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Herschel Island

RIMG0463The Herschel Island. Photo: Hugues Lantuit.Herschel Island and the neighboring Mackenzie Delta is a secondary field site in PAGE21. The island is located at 69°34'N and 138°55'W and is the northernmost point of the Yukon Territory, approximately 60 km east of the Alaska border. Herschel Island is part of an ice-push structure formed by the westward advance of a lobe of the Laurentide Ice Sheet during the last glaciation.

Permafrost is relatively thick and, in places along the Yukon Coastal Plain, reaches depths of 600+ m (Smith and Burgess, 2000). Massive ground ice is widespread and underlies most of Herschel Island, except for beaches and spits (Pollard, 1990; Fritz et al., 2011). The mean long-term annual air temperature is -10°C and permafrost temperature at -15 m depth is −8°C (Burn and Zhang, 2009).

The area is characterized by Arctic tundra. There are over 200 species of plants on Herschel Island, which occur in a diversity of habitats. Most of the island is composed of level to gently sloping stable uplands, vegetated by cottongrass, ground shrubs and wildflowers.

The island is the focus of the investigations of the Alfred Wegener Institute for Polar and Marine Research since 2006 in a cooperation with McGill University and the Geological Survey of Canada. These studies have looked at coastal erosion, paleogeography, thermokarst and soil microbiology.

IMG 2379Facilities at the Herschel Island. Photo: Hugues Lantuit.A large number of background documents and data have been acquired about the island and the area, including high resolution satellite imagery, DEMs, archive airphotos, meteorological measurements and soil maps.
The island can be accessed by helicopter, float plane or twin otter from Inuvik. The Twin otter flight lasts approximately one hour. The number of researchers on site varies between a few to fifteen at the same time during the summer period. The island is a territorial park and is being managed by two rangers on site between April and August.


In PAGE21, following research will be conducted at Herschel Island:

  • Measurement of permafrost temperature
  • Active layer depth monitoring
  • Creation of soil maps
  • Creation of gemorphological maps
  • Measurement of coastal erosion and thermokarst.
  • Sampling of soil pits
  • Microbial analysis
  • CO2 and CH4 exchange from polygonal tundra (techniques: chamber techniques, eddy covariance for CO2 planned for 2013 onwards)
  • Meteorological measurements including soil heat flux and radiation balance

For more information, please contact:
Dr. Hugues Lantuit at the Alfred Wegener Institute for Polar and Marine Research, Periglacial Research Section
Telegrafenberg A43, 14473 Potsdam, Germany
Phone: +49 331 288 2216 
Fax: +49 331 288 2188
Email: This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

Field Trips
  • Summer 2012:
    The team is on Herschel island from 17 July until 28 August. You can follow their research experiences in the blog "Herschel Island 2012".
  • Summer 2013
  • The team from from the Alfred Wegener Institute (AWI) in Potsdam, McGill University, Montreal, and the University of Edinburgh was blogging in English. Their stories are available here