SVP Statement on the Potential loss of fossil resources in the Arctic

May 23, 2013


Canada Coal, Inc. is proposing a large coal mining project on the Fosheim Peninsula of Ellesmere Island in Canada's High Arctic that will impact the fragile tundra environment, and paleontological as well as archaeological resources. The project is under review by the Nunavut Impact Review Board (NIRB), an environmental assessment agency established under the Nunavut Land Claims Agreement whose mandate includes “Using both traditional knowledge and recognized scientific methods, the NIRB will assess the biophysical and socio-economic impact of proposals and will make recommendations and decisions about which projects may proceed.”


The proposed coal project is for intensive drilling exploration on Ellesmere in 2014, with the goal of developing an open pit mining operation for markets in Japan, South Korea, India, Brazil and to lesser degree, Europe.  The Inuit community on Ellesmere Island, Grise Fjord, currently does not support this project.


The Fosheim Peninsula (~ 80°N) of central Ellesmere Island is a sensitive area with regard to archaeological and paleontological resources as well as modern biodiversity. Parts of the Peninsula were recognized by the International Biological Program (IBP) to be among the richest biological sites in the High Arctic. Archaeological sites abound, relating to all periods of human occupation, from Early Palaeo-Eskimo to Thule Inuit. The Peninsula is on the pathway for the earliest human migration through Arctic Canada.  Regarding fossils, the Fosheim Peninsula is the only area in the High Arctic that preserves Cretaceous to Pliocene fossil localities.


Cretaceous rocks have yielded the remains of marine reptiles, while Eocene sediments include fossil vertebrates (mammal and reptile fossils) and rich fossil plant sites from the warmest interval of the Cenozoic Era (i.e., the early Eocene), when Ellesmere Island was blanketed by forests inhabited by alligators, turtles, primates and the hippo-like Coryphodon. A younger fossil deposit on Fosheim Peninsula is equivalent in age to deposits near Strathcona Fjord (Ellesmere I.), approximately 100 km to the south, that preserve evidence of larch forests, horses, and camels from the mid-Pliocene warm period. The Cretaceous, Eocene, and Pliocene deposits represent critical intervals of global warmth and provide evidence and insight into the causes and biotic consequences of Arctic warming, clearly of relevance to the world today.  


SVP members may provide comments and concerns over the proposed coal mining project on Ellesmere Island to NIRB (at Please do so by completing the English Comment Form and send it to by May 31st (NIRB deadline for receiving comments). For questions or concerns, please contact Catherine Braun Rodriguez, NIRB Technical Advisor directly at 867-983-4607 or .