Arctic Archipelago

The Arctic Archipelago, also known as the Canadian Arctic Archipelago, is an archipelago lying to the north of the Canadian continental mainland, excluding Greenland (an autonomous territory of Denmark).

Arctic Archipelago
Archipel Arctique Canadien  (French)
Polar projection map of the Arctic Archipelago
LocationNorthern Canada
Coordinates75°N 90°W
Total islands36,563
Major islandsBaffin Island, Victoria Island, Ellesmere Island
Area1,407,770[1] km2 (543,540 sq mi)
Territories and provinceNunavut
Northwest Territories
Newfoundland and Labrador
Largest settlementIqaluit, Nunavut (pop. 6,184)
Pop. density0.0098/km2 (0.0254/sq mi)

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 in the Arctic Ocean comprises much of the territory of Northern Canada—most of Nunavut, the Northwest Territories[2] and Yukon. The archipelago is showing some effects of climate change,[3][4] with some computer estimates determining that melting there will contribute 3.5 cm (1.4 in) to the rise in sea levels by 2100.[5]


British claims on the islands, the British Arctic Territories, were based on the explorations in the 1570s by Martin Frobisher. Canadian sovereignty was originally (1870–80) only over island portions that drained into Foxe Basin, Hudson Bay and Hudson Strait. Canadian sovereignty over the islands was established by 1880 when Britain transferred them to Canada.[6] The District of Franklin – established in 1895 – comprised almost all of the archipelago. The district was dissolved upon the creation of Nunavut in 1999. Canada claims all the waterways of the Northwest Passage as Canadian Internal Waters; however, the United States and most other maritime countries view these as international waters.[7] Disagreement over the passages' status has raised Canadian concerns about environmental enforcement, national security, and general sovereignty. East of Ellesmere Island, in the Nares Strait, lies Hans Island, ownership of which is currently contested between Canada and Denmark.[8][9]


Satellite image of Baffin Island, the largest island by total area of the Arctic Archipelago
Satellite image montage showing Ellesmere Island and its neighbours, including Axel Heiberg Island (left of Ellesmere). Greenland is to the right in this photo.

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 Northwest Passage. 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).[10] The islands of the archipelago over 10,000 km2 (3,900 sq mi), in order of descending area, are:

NameLocation*AreaArea rankPopulation
Baffin IslandNU507,451 km2 (195,928 sq mi)519,563
Victoria IslandNT, NU217,291 km2 (83,897 sq mi)821,707
Ellesmere IslandNU196,236 km2 (75,767 sq mi)103168
Banks IslandNT70,028 km2 (27,038 sq mi)245114
Devon IslandNU55,247 km2 (21,331 sq mi)2760
Axel Heiberg IslandNU43,178 km2 (16,671 sq mi)3270
Melville IslandNT, NU42,149 km2 (16,274 sq mi)3380
Southampton IslandNU41,214 km2 (15,913 sq mi)349718
Prince of Wales IslandNU33,339 km2 (12,872 sq mi)40100
Somerset IslandNU24,786 km2 (9,570 sq mi)46120
Bathurst IslandNU16,042 km2 (6,194 sq mi)54130
Prince Patrick IslandNT15,848 km2 (6,119 sq mi)55140
King William IslandNU13,111 km2 (5,062 sq mi)61151279
Ellef Ringnes IslandNU11,295 km2 (4,361 sq mi)69160
Bylot IslandNU11,067 km2 (4,273 sq mi)72170

* 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 regions. Most of the islands are uninhabited; human settlement is extremely thin and scattered, being mainly coastal Inuit settlements on the southern islands.

Islands not on map


See also

  • List of Canadian islands by area
  • List of islands of Canada


  1. "Atlas of Canada – Sea Islands". 12 August 2009. Archived from the original on 22 January 2013. Retrieved 12 May 2019.
  2. Marsh, James H., ed. 1988. "Arctic Archipelago" The Canadian Encyclopedia. Toronto: Hurtig Publishers.
  3. Thinning of the Arctic Sea-Ice Cover
  4. Arctic sea ice decline: Faster than forecast
  5. Wayman, Erin. "Canada's ice shrinking rapidly". Science News.
  6. "Canada". World Statesmen. Retrieved 30 June 2016.
  7. "Northwest Passage gets political name change". Edmonton Journal. Archived from the original on 21 January 2016 via
  8. Levin, Dan (7 November 2016). "Canada and Denmark Fight Over Island With Whisky and Schnapps". The New York Times. ISSN 0362-4331. Retrieved 26 September 2019.
  9. Bender, Jeremy. "2 countries have been fighting over an uninhabited island by leaving each other bottles of alcohol for over 3 decades". Business Insider. Retrieved 26 September 2019.
  10. Arctic Archipelago

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.
  • Balkwill, H.R.; Embry, Ashton F. Arctic Geology and Geophysics: Proceedings of the Third International Symposium on Arctic Geology (Hardcover). Canadian Society of Petroleum Geologists. ISBN 0-920230-19-9.
  • Bouchard, Giselle. Freshwater Diatom Biogeography of the Canadian Arctic Archipelago. Ottawa: Library and 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.
  • Glass, Donald J.; Embry, Ashton F.; McMillan, N. J. Devonian of the World: Proceedings of the Second International Symposium on the Devonian System (Hardcover). Calgary, Canada: Canadian Society of Petroleum Geologists. ISBN 0-920230-47-4.
  • 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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