Language selection


Research Document 2021/078

Biophysical and Ecological Overview of the North Water and Adjacent Areas

By Hornby, C.A., Scharffenberg, K.C., Melling, H., Archambault, P., Dawson, K., Geoffroy, M., Hamilton, A., Henderson, L., Hnatiuk Stewart, S., Holm, J., Hrenchuk, C., Johansen, K.L., Johnson, M.W., Lacho, C., Mosbech, A., Myers, P.G., Nielsen, N., Papakyriakou, T., Remnant, R., Ugarte, F., Wang, F. and Worden, E.


The North Water region is located in the High Arctic, geographically situated between Canada and Greenland. It is a remote region highly influenced by ocean currents and wind conditions, which interact with the unique local geography and coastline. The North Water polynya, also known as Sarvarjuaq by the Qikiqtani Inuit, and Pikialasorsuaq (“great upwelling”) by Greenland is a recurring area of anomalously thin sea ice and/or open water surrounded by thicker sea ice. Predominantly a latent heat polynya, the North Water forms southward of a recurrent ice bridge (or arch) across Nares Strait, and is maintained by strong winds, currents, and an upwelling of warm water carried from the Atlantic by the West Greenland Current. For millennia, Inuit have regarded the North Water as a place of great cultural and spiritual significance, and rely on the sea ice/ice edge environment as an important hunting ground and transportation corridor. The North Water is considered to be one of the largest (80,000 km2) polynyas in the Arctic, and is well known for its early and reliable productivity, and high biodiversity of species. This region is home to an estimated 60 million birds, including the endangered Ivory Gull and the largest aggregation of Dovekies/Little Auks on earth. The open water and productive coastal and ice edge environments provide critical habitat in all seasons for many marine mammal species, such as Atlantic Walrus, Beluga and Bowhead Whales, Narwhal, Ringed Seal, Bearded Seal, and Polar Bear. Due to its ecological, socioeconomic, and cultural importance, this area has been evaluated as unique through several international processes. In recent decades, there have been changes to the physical, biological and chemical processes of the North Water. However, observations and science programs have not been systematic and/or sustained and there remain uncertainties and knowledge gaps regarding the actual degree of change that is occurring. In order to establish a baseline for ongoing collaborations related to the North Water region, a comprehensive literature review was developed, highlighting important physical, biological, and ecological features, and seasonally important areas for key species within the region, including the polynya and adjacent areas. This review also summarizes data uncertainties, knowledge gaps, and stressors that have the potential to affect this dynamic marine ecosystem.

Accessibility Notice

This document is available in PDF format. If the document is not accessible to you, please contact the Secretariat to obtain another appropriate format, such as regular print, large print, Braille or audio version.

Date modified: