The foremost goal of the parc national des Pingualuit is to provide protection for a representative portion of the Ungava Plateau, including its exceptional geography, vegetation and wildlife – not to mention the unique Pingualuit crater!
When a meteorite struck the Earth some 1.4 million years ago, it caused a large explosion that modified the structure of certain rocks (impactites) and created the round shape of Pingualuit crater, one of the youngest and most well-preserved craters on the planet. Impactites can be found around the crater, but most of them are in the “impactite channel” on the northwest side of the crater.
Inside the crater is the limpid water of Pingualuk Lake. With no surface outflow and only rainwater as its source, this lake water is renewed just once every 330 years. Pingualuk Lake is one of the purest in the world!
The Puvirnituq River drains the northern sector of the park before emptying into Hudson Bay. The Kangiqsujuamiut still use this landmark as a point of reference when travelling inland. Over roughly 40 kilometres, the Puvirnituq River flows through a wide canyon with walls that are sheer cliffs. Keep an eye open when you visit, as the rock walls hide nesting areas for birds of prey, such as peregrine falcons.
What Arctic wildlife lacks in diversity, it makes up for in numbers. The Leaf River caribou herd, which comprises hundreds of thousands of heads, makes the parc national des Pingualuit its home for a portion of each year, from May to July. During the fall and spring migrations, countless flocks of Canada and snow geese also bring excitement to these seasons. Other wild animals – such as wolves, foxes, snowy owls and Arctic hare – are disperse throughout the park, but they keep a low profile. Although polar bears are most often found in the natural habitat on the coast of the Hudson Strait, some can sometimes be encountered inland.
In the Arctic, predators’ reliance on a limited number of species for subsistence makes them especially vulnerable to environmental change. Lemmings, for example, are a species of prey near the bottom of the Arctic food chain. For reasons still poorly understood, the lemming population is subject to major fluctuations. Within a multi-year cycle, their numbers grow and then crash close to extinction. Whenever these rodents are scarce, snowy owl and fox populations also decline significantly.
Lake trout and Arctic char are the most common fish species in the park’s lakes. Even though they grow slowly at this latitude, it’s not uncommon to find some very sizeable fish here.
The parc national des Pingualuit lies approximately 350 kilometres north of the treeline, in a continuous permafrost zone. The Arctic tundra is characterized by a total absence of trees and discontinuous vegetation.
While Arctic flora is not overly diverse, there is more abundance than first meets the eye. Lichen, moss and sphagnum are the dominant species in the park. Herbaceous plants and a few rare shrubs are next in importance. Exposed to strong winds, intense cold and dehydration, the park’s plant life has adapted in order to survive: plants are small and short hairs protect stems and leaves.
In terms of vegetation, the Puvirnituq River corridor is a distinct zone of the park due to the richness of the vegetation that grows in its basic, rocky soil. Several rare plants may be found in the area. Among these, four species appear on the list of plants likely to be designated as threatened or vulnerable in Quebec.