The Canadian Arctic Archipelago, also known as the Arctic Archipelago, is a Canadian archipelago north of the Canadian mainland in the Arctic. Situated in the northern extremity of North America and covering about 1,424,500 km2 (550,000 sq mi), this group of 36,563 islands comprises much of the territory of Northern Canada – most of Nunavut and part of the Northwest Territories.
The archipelago extends some 2,400 km (1,500 mi) longitudinally and 1,900 km (1,200 mi) from the mainland to Cape Columbia, the northernmost point on Ellesmere Island. It is bounded on the west by the Beaufort Sea; on the northwest by the Arctic Ocean; on the east by Greenland, Baffin Bay and Davis Strait; and on the south by Hudson Bay and the Canadian mainland. The various islands are separated from each other and the continental mainland by a series of waterways collectively known as the Northwestern Passages. Two large peninsulas, Boothia and Melville, extend northward from the mainland.
The archipelago consists of 36,563 islands, of which 94 are classifed as major islands, being larger than 130 km2 (50 sq mi), and cover a total area of 1,400,000 km2 (540,000 sq mi). The islands of the archipelago over 10,000 km2 (3,900 sq mi), in order of descending area, are:
* NT = Northwest Territories, NU = Nunavut
After Greenland, the archipelago is the world’s largest high-Arctic land area. The climate of the islands is arctic, and the terrain consists of tundra except in mountainous areas. Most of the islands are uninhabited; human settlement is extremely thin and scattered, being mainly coastal Inuit settlements on the southern islands.
British claims on the islands were based on the explorations in the 1570s by Martin Frobisher. Canadian sovereignty, originally (1870-80) only over island portions that drained into Foxe Basin, Hudson Bay and Hudson Strait, over all of them was not established until the 1880 transfer by Britain to Canada of the remaining islands; the District of Franklin was established in 1895, which comprised almost all of the archipelago; the district was dissolved upon the creation of Nunavut in 1999. Canada claims all the waterways of the Northwestern Passages as Canadian Internal Waters; however the United States and most other maritime countries view these as international waters. Disagreement over the passages' status has raised Canadian concerns about environmental enforcement, national security, and general sovereignty. Hans Island, in the Nares Strait east of Ellesmere Island, is a territory currently contested between Canada and Denmark.
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