selection of goods. Government posts, policing, and missions were also established. The Inuit altered their hunting practices and annual cycles to adapt to these changes, and suffered economic and social hardship when the price of furs fell drastically in the 1930s and 1940s.
The Arctic attained a profile in North American defense during and after the Second World War (Figure 11 ). Mineral and energy resources began to be discovered and developed, creating a perception of the Arctic as a vast storehouse of resources. Starting in the 1950s the Canadian government resettled many Inuit into permanent communities, provided social services and required education in English, with the aim of improving the well-being of the Inuit through assimilation into the mainstream culture and economy. Residential schools were established under this policy of assimilation, leading to many instances of physical and emotional abuse, with lifetime consequences for the children of this era and for their communities. In the 1960s Inuit political movements arose in response to the family, social, cultural, and economic disruption that had resulted from decades of upheaval and hardship. Goals included restoring and reviving native languages and traditional lifestyles and regaining control over the management of lands and resources, the basis of Inuit culture and prosperity.
The Distant Early Warning (DEW) Line
Construction of the Distant Early Warning (DEW) line of 42 radar stations along the Canadian Arctic coast in the late 1950s provided some wage employment and introduced new technology (such as snowmobiles) to more communities. The rapid influx of shifting populations of people with very different cultural perspectives and the rapid introduction of new technologies, infrastructure, and goods also resulted in major social upheaval to the Inuit (Neufeld, 2002). The DEW Line was a joint project of the U.S. and Canada and a product of the Cold War: its purpose was to provide early warning of attacks on North America from the Soviet Union (Neufeld, 2002; Bonesteel, 2006). In the early 1960s, the smaller sites were decommissioned. The remaining 21 sites were operated by Canada to various dates up to 1993. The new North Warning System, which includes eight of the old radar stations, replaced the DEW line in the 1990s. Clean-up of the sites has been plagued by problems and escalating costs related to contamination, including from PCBs, DDT, hydrocarbons, and lead. Clean-up, nearing completion in 2013, has a goal of keeping contaminants out of the Arctic food chain and will be followed by a 25-year monitoring plan (DND, 2001; Aglukkaq, 2012); there have been local instances of contamination of biota and continuing concerns expressed by Arctic residents about impacts (e.g., Gamberg et al., 2005b).
The Inuvialuit Settlement Region
In the Western Arctic, commercial bowhead whaling stations in the latter part of the 19th century introduced infectious diseases that led to epidemics and the death of most indigenous Inuit (the “Mackenzie Eskimos”). Iñupiat from Alaska migrated eastward and integrated with the remaining residents in the Mackenzie Delta region. The Inuvialuit, as an Inuit group, are a newer group, formed by the Inuit from the Delta region uniting with those from Banks and Victoria islands in the 1970s to work together as a political and economic force, partly in response to the pressures imposed by Beaufort Sea oil and gas development. The Inuvialuit were successful in negotiating the Western Arctic agreement (Inuvialuit Final Agreement) in 1984.
The Inuvialuit Settlement Region (ISR) covers 435,000 km2 of land and sea (Figure 10). Most of the land is part of the Northwest Territories, but it also includes the Yukon North Slope, designated under the agreement to fall under a special conservation regime. Known mineral deposits in the ISR include petroleum, natural gas, zinc, and nickel. The Mackenzie River is a commercial artery and there is an all-season road to Inuvik and seasonal ice roads from Inuvik to Aklavik and Tuktoyaktuk. Air access is important for all communities. National parks form 29% of the ISR.
Inuvik, the largest community of the ISR and its main administrative centre, and the town of Aklavik, are just south of the Arctic Ecozone+. Within the ecozone+ are the communities of Tuktoyaktuk, Sachs Harbour, Ulukhaktok (Holman), and Paulatuk. Tuktoyaktuk was an important centre for offshore oil drilling in the 1970s and 1980s. There are no year-round communities in the Yukon portion of the ISR. Wage employment is the main source of income throughout the ISR, but unemployment is high. The major wage employment is in the public sector. The Inuvialuit Development Corporation includes several firms involved in oil and gas activity and the Inuvialuit are involved in the development of a range of new economic initiatives.
Oil and gas activities were important in the region in the 1970s and 1980s. Renewed interest and activity in onshore and offshore exploration and in development of onshore fields in the Mackenzie Delta region began in the early 2000s. In addition to the conventional petroleum resources, there is good potential for unconventional petroleum resources in this region. Exploration has been undertaken on gas hydrate accumulations beneath the Mackenzie Delta, and, more recently, industry is beginning to evaluate the potential of extensive shale formations in the Mackenzie Valley.
Hunting remains important economically, socially, and culturally and provides the main source of meat. Caribou (Rangifer tarandus), muskoxen (Ovibos moschatus), polar bears (Ursus maritimus), beluga (Delphinapterus leucas), and seals are hunted, with variation in main species harvested from community to community. The introduction of gill nets in the 1830s led to the development of river fisheries, which remain important in Inuvialuit subsistence economies. Other economic activities include trapping, tourism, guided sport hunting (for polar bears and muskoxen), and the production of arts and crafts.
The Nunavut project, first proposed in 1976, eventually led to a final Nunavut Land Claims Agreement in 1993 and the creation of the Territory of Nunavut in 1999. Nunavut, at 2.12 million km2, is the largest political unit in Canada, covering one-fifth of the country’s landmass. The population is about 84% Inuit (Statistics Canada, 2008a). There are 29 communities, of which Baker Lake is the only one that is located away from the coast. Iqaluit is the only city (population 6,669 in 2011 (Statistics Canada, 2012)) and the territorial capital. Household income is from the wage economy, government transfers, and the land-based economy. Government is the largest employer, with about 50% of jobs being in the public sector. Tourism is the fastest growing economic sector but remains relatively small. There is no permanent road infrastructure linking Nunavut with the rest of Canada. The longest road, 21 km in length, connects Arctic Bay and Nanisivik.
Mineral resource exploration and extraction have historically dominated the private sector economy. Nanisivik, a lead-zinc mine on north Baffin Island, opened in 1976 and closed in 2002. The North Rankin Nickel Mine operated from 1957 to 1962 in Rankin Inlet. Polaris, a lead-zinc mine on Little Cornwallis Island, operated from 1982 to 2002. Lupin Gold Mine opened in 1982 and closed 2005. Nunavut’s only diamond mine, Jericho Mine, operated from 2006 to early 2008 and is currently (2013) in care and maintenance mode. Lupin and Jericho mines are close to the border with the NWT and were served by a winter road from Yellowknife when they were operational. Meadowbank Gold Mine, near Baker Lake, started production in 2009 while Doris North Gold Mine, near Bathurst Inlet, obtained mine approval in 2006 but has yet to operate and has since gone into care and maintenance. The Mary River iron ore deposit on Baffin Island was approved for mine development in 2012 but is currently (2013) seeking an amendment to allow for changes to the project and has yet to go into production. Potential mines in the review process are the Meliadine gold project near Rankin Inlet and the Kiggavik uranium project near Baker Lake. A gold deposit at Back River, east of Lupin, is currently in the advanced exploration stage and other major exploration projects include base metal deposits at Izok Lake, High Lake, and Hackett River (west, north and east of Lupin, respectively).
Nunavik covers 443,684 km2, about one-third of the province of Quebec. The 2006 population was 11,627, 90% Inuit (Statistics Canada, 2008a). There are 15 communities along the coasts of Ungava Bay and the eastern shore of Hudson Bay. The major settlement is Kuujjuaq.
Pre-Dorset and Dorset artifacts are found along the coasts of both Hudson and Ungava bays, dating to around 4,000 years ago. These cultures were succeeded by the Thule culture. Commercial whaling started in the 18th century in Hudson and Ungava bays, and fur trade rose in the region. The hunter-gatherer economy was little changed for many years, until consumer goods became more widely traded. The distribution of villages today is influenced by locations of Hudson’s Bay Company trading posts.
Major sources of energy and minerals attracted attention in the 1960s and 1970s. Hydro development proposals for James Bay and La Grande River (in the Taiga Shield Ecozone+) led to widespread opposition by the Inuit and the Cree and the signing of the James Bay and Northern Quebec Agreement in 1975. The agreement addressed outstanding issues of indigenous rights and formed the Kativik Regional Government and Makivik Corporation, the political and fiscal arms of the Inuit of Nunavik. In 2006 the Nunavik Inuit Land Claims Agreement was signed. Applying to eligible beneficiaries of the James Bay and Northern Quebec Agreement, it provides protection for land and resource rights and mechanisms for involvement in management on areas traditionally used by the Inuit of Nunavik, including marine areas and lands in Nunavut and northern Labrador (Figure 10).
The lineage of the Inuit of Nunatsiavut--the Sikumiut, ‘people of the sea’--traces back to Thule Eskimos who migrated from Baffin Island. The long European settlement history (since the 17th century) in coastal Labrador influenced the Sikumiut through intermarriage and cultural change. Traditionally the economy was based on sea mammal harvest and caribou hunting, supplemented with fishing and hunting waterfowl. When whales were depleted after 1800, seals became increasingly important. In the 1930s government began to supplant the influence of the fur trade posts and missions. Confederation in 1949 brought profound social change but no recognition of the Sikumiut as Aboriginal peoples under the Canadian constitution. The Sikumiut were the last Inuit in Canada to achieve the major step of a land claim settlement.
The Labrador Inuit land Claims Agreement received Royal Assent in 2005. The agreement covers about 72,500 km2 of land and 49,000 km2 of sea (Figure 10). Intended to create a stable environment for land use and investment and contribute to development of the Labrador Inuit, it also led to formation of Torngat Mountains National Park and the establishment of mechanisms for involvement in environmental assessment and for co-management. A regional Inuit government, the Nunutsiavut government, was created by the agreement and provisions were established for sharing of revenue from mineral resources.
The population of Nunatsiavut was 2,427 in 2006, 89% Inuit (Statistics Canada, 2008a), mainly in five communities: Nain, Hopedale, Makkovik, Postville, and Rigolet, all located south of the Arctic Ecozone+.
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