Nature and science

Qausuittuq National Park

A close-up view of purple saxifrage
Purple saxifrage

Qausuittuq National Park is located in the Queen Elizabeth group of islands, in Canada’s Western High Arctic Natural Region. The approximately 11,000 km2 of Arctic lands and waters protected in the park include the northern part of Bathurst Island (north of Polar Bear Pass National Wildlife Area), the Governor General Islands, and smaller islands west and north of Bathurst Island. This area is also referred to as the Bathurst Island complex.

The geology of the Bathurst Island complex is composed primarily of sedimentary rocks such as limestone, sandstone and dolomite. Evidence of past glaciation includes landforms such as eskers, moraines and raised beaches. Various landscape features are present such as plateaus, hills, wetlands, lowlands as well as uplands with elevations up to 411 metres.

At 76° north latitude, Qausuittuq National Park is located in one of the harshest and driest regions in the world. Despite its proximity to water, the area is a polar desert. Mean temperatures range from minus 35°C in January to 5°C in July and annual precipitation is less than 130 mm. This severe climate limits soil and nutrient development and as a result, vegetation is extremely sparse. Patches of purple saxifrage, dwarf willow, sedges, grasses, lichens and mosses provide a precious food source for wildlife.

Two Peary caribou on the tundra
Some areas on Bathurst Island are key habitat for Peary caribou.


Despite the high latitude and harsh conditions, there is a surprising number of wildlife species in Qausuittuq National Park. The park protects key wildlife habitat including travel routes, calving grounds and wintering grounds for Peary caribou, listed as threatened under Canada’s Species at Risk Act.

Other terrestrial wildlife species adapted to this environment include muskox, polar bear, arctic wolf, arctic fox, arctic hare, and collared lemming. Numerous bird species inhabit the area, such as Snowy Owl, Snow Goose, King Eider, Jaeger and various gulls and shorebirds. Some of the marine species include ringed seal, bearded seal, walrus, bowhead whale, beluga whale and narwhal.

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