Mars on Earth, where fish came ashore and mammals went back to the sea, a mummified forest, and a gull that nests on nunatuks
I. Map boundaries: 70 to 80 degrees North; 60 to 90 degrees West. The center of this area is about 2,000 miles north of Quebec City. This map contains ecoregion boundaries (terrestrial and marine), important bird area locations, national wildlife area locations, migratory bird sanctuary locations, river names, fiord names, fossil locations, and mine locations not found on atlas maps.
II. Countries: Canada (Nunavut-part of Qikiqtaaluk Region); Denmark (Qaasuitsup municipality of Kalaallit Nunaat, or Greenland)
If you start at Quebec City and head 2,000 miles north, you would reach the area of this map. This map area includes northern Baffin Island, eastern Devon Island, eastern Axel Heiberg Island, southern Ellesmere Island, and the Hayes Peninsula of Greenland. Ecologically, this is an area of arctic tundra. However, the Nature Conservancy and World Wildlife Fund ecoregions project has delineated the tundra into five different terrestrial ecoregions and six different marine ecoregions in this map area, based on vegetation and wildlife present.
Nests on Nunatuks
The ice only melts for a few months of the year, in good years. But the harsh climate and resulting lack of predators encourages waterfowl nesting throughout the area. Coastal cliffs of Greenland, Baffin, and other islands harbor nesting seabirds, often on high cliffs that front the ocean and provide additional predator protection. The rare and elusive ivory gull has perhaps the most unique nesting site—rocky mountaintops that stick up above the ice caps, known as nunatuks.
The area is not just known for its birds. Polar bears frequent the area, and marine mammals such as narwhals are found in the numerous inlets and sounds of the area. Arctic fox, musk ox, wolves, seals, whales, walrus, and arctic hares are common.
This area is also where fossil discoveries in recent years have added greatly to our views of climate change, plant adaptation, and evolution. Paleocene-age fossil forests (55 million years old) are found at Stenkul Fiord in southern Ellesmere Island. Here large metasequoia logs and tree stumps are still rooted in layers of coal. Eocene-age (34 to 50 million years in age) fossil forests are found at Strathcona Fiord in central Ellesmere. Along with the the trees are fossil alligators, tortoises, primates, and tapirs. In the far northwest corner of the map is Napartulik on Axel Heiberg Island, where a mummified metasequoia-dominated fossil forest of 34 to 55 million years in age can be found. This forest is not mineralized, meaning that it contains the original carbon. The wood is unaltered chemically and biologically. These Eocene-age fossil forests contain plants now found in southern China and Japan, but they were fossilized at a high latitude similar to where they are today. As a result, there is no modern analog to the past climate of this region, because the trees needed to endure at least three months of darkness in the Arctic winter. The remarkable preservation of leaves, leaf litter, seeds, roots, and soils allows use of standard field measurements to study the forest. These studies indicate that the forest productivity was comparable to today’s temperate old-growth forests. Further to the south, on Bylot Island, are dinosaur fossils from the late Cretaceous, 65 to 97 million years ago.
Mars on Earth
Haughton Crater is an impact structure that was formed about 39 million years ago. This 23-km-diameter crater and the surrounding area is viewed as a terrestrial analog for Mars, and a scientific effort here is carried on by the Mars Institute. Although the crater area was forested at the time of the impact, the crater and its site are now frigid and show similarities with Mars, including networks of small valleys that may have been carved beneath a sheet of melting ice. The combination of high latitude, a former lake, and remnant hot springs makes Haughton a good model for how to look for signs of Martian life.
Where Mammals Returned to Sea
Following the impact, the crater was filled with a lake and sediments accumulated. Fossils of fishes, rhino, and tapir are found, along with fruits and seeds, cones and needles of pines, spruce, and birch. Sediments dating to 21 to 24 million years ago contain fossils of a semi-aquatic carnivores related to bears, now believed to be the ancestors of modern-day seals. Although the skeleton of the animal is otter-like, the skull indicates that it is a relative of seals, lions and walruses. This is transitional fossil evidence of mammals returning to the sea.
Where Fish Came Ashore
To the north on Ellesmere Island in Devonian-aged rocks, a 375-million-year-old fossil fish provides a transitional fossil between fish and four-legged animals. The fish named Tiktaalik roseae could prop itself up on mud or rocks in a shallow water body, as well as swim.
Canada has established a large three-unit national park on Bylot Island and northern Baffin Island. Simirlik National Park preserves seabird and waterfowl nesting areas, rugged mountains, scenic hoodoos, and fiords of Eclipse Sound, the Borden Peninsula, and Bylot.
IV. Terrestrial Ecoregions
Nearctic (NA) Biome
· NA 1105, Baffin Coastal tundra. Vegetation of mosses, herbs, poppy, and woodrush with arctic hare and polar bears. Found on the coastal plain of the north coast of Baffin Island facing Baffin Bay, Nunavut.
· NA 1109, Davis Highlands tundra. Ice-capped mountains overlooking Fiords. Vegetation of mosses, sedge, cottongrass. Found along Baffin Bay coastline of Baffin and Bylot islands, Nunavut.
· NA 1110, High Arctic tundra. Clumps of moss, lichen, sedge, and cottongrass. Found in the interior and northern peninsulas of Baffin Island, Devon Island, Ellesmere, and Axel Heiburg Islands, Nunavut.
· NA 1112, Kalaallit Nunaat high arctic tundra. Ice-free areas on the coastal fringes of Greenland harbor heath and mossy swamps. Arctic fox, cariou, musk oxen, wolves, and polar bears. Found in Kalaalit Nunaat.
· NA 1115, Middle Arctic tundra. Among the coldest and driest landscapes of Canada. Some arctic willow is present, but mostly herbs and lichen vegetation are present. Found in northwestern Baffin Island, Nunavut.
V. Marine Ecoregions
Arctic Realm, Arctic Province
1. North Greenland. Found along coast north of Cape Atholl including Kane Basin and Murchison Sound.
4. West Greenland Shelf. Found in Melville Bay.
7. Baffin Bay-Davis Straight. Found along Baffin Island, Bylot Island, eastern Devon Island, and eastern Ellesmere Island coastline.
8. Hudson Complex. Found in Fury and Hecla Straight and Steensby Inlet off Baffin Island.
9. Lancaster Sound. Found in Admiralty Inlet, Boothia Gulf, Eclipse Sound, Jones Sound, Lancaster Sound, and Prince Regent Inlet.
10. High Arctic Archipelago. Found in Eureka Sound and Norwegian Bay.
VI. Freshwater Ecoregions
North America, Polar Freshwater
112. Canadian Arctic Archipelago. Found on Baffin, Devon, Ellesmere, and Axel Heiberg Islands.
VII. Points of Interest
Appat Appai, Kalaallit Nunaat (Greenland). An important bird area. This stretch of coastline in west Greenland harbors large numbers of breeding seabirds, including thick-billed guillemot and black-legged kittiwake. Terrestrial ecoregion 1112 and marine ecoregion 4.
Berlinguet Inlet, Baffin Island, Nunavut. An important bird area. The southern part of Admiralty Inlet and Bernier Bay off of Prince Regent Inlet are a greater snow goose breeding area; also found are ringed and bearded seals and polar bears. Terrestrial ecoregion 1115 and marine ecoregion 9.
Booth Sound, Kalaallit Nunaat. An important bird area. Common eider breed in this area of tundra and marsh dotted with islands. Terrestrial ecoregion 1112 and marine ecoregion 1.
Brodeur Peninsula, Baffin Island, Nunavut. Important bird area. Plateaus in northwestern Brodeur are covered with limestone rubble and support one fourth of the Canadian population of ivory gull. Terrestrial ecoregion 1110.
Buchan Gulf, Baffin Island, Nunavut. Important bird area. Two sections of coastal cliffs, the Mitres and the Bastions, extend for 22 km along a fiord and rise to 600 m. This is the breeding area for a large colony of northern fulmars. Terrestrial ecoregion 1109 and marine ecoregion 7.
Camp Century, Kalaallit Nunaat. This site on the Greenland ice sheet was a cold war project to build underground ice tunnels and store nuclear weapons from 1963-1966. Ice cores obtained are still used by scientists to study climate change. Terrestrial ecoregion 1112.
Cape Vera and St. Helena Island, Devon Island, Nunavut. An important bird area. The offshore island of St. Helena hosts breeding fulmar, eider, gulls, and terns. St. Helena also contains archaeological sites where stones were placed to encourage eider nesting and easy eider trapping. During most years, a polynya, an area of open water that persists when the rest of the ocean freezes, forms between St. Helena Island and North Kent Island. The polynya is used by walrus, seal, and polar bear. Terrestrial ecoregion 1110 and marine ecoregions 9 and 10.
Cape Atholl coastline, Kalaallit Nunaat. An important bird area. The 200-km coastline between Cape Atholl and Appaliarsulissuaq contains steep cliffs and rock screes on the mainland and nearby islands and is internationally important for the dovekie (little auk).
Carey Island, Kalaallit Nunaat. An important bird area. These islands and sea cliffs between Ellesmere Island and Greenland are a breeding area for thick-billed guillemot and glaucous gull. Terrestrial ecoregion 1112 and marine ecoregion 1.
Dalrymple Rock, Kalaallit Nunaat. An important bird area. This small rocky island is a breeding area for Atlantic puffin and common eider. Terrestrial ecoregion 1112 and marine ecoregion 1.
Devon Nunatuks, Devon Island, Nunavut. An important bird area. Rock outcrops that stick out above the ice cap on eastern Devon are home to nesting ivory gull. Terrestrial ecoregion 1110.
Hakluyt Island, Kalaallit Nunaat. An important bird area. Sea cliffs provide breeding habitat for thick-billed guillemot and black-legged kittiwake. Terrestrial ecoregion 1112 and marine ecoregion 1.
Haughton Crater, Devon Island, Nunavut. This 23-km diameter, 39-million-year-old impact crater is viewed as a terrestrial analog for Mars, and a scientific effort here is carried on by the Mars Institute. Although the crater area was forested at the time of the impact, the crater and its site are now frigid and show similarities with Mars, including networks of small valleys that may have been carved beneath a sheet of melting ice. The combination of high latitude, a former lake, and remnant hot springs makes Haughton a good model for how to look for signs of Martian life. Following the impact, the crater was filled with water and a lake formed. Here, approximately 21 to 24 million years ago, were formed fossil beds. A recent discovery is of a semi-aquatic mammal, Puijila, which is a transitional fossil between seals and other bears. Ecoregion 1110.
Hobhouse Inlet, Devon Island, Nunavut. An important bird area. The eastern side of the inlet contains a peninsula with cliffs to 460 m. Northern fulmars, gulls, and black guillemot nest on grassy ledges. Terrestrial ecoregion 1110 and marine ecoregion 9.
Inglefield Mountains, Ellesmere Island, Nunavut. An important bird area. The area north and south of Makinson Inlet houses one third of the Canadian ivory gull population, nesting on nunatuks and rocky cliffs. Terrestrial ecoregion 1110 and marine ecoregion 9.
Kent, North, Island and Calf Island, Nunavut. An important bird area. Both North Kent and Calf have flat plateaus rising to 600 m, surrounded by steep cliffs. The cliffs provide nesting habitat for black guillemot, common eider, and gulls. See Cape Vera description for the polynya off the coast. Terrestrial ecoregion 1110 and marine ecoregions 9 and 10.
Lancaster Sound Polynya, off of Nunavut. An important bird area. This persistent ice-free area is used by migrant dovekies, which nest in the Thule area of Greenland. Marine ecoregions 7 and 9.
Littleton Island, Kalaallit Nunaat. An important bird area. Common eider breeds on this rocky low-lying island. Terrestrial ecoregion 1112 and marine ecoregion 1.
Mary River Project, Baffin Island, Nunavut. The Baffinland Iron Mines Corporation plans to develop an iron ore mine. The mine would be shipped via a new railroad 140 km south to Steensby Inlet in the Foxe Basin. Seasonal access is also proposed at Milne Inlet, a southern extension of Eclipse Sound, via a 99-km haul road. Environmental documents seeking consent from the Nunavut government are in preparation. Terrestrial ecoregions 1110 and 1115; marine ecoregion 8.
Napartulik, Axel Heiberg Island, Nunavut. This is the site of an unusual mummified fossil forest from the Eocene period (34-55 million years old). Lack of mineralization means the palms, dawn redwood, and swamp cypress trees that are present contain the original carbon.
Nirjutiqavvik National Wildlife Area, Coburg Island, Nunavut. Cambridge Point on Coburg is an important bird area. Located in Baffin Bay between Devon and Ellesmere, this is a nesting area for 385,000 birds, including black-legged kittiwakes, thick-billed murre, northern fulmar, and black guillemot. Also present are polar bear, ringed seal, walrus, narwhal, and beluga. Cambridge Point overlooks a polynya, an area of open water that persists when the rest of the ocean freezes. The polynya supports polar bears, seals, and whales. Terrestrial ecoregion 1110 and marine ecoregion 7.
Northumberland Island, Kalaallit Nunaat. An important bird area. Steep, rocky cliffs harbor large numbers of breeding dovekie. Terrestrial ecoregion 1112 and marine ecoregion 1.
Parker Snow Bay, Kalaallit Nunaat. An important bird area. Sea cliffs are breeding area for thick-billed guillemot and black-legged kittiwake.
Prince Leopold Island Migratory Bird Sanctuary, Nunavut. An important bird area. Vertical cliffs of sandstone and limestone rise to 250 m, providing nesting sites for northern fulmar, black-legged kittiwake, thick-billed murre, and black guillemot. Terrestrial ecoregion 1110 and marine ecoregion 9.
Qeqertaarsuit Islands and Saunders Island, Kalaallit Nunaat. An important bird area. Common eider breeds on the small low-lying islands of Qeqertaarsuit and thick-billed guillemot and northern fulmar breed on sea cliffs on Saunders Island. Terrestrial ecoregion 1112 and marine ecoregion 1.
Robertson Fiord coastline, Kalaallit Nunaat. An important bird area. The 160-km coastline and inland glaciers between Robertson Fiord and Foulke Fjord are a breeding area for dovekie. Terrestrial ecoregion 1112 and marine ecoregion 1.
Scott Inlet, Baffin Island, Nunavut. An important bird area. Scott Island contains cliffs to 356 m and the mainland contains cliffs to 1500 m. This is a nesting area for northern fulmar and glaucous gulls. Terrestrial ecoregion 1105 and marine ecoregion 7.
Simirlik National Park, Baffin Island and Bylot Island. The three units of this national park are Bylot Island, a unit on Borden Peninsula, and a unit surrounding Oliver Fiord. Bylot Island is also a Canadian migratory bird sanctuary (MBS). The park includes important bird areas at Baillarge Bay on the Borden Peninsula, Cape Graham Moore on Bylot, Cape Hay on Bylot, and the goose nesting area in southwest Bylot. Bylot Island includes rugged mountains, icefields, glaciers, and coastal lowlands. The Oliver Sound unit includes precipitous mountains lining a scenic fiord, and the Borden Peninsula unit contains a plateau dissected by rivers. The Mala River Valley is a hiking area. The Borden Peninsula also contains hoodoos. Steep cliffs along the ocean at Cape Hay and Cape Graham Moore provide nesting habitat for 320,000 thick-billed murres and 50,000 black-legged kittiwakes. In southwestern Bylot, the moist lowland tundra provides breeding habitat for the largest known colony of snow geese; this is the most dense nesting site north of 70 degrees latitude. An archaeological site, Button Point in southeast Bylot Island, has yielded artifacts such as drums, flint blades, and carved driftwood masks. Eclipse Sound and Navy Board Inlet are known for whales. Ellwin Inlet and Baillarge Bay house a colony of thick-billed murres and black-legged kittiwakes nesting on 600-m high cliffs. Baillarge Bay is the largest northern fulmar colony in Canada. Lancaster Sound contains abundant seabirds, walrus, polar bear, seals, and whales. Eclipse Sound is covered by ice until mid-summer, but is habitat for narwhals and polar bears. Terrestrial ecoregions 1109 and 1110, marine ecoregions 7 and 9.
Skruis Point, Devon Island, Nunavut. An important bird area. This is noted as the largest black guillemot breeding colony. Terrestrial ecoregion 1110 and marine ecoregion 9.
Stenkul Fiord, Ellesmere Island, Nunavut. Large metasequoia logs and tree stumps of Paleocene age (55 million years old) are found rooted in coal layers. Ecoregion 1110.
Strathcona Fiord, Ellesmere Island, Nunavut. Eocene-age (34 to 50 million years old) fossil forests contain alligators, giant tortoises, primates, and tapirs. Ecoregion 1110.
Sverdrup Pass, Ellesmere Island, Nunavut. Arctic hares make trails on Ellesmere Island as they walk single-file across Sverdrup Pass. Ecoregion 1110.
Sydkap Ice Field, Ellesmere Island, Nunavut. An important bird area. This is noted as the breeding site for the ivory gull. Ecoregion 1110.
Tamaarvik Territorial Park, Baffin Island, Nunavut. A provincial camping area offers hiking to glaciers and mountains south of Pond Inlet and serves as a gateway to Simirlik National Park. Ecoregion 1109.
Tiktaalik, Ellesmere Island, Nunavut. In 2004, a transitional form between fish and four-legged land animals was found on southern Ellesmere Island in Devonian-age rocks. The animal could swim like a fish, as well as prop itself up in shallow waer. It lived 12 million years before the first tetrapods on land. Ecoregion 1110.
Abell, Robin et al. 2008. Freshwater Ecoregions of the World: A New Map of Biogeographic Units for Freshwater Biodiversity Conservation. Bioscience 58:403-414.
Baffinland Iron Mines Corporation, Toronto. http://www.baffinland.com/ (accessed 8/15/2010).
BirdLife International. 2009. Important Bird Area factsheets. Downloaded from the Data Zone at http://www.birdlife.org/ (accessed September 5, 2010).
Brown, Norah. Eocene Fossil Forests. Hooper Virtual Natural History Museum, Carleton University, Ottawa, Canada. http://hoopermuseum.earthsci.carleton.ca/forest/eocene01.html (accessed September 5, 2010).
Canadian BirdLife International co partners Bird Studies Canada and Nature Canada, an on-line Important Bird Area site directory. http://www.bsc-eoc.org/
Canadian Museum of Nature. Ukaliq: the Arctic Hare. http://nature.ca/ukaliq (accessed September 5, 2010).
Canadian Museum of Nature. Puijila: A Prehistoric Walking Seal. http://nature.ca/puijila/index_e.cfm (accessed September 5, 2010).
Canadian Wildlife Service. National Migratory Bird Sanctuaries. www.qc.ec.gc.ca/faune/faune/html/mbs.html
Daeschler, Edward B., Neil H. Shubin and Farish A. Jenkins, Jr. 2006. A Devonian Tetrapod-Like Fish and the Evolution of the Tetrapod Body Plan. Nature 440:757-763 (6 April).
Dawson, Mary R., Robert M. West, Wann Langston, Jr., and J. Howard Hutchison. 1976. Paleogene Terrestrial Vertebrates: Northernmost Occurrence, Ellesmere Island, Canada. Science 192:781-782.
DeVilliers, Marq. 2001. Guide to America’s Outdoors: Eastern Canada. Washington, National Geographic Society.
Dunbar, David. 1991. The Outdoor Traveler’s Guide to Canada. Stewart, Tabori and Chang, New York.
Earth Impact Database. University of New Brunswick, Planetary and Space Science Centre, Fredericton. www.unb.ca/passc/ImpactDatabase (accesssed 11/1/09).
Haughton-Mars Project. http://www.marsonearth.org/ (accessed 8/15/2010).
Holmes, Bob. 2009. Fossil seal had the feet of an otter. New Scientist issue 2705 (25 April 2009). www.newscientist.com/issue/2505 (accessed September 5, 2010).
Irion, Robert. 2002. Astrobiologists Try to ‘Follow the Water to Life.’ Science 296:647-648.
Jefferson, Ann. 2010. Coal and the Fossil Record of Climate Change in the Canadian High Arctic. http://scienceblogs.com/highlyallochthonous/2010/01/ (accessed September 5, 2010).
Krajick, Kevin. 2003. In Search of the Ivory Gull. Science 301:1840-1841.
Leskovitz, Frank J. Science Leads the Way: Camp Century. http://gombessa.tripod.com/scienceleadstheway/id9.html (accessed September 5, 2010).
McKinnon, L. et al. 2010. Lower Predation Risk for Migratory Birds at High Latitudes. Science 327:326-327.
Nunavut Parks. http://www.nunavutparks.com/ (accessed April 6, 2010).
Olson, David M., et al., 2001. Terrestrial Ecoregions of the World: A New Map of Life on Earth. BioScience 51:933-938. Ecoregion map at http://www.nationgeographic.com/wildworld/terrestrial.html
Omar, Gomaa et al. 1987. Fission-Track Dating of Haughton Astrobleme and Included Biota, Devon Island, Canada. Science 237:1603-1605 (25 September).
Parks Canada. http://www.pc.gc.ca/. (accessed October 4, 2009).
Rich, Thomas H., Patricia Vickers-Rich and Roland A. Gangloff. 2002. Polar Dinosaurs. Science 295:979-980.
Rybczynski, Natalia, Mary R. Dawson and Richard H. Telford. 2009. A Semi-Aquatic Arctic Mammalian Carnivore from the Miocene Epoch and Origin of Pinnipedia. Nature 458:1021-1024 (23 April).
Shubin, Neil. 2008. Your Inner Fish. Random House, New York.
Shubin, Neil, Ted DAeschler, and Farish A. Jenkins, Jr. 2005 Tiktaalik roseae homepage. http://tiktaalik.uchicago.edu/index.html (accessed September 5, 2010).
Spalding, Mark D. and 14 others. 2007. Marine Ecoregions of the World: A Bioregionalization of Coastal and Shelf Areas. Bioscience 57:573-583.
Williams, Christopher J., Ben A. LePage, Arthur H. Johnson, and David R. Vann. 2009. Structure, Biomass, and Productivity of a Late Paleocene Arctic Forest. Proceedings of the Academy of Natural Sciences of Philadelphia 158:107-127.
Williams, Christopher J. Penn Fossil Forest Project. http://www.sas.upenn.edu/earth/arctic/intro.html (accessed September 5, 2010).
World Database of Protected Areas. http://www.wdpa.org/ (Accessed August 9, 2009).