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The Canadian Archipelago

Arctic Archipelago: Ellesmere Island (Photo: NASA)

The Canadian Archipelago is situated north of the North American mainland and consists of a system of islands, peninsulas, narrows, bays, inlets and channels. To the west the Archipelago hits the Beaufort Sea, while Greenland represents the eastern boundary. The Hudson Bay borders the island-realm to the south.


The Baffin Bay, situated in the southwestern part of the Archipelago between Baffin Island and Greenland, counts rather as marginal area of the Canadian island-realm. However, in terms of oceanography, the bay is extremely important for the entire region. Via Baffin Bay, the Canadian Archipelago is connected to the Atlantic Ocean and - besides Fram Strait and Barents Sea more to the east - substantial water mass exchange between the Arctic Ocean and the Atlantic Ocean runs through this channel. To the north, the island system is wide open to the central Arctic Ocean through a labyrinth of narrows and channels.


As early as November, the entire Archipelago water surface is ice covered. The shipping routes between the islands are widely closed by ice massifs. Along few coastlines, pressure ridges and winter freezing caused large ice complexes, which do not even decay during summer melt.


However, strong offshore winds may push drifting sea ice off the coast and induce channels of open water - the so-called polynyas or flaw leads. Extremely high ice drift velocities may occur in the narrow channels subsequent to wind force and ocean currents. As early as in April, the mild spring climate starts to melt the sea ice and the Archipelago channels are nearly ice-free during summer.