Ellesmere Island, at 196 236 km2, is the third-largest island in Canada and the most northerly island in the ARCTIC ARCHIPELAGO. It is separated from Greenland by KANE BASIN and Kennedy Channel, which is a mere 30 km wide in places, and from DEVON ISLAND to the south by Jones Sound.
Ellesmere Island, at 196 236 km2, is the third-largest island in Canada and the most northerly island in the Arctic Archipelago. It is separated from Greenland by Kane Basin and Kennedy Channel, which is a mere 30 km wide in places, and from Devon Island to the south by Jones Sound. Cape Columbia (83°06´ 41" N lat) is Canada's most northerly point of land.
The entire island is deeply incised by fjords, and the northern coast is extended by ice shelves - aprons of sea ice which are fused to the shore. The north is dominated by the Mountains of Grant Land, a jagged chain of sedimentary rocks some 100 000 years old, and shrouded in ice nearly 900 m thick - remnants of the last ice age. Nunataks, or rock spires, project through the ice; Barbeau Peak (2616 m) is the highest mountain in eastern North America. The land descends southward to Hazen Plateau, dominated by Lake Hazen - the largest lake in the polar region. In central Ellesmere, mountains of the Central Ellesmere Fold Belt rise to 2000 m.
Ellesmere is distinguished by a spectacular landscape and an exceptional and fragile environment. Small herds of muskoxen are dispersed across Hazen Plateau, along with the remnants of a caribou herd decimated by Robert E. Peary in 1909 during his attempt to reach the North Pole. There are numerous species of birds and several other land mammals, but coastal sea ice discourages marine mammals. Thirteen species of spiders occur on Ellesmere Island. Though the climate is extreme, a peculiar "thermal oasis" at Lake Hazen produces surprisingly warm summers. The frost-free period at Tanquary Fiord averages 55 days. Ellesmere is a true polar desert, with only 70 mm of precipitation annually in some places. Consequently vegetation is sparse.
One of the most remote places on Earth, Ellesmere Island has experienced little human activity (see Arctic Exploration). However, archaeological evidence shows that the fjords of Hazen Plateau were occupied some 4000 years ago. Excavations of Thule culture winter houses on Bache Peninsula (mid-island), dating from 1250-1350 AD, have uncovered numerous Norse artifacts.
The island was sighted by William Baffin in 1616, but was not explored until the 19th century. John Ross discovered parts of the coastline in 1818; the island was named for the earl of Ellesmere during the Inglefield expedition of 1852. Sir George Nares carried out extensive observations in 1875-76. As part of the First International Polar Year activities, an American group led by Adolphus W. Greely explored widely in northern Ellesmere (1881-84) from a base on Discovery Harbour. The expedition ended tragically when supply ships failed to arrive, and only 7 of 26 men survived.
Much of the exploration was incidental to the search for the North Pole. Otto Sverdrup between 1898 and 1902 mapped several islands in the area of Ellesmere Island. In 1903-04 the Canadian government was moved to send Albert P. Low to the area to demonstrate Canadian sovereignty; he placed a cairn at the farthest "northing" and installed a flag.
A research camp was established at Lake Hazen during the International Geophysical Year (1957-58), and today there is an abandoned RCMP post (open from 1953 to 1963 and seasonally from 1987 to 1992) at Alexandra Fiord now used as a scientific research base. Grise Fiord is an important Inuit community. High Arctic Weather Stations are maintained at Eureka and Alert - the northernmost station in the Canadian Arctic (82° 29´57" N lat). In 1988 Quttinirpaaq National Park was created on the northern part of the island.