Herschel Island was born from sediment at the bottom of what is now Herschel Basin in the Beaufort Sea. The slow but tremendously powerful action of the glaciers pushed the sediment at the bottom up into a pile now known as Herschel Island, or "Qikiqtaruk" (which means "island") to the Inuvialuit.

The island is composed of silt, sand and clay, but no bedrock. The island’s foundation material tends to wash away in great chunks with the action of the ice and tide, and its surface heaves and rolls down its own hillsides from the effects of frost creep and solifluction. Occasionally a piece of ice that has wedged in the ground is exposed and melts out, creating a mudslide. There are some spectacular examples of this on Herschel Island.
Herschel Island was born from sediment at the bottom of what is now Herschel Basin in the Beaufort Sea. The slow but tremendously powerful action of the glaciers pushed the sediment at the bottom up into a pile now known as Herschel Island, or "Qikiqtaruk" (which means "island") to the Inuvialuit.

The island is composed of silt, sand and clay, but no bedrock. The island’s foundation material tends to wash away in great chunks with the action of the ice and tide, and its surface heaves and rolls down its own hillsides from the effects of frost creep and solifluction. Occasionally a piece of ice that has wedged in the ground is exposed and melts out, creating a mudslide. There are some spectacular examples of this on Herschel Island.

© 2001, CHIN. All Rights Reserved.

Water Eroded Land

Occasionally a piece of ice that has wedged in the ground is exposed and melts out, creating a mudslide.

Yukon Territorial Government, Heritage Branch

© Yukon Territorial Government, Heritage Branch


Vegetation on Herschel Island

All of the northern Yukon mainland, as well as Herschel Island, is underlain with permafrost, or permanently frozen ground. The heat of the summer sun melts the top layer enough to allow plants to grow, but the depth of this melting varies, depending on slope, soil composition and ground cover. The thicker the vegetation, the more insulated the ground is from the sun.

Yukon Territorial Government, Heritage Branch 2001

© Yukon Territorial Government, Heritage Branch 2001.


Flowers on Herschel Island

The island is covered with low-lying plants and shrubs. Arctic tundra plants are affected by low temperatures, short summers with long days, low precipitation, poor nitrogen supply and strong winds. Despite all this, dozens of species of wildflowers flourish during the short summers on the island.

Yukon Territorial Government, Heritage Branch 2001

© Yukon Territorial Government, Heritage Branch 2001.


Driftwood

There are no trees on Herschel, although the prevailing currents from the Mackenzie Delta bring in a considerable amount of driftwood.

Yukon Territorial Government, Heritage Branch

© Yukon Territorial Government, Heritage Branch 2001.


Animals

Herschel is the seasonal home to a wide variety of birds and waterfowl and, periodically, larger mammals. The nearby waters abound with seal, fish and whale.

Yukon Territorial Government, Heritage Branch

© Yukon Territorial Government, Heritage Branch 2001.


Learning Objectives

The learner will:
  • Understand the historical purposes for travel to Herschel Island
  • Learn about the physical geography of Western Arctic terrestrial environments like Herschel Island
  • Discover the harsh characteristics of Herschel Island that contribute to its lack of habitants
  • Learn about the unique geological formation of Herschel Island
  • Explore the characteristics of vegetation in the Arctic tundra

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