22 Jul 2022 | Arctic Travel Tips

Few places on Earth can host an ice cap. They are tremendously large and can cover vast areas with snow and ice.

While they do not only exist in a polar region, the oldest ice caps do. The ice caps of Baffin Island are remnants of a past Ice Age and are the oldest ice in North America.

Join us as we learn more about the ice caps of Baffin Island.


What Is An Ice Cap

While a glacier has a broad definition and can refer to most pieces of ice that have survived a whole year without melting, an ice cap is more easily categorized.

An ice cap is a glacier or series of connected glaciers that reach up to 50,000 square kilometres (19,000 sq mi). Anything more than that is considered an ice sheet, which are very rare and found only on Greenland and Antarctica.

Now that is still a lot of ice. An ice cap will cover entire mountain ranges and leave only the peak poking above the snow, which are called nunataks. These snowless peaks create the only contrast to the expansive white blanket of snow and ice.

The ice caps form as continuous glaciers connect. They are found in places where it remains cold enough for snow to fall and then crystalize under the pressure of new snow. That snow is compressed into a dense and grainy layer called, firn.

As more snow falls and crystalizes over time, the ice mass becomes so heavy that it begins to slide or flow down the nearest slope. This is how an ice cap forms tributaries that reach out into the neighbouring valleys that turn into glacial streams or icebergs.


Penny Ice Cap

Located high in the mountains of Cumberland Peninsula is Penny Ice Cap. This 2,000 m (6,562 ft) high barrier sits within Auyuittuq National Park and covers 6,000 km2.

This is a rocky landscape with glacial carved mountain faces and deep fiords lined with steep granite cliffs.

The name of the park, Auyuittuq means, “the land that never melts”. This is a perfect name considering that Penny Ice Cap is one of the last remnants of the last ice age. This makes it vital for scientists and researches that rely on ice core samples since it holds so many centuries of data.

The closest communities are Pangnirtung to the south west of the ice cap and Qikiqtarjuaq to the east.

The ice cap was named after the Scottish whaling captain, William Penny. With the help of Inuit from the Cumberland Sound area would develop over-wintering techniques so that they could begin their work earlier in the spring and later into the fall. He would be one of the captains that was hired by Lady Franklin in the search for the Sir John Franklin’s lost expedition.


Barnes Ice Cap

This dome shaped ice cap is found on the Baffin Mountains at the centre of Baffin Island. The relatively barren terrain truly highlights the concave shape of the snow mass and the high altitude is ideal for maintaining its size.

While it does stretch into the fiords near Clyde River, the ice cap remains relatively contained and has few tributaries or tongues like other ice caps.

It covers 6,000 km2 (2,300 sq mi) and some of it is over 20,000 years old. It is a remnant of the Laurentide Ice Sheet that stretched across much of Canada and some of the U.S. This ice sheet would carve out the Great Lakes, shape the Hudson Bay and Foxe Basin creating the fiords and valleys that line the coastlines of Baffin Island.


Do You Want To Visit A Glacier?

After 20 years of experience, we are the world’s premier Arctic adventure company focused on bringing you unforgettable trips that meet your bucket list dreams.

Our time providing tours of Baffin Island has given us the expertise and connections to bring you where you want to go. Whether by boat, snowmobile, helicopter, or even hot air balloon, we will show you the beauty of the north.

If you are interested in visiting a glacier on one of our Arctic wildlife safaris, then explore our Polar Bears & Glaciers of Baffin Island Safari or Spring Polar Bears & Icebergs of Baffin Island Safari.

Here, you have the chance to witness the stunning east coast of Baffin Island and photograph polar bears. You will get to visit Coronation Glacier, one of the only glaciers in the area that reaches the ocean and creates icebergs.

If you are looking to craft a customizable itinerary that fits with your schedule meets your goals, then explore our Private Journeys.


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By: Mathew Whitelaw