Baffin Island - An Introduction

General Information:
Baffin Island is the fifth largest island in the world, measuring 305 000 square km, it stretches 1600 km in length and varying from 300 to 600 km in width (Miller, Wolfe, Briner, Sauer, Nesje, 2005). The island was first discovered by Europeans in 1576 and was used extensively for whaling in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. Some of the main communities on the island and their population sizes are listed in Table 1. Baffin Bay and Davis Strait, to the east, are often ice-free during the summer, but the western side is typically closed by ice year-round. The topography of the island is highly varied, ranging from rugged mountains to the flattest lowlands of the Canadian Arctic. Raised Canadian Shield forms mountain ranges along the east coast, while the relief slopes downwards to the west to form a flat-bedded Paleozoic sedimentary basin (Marsh, 2007; Parks Canada, 2006).

The Arctic Cordillera runs along the eastern coast of Baffin Island. The Penny and Barnes ice caps are the largest ice caps on the island and have smoothly rolling terrain with no breaks in their coverage (see map to right). North of the Penny Ice Cap, the mountain range becomes lower and narrower, then disappears into Pond Inlet, and reappears on Bylot Island (Marsh, 2007; Parks Canada, 2006).

The eastern rim of the island was uplifted when Greenland was rifted from North America in the early Tertiary, and the uplifted rim was dissected by fluvial and glacial erosion into rugged mountain terrain and fiords which connect the interior plateau to the adjacent ocean (Miller et al. 2005). Baffin Island is situated north of the treeline and all but the very southernmost part of the island is a zone of continuous permafrost. The vegetation across southern Baffin Island is classified as Low Artic, and most of the central island is in the Middle Arctic zone and the northern area is High Arctic (Miller et al. 2005). The mean annual temperatures decrease from -5ºC in the south to -15ºC in the north. Annual precipitation is between 200 and 300 mm for most of the island, but can be as high as 500-600 mm at locations close to open water in winter (Miller et al., 2005).

Geological and Glaciation Characteristics:

It is speculated that the one of the ice sheets that covered most of Canada 18 000 years ago originated from this area and this ice remained on the island until some 1500 years ago (Marsh, 2007).

In Canada, approximately 75% (152 000 square km) of its glacierized area is within Nunavut (Bell and Jocobs, 1997), see Table 2. Ice caps in the High Arctic have been monitored longer than glaciers, in particular, monitoring of Baffin Island's glacier began in the 1960s (Bell and Jocabs, 1997).

Glaciers on the island are mainly ice caps on inland highland areas and/or ice fields and valley outlet glaciers (Andrews, 2002). The two largest ice caps on this island are Barnes Ice Cap (5935 square km) and Penny Ice Cap (5960 square km), both of the ice caps are believed to be remnants of the Laurentide Ice Sheet (Andrews, 2002). Two other major ice caps are the Grinnell and Terra Nivea subpolar glaciers along Frobisher Bay, of southernmost Baffin Island (Andrew, 2002; Mercer, 1956 in Bell and Jacobs, 1997). Other significant glaciers can be found on Hall Peninsula and Cumberland Peninsula (Andrews, 2002).

Inuktitut Name
English Name

Arctic Bay



Clyde River



Lake Harbour



Cape Dorset



Pond Inlet








Broughton Island




Table 1: Name and population of towns (University of Guelph, 2006).


Glaceierized area (km square)


80 500


37 000

Axel Heiberg

11 700


16 200






152 000

Table 2: Nunavut's Glacierized areas (Bell and Jacobs, 1997).

Baffin Island Introduction
Glaciated Peninsulas Include:
Brodeur Peninsula Cumberland Peninsula Hall Peninsula Meta Incognita Peninsula
Ice Caps on Baffin Island Include:
Barnes Ice Cap Grinnell Ice Cap Penny Ice Cap Terra Nivea Ice Cap
Glacial features in Cumberland Peninsula Include:
Boas Glacier Caribou Glacier Coronation Glacier Fork Beard Glacier Highway Glacier
Penny Ice Cap Tumbling Glacier
Glacial features in Hall Peninsula Include:
Grinnell Ice Cap
Glacial features in Meta Incognita Peninsula Include:
Terra Nivea Ice Cap
Additional Links:
Decade Glacier Effects of Climate Change on Baffin References

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