Baffin Bay, located between Baffin Island and the southwest coast of Greenland, is a marginal sea of the North Atlantic Ocean. It is connected to the Atlantic via Davis Strait and the Labrador Sea. A narrower Nares Strait connects Baffin Bay with the Arctic Ocean. The bay area was inhabited from around 500 BC by the Dorset and then Thule and Inuit people. It was reached by Europeans in 1585 and described in detail in 1616 by William Baffin, after whom the bay and the island are named.
The bay is not navigable most of the year because of the ice cover and high density of floating ice and icebergs in the open areas. However, a polynya of about 80,000 km2 (31,000 sq mi), known as the North Water, opens in summer on the north near Smith Sound. Most of the aquatic life of the bay is concentrated near that region.
Geography and geology :
Baffin Bay is an arm of the Atlantic Ocean bounded by the Baffin Island in the west, Greenland in the east, and Ellesmere Island in the north. It connects to the Atlantic through the Davis Strait, and to the Arctic through several narrow channels of Nares Strait. It is a northwestern extension of the North Atlantic and Labrador Sea. It can also be viewed as a long strait separating Baffin Island and Greenland.
The bay is less than 1,000 m (3,300 ft) deep near the coast, where the sea bottom is covered with gravel, crushed stone and sand. In the center, there is a deep pit called Baffin Hollow reaching 2,136 m (7,008 ft) (see depth map), which is mostly covered in silt. Currents form a cyclonic circulation. On the eastern periphery, in summer, the West Greenland Current transports water from the Atlantic Ocean to the North. In its western part, the Baffin Island Current brings the Arctic waters to the south.
Climate, hydrology and hydrochemistry :
The climate is Arctic with frequent storms, especially in winter. Average January temperatures are −20 °C (−4 °F) in the south and −28 °C (−18 °F) on the north. In July, the average temperature is 7 °C (45 °F). The annual precipitation is 100–250 mm (3.9–9.8 in) on the Greenland side and about twice larger near the Baffin Island.
The water temperature at the surface is below −1 °C (30 °F) in winter. In summer, it varies from 4–5 °C (39–41 °F) in the south-east to 0 °C (32 °F) and below at north-west. The salinity exceeds 34‰ (parts per thousand) in winter. In summer, it is 32‰ on the east and 30–31‰ on the west. Deep waters are formed as a result of mixing of Arctic and Atlantic waters; their temperature is about −0.5 °C (31.1 °F) and salinity is 34.5 ‰. In winter, 80% of the bay is covered with continuous ice, floating ice and fast ice.
In some winters, the continuous ice stretches from shore to shore. The ice is most abundant in March and least in August–September. In summer, drifting ice remains in the central and western parts of the bay. Numerous icebergs are formed in this period and are brought, together with ice, to the Atlantic Ocean near Newfoundland.
The tides are semidiurnal, with an average height of 4 m (13 ft) and the maximum of 9 m (30 ft). Their speed varies between 1 and 3.7 km/h (0.62 and 2.3 mph) hour and the direction by as much as 180°. This variability results in in the collision and crushing of fresh, old, and pack ice. Winds are predominantly north-western through the whole year. South-eastern and eastern winds are common in July and August.
The North Water provides air to ice algae and zooplankton and is characterized by abundant fauna. Of about 20,000 Beluga whales living in the Baffin Bay, some 15,000 are concentrated at the North Water. Other abundant animals of the region include walrus, narwhal, Harp Seal, bearded seal, ringed seal and polar bear. All aquatic mammals crucially depend on the availability of open water; they have very limited ability to maintain breathing holes in ice and are all vulnerable to attacks by the polar bear when breathing at the holes.
The seals and walrus occupy areas of fast ice, which is essential for giving birth and raising the pups. Bearded seals feed near the bottom of the bay and therefore are restricted to the shallow waters. Ringed seal is the most common meal of the polar bear. It is also an occasional prey of the walrus and Arctic Fox. Most large animals of the bay are being traditionally hunted, but the hunting has been restricted in the 20th century in order to preserve the wildlife population. For example, the quota for polar bears in the bay area is 105 per year.