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Quttinirpaaq National Park of Canada


Geology © Doug Stern
Quttinirpaaq National Park contains a wide variety of sedimentary, volcanic, metamorphic, and intrusive rocks and structures, formed during a time span of more than one billion years. The park lies within the northernmost portion of the Innuitian Orogen, a belt of deformed rocks of Precambrian to early Tertiary age that extends along the arctic continental margin from southwestern Prince Patrick Island to northernmost Greenland.

Physiographic Regions

Grant Land Mountains

This physiographic region, located in the northern part of the park, encompasses 65% of the park area. It is comprised of a series of mountain chains known collectively as the Grant Land Mountains. Sprawled in a NE-SW direction, they include the Osborn Range, Garfield Range, United States Range, British Empire Range, and the Challenger Mountains. The majority of glaciers in the park are found on the Grant Land Mountains above 1100 m in elevation, where more than half of the landscape is covered in ice. Mount Barbeau, elevation 2616 m, is the highest mountain in eastern North America.

Lake Hazen Basin

The Lake Hazen Basin lies between the Grant Land Mountains and the Hazen Plateau. It is an elongated lowland of about 3500 km2 and generally less than 300m in elevation. Its north-western boundary follows an abrupt fault scarp defining the Garfield and United States Ranges. Lake Hazen occupies the centre of the basin at 159 m ABOVE SEA LEVEL . Covering approximately 540 km2, Lake Hazen is the world’s largest freshwater lake north of 74°N. Its depth is at least 260 m, well below present sea level. The trough occupied by Lake Hazen lies along the edge of relatively soft sedimentary rocks forming a shallow, asymmetrical V-shaped cross-section.

The geomorphic development of Lake Hazen Basin was extensively influenced by two main events during past glaciations, which led to elevated lake levels at least 150 m above present. These were – firstly – the displacement of Lake Hazen by north-eastward advance of glaciers from the southwest and south-eastward advance of glaciers from the mountains, and – secondly – the growth of glaciers in the south on the Hazen Plateau, damming all possible outlets for the lake. Currently, the Ruggles River is the only outlet for the lake.

Hazen Plateau

Hazen Plateau © Tom Knight

The Hazen Plateau (9250 km2) is comprised of uplands between Lake Hazen Basin and the southern boundary of Quttinirpaaq along Archer Fiord and Nares Strait. The upland surface is lowest along Lake Hazen Basin at 300 m ABOVE SEA LEVEL , and rises towards the southeast where it reaches 1300 m ABOVE SEA LEVEL at the head of Archer Fiord, and 840 m ABOVE SEA LEVEL along Robeson Channel. The Hazen Plateau’s southern boundary is defined by steep cliffs and deep, glacial valleys. Currently, the plateau is free of permanent glacial cover except for the highest land around the head of Archer Fiord near Simmons and Beatrix Bays, and two small ice caps north of Patrick Bay.

The Hazen Plateau is dissected by channels following a trellis drainage pattern. These channels form steep-sided glacial troughs and are most spectacular where they cut through the raised southern rim of the Plateau. Of the southerly flowing channels, the Ruggles River is the only drainage for Lake Hazen.

The south-western corner of the Plateau departs from the overall drainage pattern of the rest of the Plateau. Here, the main drainage is toward the northwest into Tanquary Fiord through the McDonald River system. In this area, relatively continuous mountain chains, running from the northeast, are broken into individual uplands covered by ice caps.

Glaciers of Quttinirpaaq

Air Force glacier
© Tom Knight

Glaciers cover about one-third of Quttinirpaaq National Park. They vary from large ice fields to small semi-permanent snowfields. The large ice caps are approximately 125,000 years old.