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Ellesmere Island

Ellesmere Island

Ellesmere Island, also called Ellesmere Land, is located in the Canadian territory of Nunavut, and is the northernmost of the Canadian Arctic islands. It covers an area of 196,235 km², making it the tenth largest island in the world and the third largest in Canada. It is the largest island among the Queen Elizabeth Islands, the archipelago to which it belongs, and the mountain range of the Arctic Cordillera extends across much of its territory.

Etymology –
Ellesmere Island is named after Francis Egerton, the 1st Earl of Ellesmere, a 19th century British politician and geographer, a supporter of Arctic exploration who contributed financially to various Arctic expeditions.

Geographical Features –
Ellesmere Island is one of Canada’s northernmost islands and is part of the Canadian Arctic Archipelago.
This island is located in the Arctic Ocean, north of the North American continent. It is located north of the Arctic Circle and is approximately 450 kilometers west of Greenland.
The island is characterized by mountainous and rugged terrain. The most prominent mountain range on the island is the Brooks Mountain Range, which spans much of the island and includes several notable peaks. The highest mountain is Mount Barbeau, with an altitude of approximately 2,616 meters.
Ellesmere Island has an extremely cold and inhospitable Arctic climate, with average winter temperatures that can drop well below freezing. Summers are short and relatively cool, with average temperatures rarely exceeding 10 degrees Celsius.
The island is covered by numerous glaciers, including the Agassiz Glacier, one of the largest in Canada. The presence of glaciers is a significant element in the geography of the island.
Due to the harsh climatic conditions, vegetation on Ellesmere Island is limited and consists mainly of mosses, lichens and cold-hardy plants. Trees are practically absent.
Despite the extreme climate, the island is populated by a variety of Arctic wildlife, including polar bears, reindeer, Arctic foxes, lemmings and numerous migratory birds. The surrounding waters are also a habitat for seals and whales.
Ellesmere Island is sparsely populated, with only a few permanent scientific research stations and occasional Inuit hunting parties. There are no permanent population centers on the island.
The island has a long history of exploration, and was visited by famous explorers such as Robert Peary and Roald Amundsen during the 20th century.
This land is a remote, inhospitable region with rugged beauty and significant importance for scientific research, particularly the study of climate change and Arctic geology.

Historical Notes –
Ellesmere Island was discovered by the Vikings around 1000 AD, but it was 19th century European explorers who carried out more detailed research. The island is named after Lord Francis Egerton, Earl of Ellesmere, who financed a British expedition to the area in 1852-1854.
In 2001 the population of Ellesmere reached its maximum, with 168 inhabitants: there are three settlements on the island (Alert, Eureka and Grise Fiord). Politically, the island is part of the Qikiqtaaluk Region.
It has been an important starting point for many Arctic expeditions, including one led by Robert Peary in his attempt to reach the North Pole in 1909.
Before the arrival of Europeans, the island was inhabited by Inuit populations. Human presence on the island dates back thousands of years, and the Inuit have adapted to the harsh life in the Arctic environment.
In 1926, Ellesmere Island became an important staging point for aviation pioneers seeking to cross the North Pole. These flights, like the Amundsen-Ellsworth-Nobile flight, helped establish transpolar air routes.
Ellesmere Island is part of Quttinirpaaq National Park, established in 1988. This park protects the island’s unique ecosystem, including wildlife such as polar bear, musk ox and arctic caribou.
The island has been in the spotlight due to climate change. The Arctic area is considered one of the areas most affected by climate change, and Ellesmere Island has seen the reduction of sea ice and glaciers, with significant impacts on the local ecosystem.
Ellesmere Island is an important destination for scientific research, particularly studies of the environment, geology and biology of the Arctic. Researchers here study the climate, marine and terrestrial ecosystems, and the effects of climate change.
In addition to its scientific and environmental importance, Ellesmere Island has significant cultural and historical value, linked to Arctic exploration and the history of indigenous peoples.

Ecosystem –
Ellesmere Island is located in the Canadian Arctic and therefore experiences extremely low temperatures. Average winter temperatures can drop well below freezing, while summers are short and relatively cool. The region experiences significant snow and ice coverage for much of the year.
Vegetation is sparse on Ellesmere Island due to low temperatures and short summer periods. There are mosses, lichens and small plants adapted to arctic conditions. Trees are practically absent on the island.
Despite the extreme environmental conditions, Ellesmere Island is inhabited by a variety of animal species adapted to the Arctic environment. Among the most common species are caribou, lemmings, polar bears, arctic wolves, arctic foxes and numerous migratory birds. The island is one of the few areas where it is possible to observe the glacier, a species of Arctic antelope.
The waters surrounding Ellesmere Island are part of the Arctic Ocean and provide an important habitat for several marine species, including seals, vips and whales. The presence of sea ice plays a crucial role in the marine ecosystem of the area.
Ellesmere Island has been the subject of scientific research into the evolution of the Arctic environment in relation to global climate change. Rising temperatures and shrinking sea ice have had a significant impact on the island’s ecosystem, affecting animal migration and the availability of food resources.
The Ellesmere Island ecosystem is a delicate and vulnerable environment, and human activities, such as natural resource extraction and tourism, can have a significant impact on the ecological balance of the island. Therefore, it is important to take conservation measures to protect this unique and precious ecosystem.

Flora –
Due to its extremely cold climate and harsh environmental conditions, Ellesmere Island’s flora is limited and consists mainly of plants adapted to the Arctic tundra. Some of the more common plants found on the island include:
– Arctic moss (Polytrichum juniperinum): This moss is one of the most common organisms in the Arctic regions. It is often found covering the ground, helping to retain heat and preventing soil erosion.
– Lichens: Lichens, a symbiosis between fungi and algae or cyanobacteria, are common in extreme environments such as Ellesmere Island. They are important sources of food for local wildlife.
– Bear grass (Arctophila fulva): This herbaceous plant is adapted to cold conditions and can withstand extremely low temperatures. It is an important source of food for caribou and other Arctic animals.
– Salix (Salix spp.): Willow species, or willows, are shrubs that grow in the Arctic environment. The leaves and branches are consumed by some species of birds, such as the sea parrot.
– Saxifrage: Some species of saxifrage can be found on Ellesmere Island. These plants produce colorful flowers and grow in cracks in rocks.
– Polemonium boreale: This plant, also known as Jacob’s ladder, produces blue-violet flowers and is one of the few plants with visible flowers on the island.
The flora of Ellesmere Island is adapted to survive in an extremely cold environment with a very short growing season. These plants play a vital role in the Arctic ecosystem, providing food and shelter for local wildlife and contributing to soil stability in such a remote region.

Fauna –
Its remote location and extremely cold climate greatly influence its fauna. Here are some of the wildlife species that can be found on Ellesmere Island:
– Polar bears: Ellesmere Island is one of the areas where it is possible to find polar bears, being located north of the Arctic Circle. These predators rely on seals as their main food source.
– Reindeer: Reindeer, also known as caribou in North America, are common on Ellesmere Island. They are adapted to the cold and move in large herds in search of food.
– Arctic foxes: Arctic foxes are well adapted to arctic conditions and can be spotted on the island. Their white fur serves as camouflage in the winter.
– Lemmings: Lemmings, small rodents, are an important source of food for Arctic predators, including snowy owls and Arctic foxes. They are well adapted to life in the Arctic environment.
– Migratory birds: Numerous species of migratory birds visit Ellesmere Island during the summer to nest. These include gulls, Arctic terns and other seabirds.
– Seals: Bearded seals and ringed seals are common in the waters surrounding the island and provide food for polar bears and other marine predators.
– Whales: In the waters near Ellesmere Island, several species of whale can be spotted, including the beluga whale and the sei whale.
The Ellesmere Island ecosystem is extremely fragile and delicate, and has been the subject of scientific studies to better understand how wildlife survives in such extreme conditions. The island is also a protected region and subject to strict environmental regulations to preserve its unique biodiversity.

Environmental Protection Actions –
Due to its remote location and fragile ecosystem, several environmental conservation actions have been taken to protect its biodiversity and unique environment. Here are some of the main environmental protection actions relating to Ellesmere Island:
– National parks and nature reserves: Much of Ellesmere Island is protected within Quttinirpaaq National Park, which is the northernmost land area in Canada. This national park is managed by Parks Canada and aims to preserve the island’s unique ecosystem.
– Scientific research: Ellesmere Island is an important site for scientific research, especially for the study of climate change and Arctic biodiversity. Researchers closely monitor the environment to better understand the effects of climate change and develop conservation strategies.
– Regulation of human activities: To protect the island’s unique flora and fauna, regulations have been introduced for human activities, such as the use of off-road vehicles and access to sensitive areas. These regulations help minimize humanity’s impact on the surrounding environment.
– Wildlife monitoring: Researchers and conservation agencies closely monitor the wildlife population on Ellesmere Island, particularly species such as polar bear, caribou and vole, to ensure their protection and management sustainable.
– Awareness and education: Environmental education is a fundamental part of conservation actions. Awareness campaigns have been carried out to inform the public about the ecological value of Ellesmere Island and the importance of conserving it.
– International cooperation: Ellesmere Island is part of the global Arctic ecosystem, so there are international cooperative efforts to preserve the Arctic as a whole. These efforts include international agreements for wildlife conservation and climate change mitigation measures.
It is important to note that Ellesmere Island is an extremely sensitive and vulnerable place, and environmental conservation actions are vital to ensure that its unique environment continues to exist for future generations and contributes to the conservation of the Arctic as a whole .

Guido Bissanti

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