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Arctic Cordillera

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Map Legend & Subregion List

NameColor on Map
Ellesmere and Devon Islands Ice Caps
Baffin and Torngat Mountains

About the Arctic Cordillera

The Arctic Cordillera is a chain of mountain ranges in the arctic. It is one of the northernmost features of North America. It begins in the northeasternmost part of the Labrador Peninsula and extends along the eastern coast of Nunavut. The largest contiguous chunks are on Baffin Island and Ellesmere Island. Where this region borders the ocean, the coastline consists of deep fjords that turn into steep-walled U-shaped valleys inland. This topography is the result of glaciers, contrasting with the V-shaped valleys formed by erosion from liquid water.

Plant life in this region is sparse, owing to the harsh conditions. Much of the region is covered by permanent snow and ice, and the areas that are not mostly consist of bare rock and are exposed to very low temperatures. Continuous permafrost covers the entire region; surface thawing happens only in summer, and is often short-lived as even summer temperatures are frequently below freezing. Precipitation is negligible, ranging from 200 to 600mm, with more precipitation in the warmer, southerly regions.

Much of this region borders Tundra at lower altitudes where the land slopes gradually into the sea, and borders the ocean directly where the coastline is steep. The southernmost part of this region, on the Labrador Peninsula, borders Taiga. This area, much within Torngat Mountains National Park, represents the part of the Arctic Cordillera richest in plant biodiversity, as more extensive plant growth is able to survive in the valleys.

Most of this region is covered by barren landscapes of glaciers, snow, and steep surfaces of bare rock. This photo was taken from a plane; much of this region is extremely difficult to access. Photo © Mike Beauregard, CC BY 2.0.