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The Living Edens: The Lost World

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Terra Zone

For all its snow and ice, Nunavut is not a land of unvarying flat whiteness. Mountains, fjords, valleys, tundra and a vast archipelago of islands also characterize Canada's most northern territory.

Ice ages played an important role in shaping this landscape. Twenty-five thousand years ago, the great sheet of ice (known as the Laurentide Ice Sheet) that had covered Nunavut during the last ice age, the Wisconsin Ice Age, began to move, making changes in the land's surface. As temperatures rose 15,000 years ago, parts of the ice sheet broke off. After another 9,000 years, Nunavut was ice-free except for parts of the Arctic archipelago.

Today, the remains of the Laurentide Ice Sheet can be found as ice caps on Baffin Island and north of the Arctic Circle, Devon Island and Quttinirpaaq Island. On Baffin, the sheet has carved deep valleys and fjords as deep as 2,950 feet. On Quttinirpaaq Island, glaciers have also created similar landscape.

Towering mountains covered in ice remain from this last great glacial age, too. Nunavut's tallest is Mount Barbeau (8,583 feet) on northern Quttinirpaaq Island.

Along Nunavut's Hudson Bay, melting ice also contributed to the formation of the world's largest wetland, a 116,000 square mile stretch of muskeg (a type of decomposing vegetation common to the Arctic) known as the Hudson Bay Lowlands.

The Canadian Shield, a gigantic line of rocks formed 2.5 billion years ago in northeastern Canada, makes up the southern area of Nunavut. The Shield's rocky, rugged land form can be found primarily on the mainland and Baffin Island, with key outcroppings visible also on Southampton Island and to the west in islands along the Parry Channel.

Huge bodies of water also create natural boundaries. Hudson Bay separates Southampton Island and Coats Island from the Atlantic Ocean by the Hudson Strait, which runs between Labrador and Baffin Island. Davis Strait and Baffin Bay separate Baffin Island from Greenland. North of Baffin Island, Lancaster Sound leads to the Arctic Ocean, the world's smallest ocean, and the Northwest Passage to the Pacific Ocean.

Nunavut's climate is one of the world's harshest. Permafrost keeps this landscape frigidly cold. Though some small patches of permafrost have been known to melt, they quickly freeze back over when winter returns. Permafrost can extend for depths of more than 1,600 feet, making any construction project on Nunavut -- from sidewalks for the territory's capital, Iqaluit, to ordinary houses -- a delicate operation. To keep the permafrost from melting, buildings are usually placed on piles.

Winter temperatures are typically around -40° Fahrenheit. Thanks to the proximity of the Labrador Sea (an extension of the North Atlantic), temperatures may be a relatively warm -4° F at the southern end of Baffin Island. North of the Arctic Circle and well removed from warmer sea air, they may drop to -35° F on Quttinirpaaq Island. Depending on location, a summer heat wave could see temperatures in the 50s. Yet in the north areas, that high may only reach 36° F.

North of the Arctic Circle, the sun may stay above the horizon for months at a time in summer and refuse to rise for an equally long period in winter. The effect reaches its climax at the North Pole, where the time periods for each season run to six months at a stretch.

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Eco Explorer
Go on adventure to the Arctic.

Arctic Adventure
Discover the animals of the region.

Filming Arctic Oasis
Go behind the scenes with the producer.

For Teachers
Students will learn about the Inuit.

Find out more about the Arctic.

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