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Bylot Island Field Station



Field Station Management

General information:  

Bylot Island is located off the northern tip of Baffin Island, Nunavut, Canada. It is accessible through the communities of Pond Inlet (Mittimatalik) and Nanisivik, both found on Northern Baffin Island. The field research covers the south plain of the island (1600 km2), but the research station is located in a large glacial valley at the southwest end of the island.

Location:   Bylot Island, Sirmilik National Park, Nunavut. Pond Inlet (Mittimatalik; 1300 inhabitants) is located at 85 km.
Owner:   Centre for Northern Studies (CEN) and Parks Canada
Institution in charge:   CEN at Université Laval and Parks Canada
Opening year:   1989
Operational period:   May-August
Station networks:  

Canadian Network of Northern Research Operators

INTERACT - International network for terrestrial research and monitoring in the arctic


Keywords:   Ice caps, permanent snow patches, mountains, valley, shoreline, tundra, high mountain peaks and glaciers, extensive low-elevation areas covered by heterogeneous tundra vegetation, wetlands, lakes, permafrost
Climate:   High Arctic
Temperature:   Mean annual temp. -15 °C ; Mean temp. in February -35 °C ; Mean temp. in July 6.1 °C
Winds:   Mean annual wind speed 1.9 m/s ; Max. wind speed 9.6 m/s ; Dominant wind direction - East
Precipitations:   Rain and snow ; total annual precipitation 220 mm
Ice breakup:   Lake: June/July ; rivers: May/June ; sea: July
Permafrost:   Continuous
Altitude:   20 m at the station ; 0 m to 1300 m in study area
Natural environment:  

Much of Bylot Island is covered by high mountain peaks and glaciers. These are the Byam Martin Mountains which form a part of the larger Arctic Cordillera extending from the eastern margin of Baffin Island all the way to Ellesmere Island. The remainder of Bylot Island, and in particular its southern plain, is characterized by extensive low-elevation areas covered by heterogeneous tundra vegetation.

The vegetation found in the wetlands is characterized by the presence of sedges, grasses, and many brown moss species. In contrast with the wetlands, dryer areas are found on slopes, hills and elevated terraces surrounding the valley lowlands, as well as on the rims surrounding tundra polygons. The better drained, drier soils of these habitats allows for distinct plant communities, including forbs, grasses, and shrubs. These areas commonly referred to as uplands, account for 90% of the south plain surface whereas wetlands account for only 10%.

The wetlands of the south plain are a habitat of rare plant quality and productivity for an arctic environment. Benefiting from this “polar oasis” are more than 360 species of plants, 10 mammal species, and 74 bird species. Considered as an important site for many migratory birds, Bylot Island was declared a Migratory Bird Sanctuary in 1965.

Amongst the migratory species taking advantage of the lush wetland vegetation is the Greater Snow Geese. The south plain holds one of the world’s largest breeding colonies of Greater Snow Geese and the wetlands of the Qarlikturvik valley represent their main brood-rearing site on the island.

In addition to the geese, other herbivores are the Brown and Collared Lemmings, Arctic Hare, Caribou and Rock Ptarmigan. The main terrestrial predators are the Arctic Fox, Long-tailed Jaeger, Parasitic Jaeger, Glaucous Gull, Common Raven, and Snowy Owl. Food web relationships are summarized in Gauthier et al. (2011): Ecoscience 18: 223-235.

Human dimension:  

No communities live on Bylot Island. The nearest community is Pond Inlet (Mittimatalik) found on northern Baffin Island, Nunavut, Canada.



Climatology, climate change, environmental sciences, pollution, geology, sedimentology, geophysics, glaciology, geocryology, microbiology, hydrology, terrestrial biology, ecology, paleolimnology, paleoecology, limnology.

Current research :  

A central theme of the research conducted here is trophic interactions in the arctic tundra in relation to environmental change and Greater Snow Goose ecology, but also long-term monitoring of animal populations, vegetation and climate of the arctic tundra, impacts of bird populations and climate change on lake ecosystems (e.g. greenhouse gas emissions), and geomorphology of ice wedge polygons.

Over the years, the Bylot Island research project has grown into one of the largest and longest ecological monitoring studies in Nunavut. The site is also part of several national and international research networks including EMAN (Ecological Monitoring and Assessment Network), EMAN-North, the International Tundra Experiment (ITEX), ArcticNet and ArcticWOLVES (Arctic Wildlife Observatories Linking Vulnerable EcoSystems).

Established in 2001, Sirmilik National Park encompasses most of Bylot Island, except for a few pockets that are Inuit-owned lands. Covering an area of 22 000 km2, this park extends to the northern part of Baffi n Island. Sirmilik (which means "place of glaciers" in Inuktitut) reflects the complex of glaciers and ice caps covering most of Bylot Island.

Past research:  

The large colony of Greater Snow Geese breeding on the island was the incentive to start the current project. Because the population was growing rapidly during the 1980s, there was fear that this could negatively impact the arctic tundra. The initial goals of the study were to initiate a demographic study of the population through a long-term marking program, and to assess the impact of goose grazing on the tundra vegetation. However, over the years, the research program has broadened considerably and now includes many other components of the terrestrial ecosystem. A central theme of the project is now to study the trophic interactions (interactions between plant, herbivores and predators) in the context of global change.

The list of scientific publications published on the research station's Website is a representative subset of the scientific communications produced by CEN researchers in this area.

Permits and licensing:  

Located in Sirmilik National Park and in the Bylot Migratory Bird Sanctuary, a joint research permit from Parks Canada (www.pc.gc.ca) and the Canadian Wildlife Service is required to access the site (Parks Canada, Iqaluit). It is also recommended to meet with the wildlife officer and Hunters and Trappers Organization representatives from Pond Inlet before going to the field.

Climatic and environmental data:  

Several climate stations of the CEN SILA Network (www.cen.ulaval.ca/sila) operate year-round on site. For requests concerning ecological monitoring data, please contact the lead researcher and project leader Gilles Gauthier.

Nordicana D:  

CEN's Nordicana-D series freely and openly give access to online climatic and environmental data reports archived at CEN, aiding the management of the wealth of environmental data sets produced by CEN's monitoring and research activities. The following data series from Bylot Island in Nunavut is available : CEN 2013. Environmental data from Bylot Island in Nunavut, Canada, v. 1.2 (1992-2012). Nordicana D2, doi: 10.5885/45039SL-EE76C1BDAADC4890. Visit the Website www.cen.ulaval.ca/nordicanad/ to view the complete list of available data.

Infrastructure and Local Services

Infrastructure presentation:  

The current Ecological Studies and Environmental Monitroing at Bylot Island started in 1988 as a joint collaboration between Université Laval (Centre d’études nordiques) and the Canadian Wildlife Service (Québec region). Before that, several other biologists had visited the island to conduct some ecological research, specifically on the diverse avian community found on the island. This includes the pioneering work of J. VanTyne, W.H. Drury, L. Lemieux and L.M. Tuck in the 1950s, and more recently the work of J.D. Heyland and H. Boyd in the early 1970s. However, the current monitoring project is the longest and most intensive scientific investigation ever conducted on the island.

Total area:   The total available area is 132 m2 including 26 m2 for scientific laboratories and 106 m2 for logistics. The main building (52' x 20') includes a laboratory, a kitchen, three bedrooms, and storage space. One garage is used for storage year round.
Number of rooms (beds):   A total of 3 bedrooms (2 bunk beds each, 12 beds total). During the high season (summer), additional tents are used for sleeping.

A cook and a camp manager are onsite during peak season.

Capacity:   18 people on a regular basis.

Outside shower, drinking water, and camping gear (cooking and tools) is available. The building is heated and has solar power supply. Solar power supply with back up fossil fuel generator. Availability 24/7, 12V/110V, northamerican two-three pin plugs (Type A/B). Waste must be sorted and evacuated as soon as possible to Resolute and Pond Inlet. Human waste (solid) and waste that does not burn are evacuated at the end of the summer. The camp is surrounded by an electrical bear fence.

Communication :  

VHF and satellite phones are available for rent at CEN. Computer and printer are available. High speed Internet is currently on. One cumputer is used for all Internet and E-mails.

Scientific equipment:  

Laboratory is equipped with drying oven, electronic scale, microscope/binocular, glassware. Chemical storage is not authorized. All products must be brought back after use.

Vehicles :  

Snowmobiles are used for transportation during the winter season. Must make prior arrangements with PCSP for onsite fuel delivery.

Local resources:  

For logistical support, contact the Polar Continental Shelf Program (PCSP; www.nrcan.gc.ca/earth-sciences/products-services/polar-shelf-services/11617) for application forms. For HF Radio - PCSP (Polar Continental Shelf Project) frequencies, a written permission from PCSP is required.

Local guides and translators are available for hire at Pond Inlet.

How to Get There

Access :  

The research station is accessible by chartered flights from Pond Inlet (Mittimatalik) on a weekly basis most of the year. Twin Otter or helicopter must be chartered from there. Snowmobiles can be used during the winter season. Research must be planned well in advance and coordinated with the station's lead researchers Gilles Gauthier and Dominique Berteaux.

Charter services:  

Must make prior arrangements with PCSP.

Landing facilities:  

Airstrip surface is snow, gravel and/or clay. Length is unknown. Twin Otter on skis can land until ~31 May on lake 50 m from camp. Twin Otter on wheels can land from June to August on landing strip 5 km from camp. Helicopter can land in a landing area 50 m from camp.

Safety, Medical Services and Insurance

Safety equipment:  

Safety equipment recommended to conduct field research on Bylot Island are : pepper spray, firearm, communication device, and first aid kit. High degree of self-sufficiency is expected.

Insurance :  

It is the responsibility of the user of the station to ensure that he or she has the necessary insurance to complete his or her research. The CSST provides insurance coverage to employees or student employees only for accidents at work. In all other cases, personal insurance must cover victims for accidents and evacuation. It is therefore essential to have adequate coverage in terms of activity and destination. Quebec Health insurance coverage is not valid outside of the province of Quebec. Agreements exist with some provinces, however, no agreement exists with the Northwest Territories or Nunavut, even if these areas are located in Canada.

Medical services:  

There are no medical facilities on Bylot Island. Nearest medical facilities are the health centre in Pond Inlet (85 km) and the Iqaluit hospital (1200 km). Transportation time depends on helicopter availability and weather conditions. The station is not equipped with a defibrillator.

Reservation and Fees

Availability :  

Early May to late August.

Cost :  

No fixed rate. Rates to use the facility must be negociated with the contact people in advance.



Available upon request at CEN main office

  • Bylot Island Research Station: organization and operation, D3.
On the web:  



Centre d'études nordiques
Pavillon Abitibi-Price
2405, rue de la Terrasse
Université Laval
Québec (Québec)
Canada, G1V 0A6
Tél.: 418-656-3340

Lead Researchers

Dr. Gilles Gauthier, professor
Dept. Biologie, Université Laval
Tel. : 418 656-5507

Dr. Dominique Berteaux, professor
Dept. Biologie, Chimi, Géographie, UQAR
Tél. : 418 723-1986 # 1910

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