Devon Island

Devon Island (75° N, 86° W) is a large (c.55,000 km2 or 21,200 sq mi), irregularly shaped island forming part of the Parry Island Group within the Queen

Elizabeth Island Archipelago, Nunavut, Canada. First observed among Europeans by William Baffin in 1616, the extent of the island was only fully mapped within the last 200 years. Earlier charts designate the southern coastline as North Devon, a part of "Parry Land." Bounded to the south by Barrow Strait and Lancaster Sound, to the west by Wellington Channel, and to the north by Jones Sound, Devon Island has served historically as a hub around which many noteworthy events in Arctic exploration revolved. Cape Warrender, the southeast promontory, marks the eastern approach to the North West Passage.

Devon Island is composed primarily of sedimentary rocks. The western two-thirds of the island are formed from Paleozoic marine sediments (Arctic Platform Geological Province) and the eastern part is formed from older Precambrian rocks (Churchill Province). A large continuous domed ice cap covers the eastern part of the island, reaching a maximum height of 1908 m. Smaller glaciated areas also occur on Colin Archer Peninsula in the northwest. Unconsolidated surface sediments are primarily collu-vial fine material, sands, blocks, and rubble. This rocky landscape, coupled with low annual precipitation (c.200 mm) and general elevation (300-500 m), produces a barren landscape, with at most very sparse polar desert vegetation (<3% vegetation cover). In contrast to the barren interior, Truelove Lowland, an area of about 43 km2 along the northeast coast, was gradually uplifted from the coast as glacial land ice retreated, and today acts as an ecological oasis. This area, comprising a series of old raised beach ridges and terraces with salt and freshwater marshes, rock outcrops, lakes, and ponds, has been intensively studied by biologists from the early 1970s (International Biological Programme) to the present. Here a wide variety of vegetation types occur from sedge-moss communities to dwarf shrub heath. The Arctic Institute of North America maintains a permanent field station in the area.

A particularly noteworthy feature of the Devon Island landscape is the Haughton meteor impact crater (c.22 km diameter), one of the largest such craters known on earth, dating back around 23 million years. Scientists have recognized that the cold, dry crater environment is closely analogous to the conditions they are likely to find on Mars, and are currently using the site to test both ideas and technologies with respect to the exploration of Mars and theories on the origins of living organisms.

Devon Island today lacks permanent domestic settlements, but has in times past supported sparse indigenous communities. First settlement (Pre-Dorset culture) dates from 3000 to 4000 years BP and there is strong evidence for subsequent occupation by the

Dorset culture (c.2800-1000 years BP), the remnants of which were eventually replaced by the Thule culture around 1000 years ago. Patterns and densities of settlement differ between cultures and may relate to changing resource availability, possibly linked to changing climate and access to marine mammals.

Devon Island features strongly in the annals of Arctic exploration. The first relics from the ill-fated Franklin Expedition were found by Captain Ommaney (HMS Assistance) at Cape Riley on Devon Island in 1850, together with a cairn on Beechey Island, a small island just off the southwest coast. Captain William Penny (HMS Lady Franklin) later found scattered additional material and subsequently, in August 1850, the First Grinnell Expedition found three graves of Franklin expedition members, subsequently excavated, on Beechey Island. This led to Beechey Island serving as a major rendezvous point for ships of Sir Edward Belcher's 1852 Franklin search expedition. Later, the controversial Arctic explorer Dr. Frederick Cook spent the winter of 1908 in a cave on Devon Island when returning from his claimed attainment of the North Pole.

Ian D. Hodkinson

See also Queen Elizabeth Islands; Lancaster Sound; North West Passage, Exploration Of; Nunavut

Further Reading

Belcher, Edward, The Last of the Arctic Voyages. Being a Narrative of the Expedition in H.M.S. Assistance Under the Command of Captain Sir Edward Belcher, C.B., in Search of Sir John Franklin, During the Years 1852-53-54, London: Lovell Reeve, 1855 Bliss, Larry C., Truelove Lowland, Devon Island, Canada: A High Arctic Ecosystem, Edmonton: University of Alberta Press, 1977

Bliss, Larry C. & N.V. Matveyeva, "Circumpolar arctic vegetation." In Arctic Ecosystems in a Changing Climate, edited by C.F. Stuart, R.L. Jeffries, J.F. Reynolds, G. R. Shaver & J. Svoboda, London: Academic Press, 1991 Cook, Frederick A., Return From the Pole, New York: Pelligrini and Cudahy, 1951 Grieve, Richard A.F., "The Haughton impact structure: summary and synthesis of the results of the HISS Project." Meteoritics, 23 (1988): 249-254 Helmer, James W., "The Palaeo-Eskimo prehistory of the North Devon Lowlands." In Arctic, 44 (1991): 301-317

-, "Prehistoric site location strategies in the North Devon

Lowlands, High Arctic Canada." In Journal of Field Archaeology, 19 (1992): 291-313 Kane, Elisha K., The US Grinnell Expedition in Search of Sir

John Franklin, New York: Harper and Brothers, 1854 Mayr, Ulrich, T. de Freitas, B. Beauchamp & G. Eisenbacher, "The geology of Devon Island North of 76°, Canadian Arctic Archipelago." Bulletin of the Geological Survey of Canada, 526 (1998): 1-500 Osinski, Gordon, "Shocked into life." New Scientist, 179 (2412-3) (2003): 40 [Haughton Crater]

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