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Thursday, August 7, 2008

'Land that never melts' is melting: Erosion probed in Nunavut park

Parks Canada staff flying by helicopter over Auyuittuq National Park last week took this photograph of the erosion at Crater Lake.

Experts working with Parks Canada say flooding and erosion at Nunavut's Auyuittuq National Park are related to a flood that hit the nearby hamlet of Pangnirtung in June.

The south end of the Baffin Island park has been closed to visitors since July 28, as a severely eroded moraine at Crater Lake has raised the risk of flash flooding into the Akshayuk Pass.

The partial closure means visitors cannot enter the park from Pangnirtung in the south. Park officials say they will decide in the next couple of days whether to reopen the south end.

Parks Canada officials say they have never seen anything like this before in Auyuittuq.

"Auyuittuq means 'land that never melts,' but of course now it's melting," Pauline Scott, a spokeswoman for Parks Canada's Nunavut field unit, told CBC News on Tuesday.

Scott said glaciologists and geologists have taken a close look at the park by helicopter, identifying five different areas where erosion is most severe.

They have determined that much has happened in both the national park and Pangnirtung, which in June was hit by heavy rains causing flash flooding in the Duval River.

That flooding eroded the banks around the hamlet's two bridges, shutting them down and cutting many residents off from basic municipal services for weeks. Large cracks and sinkholes also started appearing around the riverbank.

"At the time that it flooded in Pang, there was also rain on snow in Auyuittuq National Park, and that actually started to set the stage for what followed," Scott said.

What followed, she added, was a two-week record heat wave and more rain that filled up the park's Summit Lake. That sent a large burst of water travelling throughout the park, washing out the Windy Lake suspension bridge and eroding numerous areas.

Scott said 22 tourists have been flown out of the affected area by helicopter since the closure.

It has also changed travel plans for numerous tourist groups, which have had to reroute their trips to avoid the southern part of the park.

"I think some of them were obviously a little upset because they were going to do the Overlord to Pang [trip], but I think they're still going to have a great time," said Erin Shipman of the Black Feather adventure company in Parry Sound, Ont.

Scott said officials will reopen the south end of the park when it's safe to do so, and visitors will be given information about what areas to avoid.

"Crater Lake looks like it's stabilized. But before we lift the closure, we want to make sure staff go on foot through the park on the east side, right from Overlord to Windy Lake to make sure that things are all right," Scott said.

"Also, we want to put staff on the west side going from Overlord right up to Summit Lake."

Orignal here

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