Record heat forces closure of Canada Arctic park

Fri Aug 1, 2008 12:26pm EDT
 
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By David Ljunggren

OTTAWA (Reuters) - A major national park in Canada's Arctic has been largely closed after record high temperatures caused flooding that washed away hiking trails and forced the evacuation of tourists, an official said on Friday.

Every year around 500 people visit Auyuittuq National Park, which covers over 19,000 square km (7,340 square miles) on Baffin Island and is dominated by the giant Penny ice cap. The park is popular with hikers and skiers.

The combination of floods, melting permafrost and erosion means that the southern part of the park will remain shut until geologists can examine the damage, said Pauline Scott, a spokeswoman for Parks Canada.

"We've lost huge proportions of what was formerly the trail in the park. It's disappeared -- gone," Scott said by phone from Iqaluit, capital of the Arctic territory of Nunavut.

Most visitors walk through the park -- which is slightly smaller in area than Israel -- starting from the southern edge, near the town of Pangnirtung.

The problems started last month with two weeks of record temperatures on Baffin Island that reached as high as 27 Celsius (81 Fahrenheit), well above the July average of 12 C (54 F).

This, Scott said, triggered massive melting which sent "a huge pulse of water through the park," washing away 60 km (37 miles) of a trail used by hikers and destroying a bridge over a river that is otherwise impassable.

Earlier this week, once the extent of the damage had become clear, 21 visitors had to be evacuated by helicopter.   Continued...

 
<p>A handout photo from Parks Canada shows damage done by flood waters in Auyuittuq national park on Baffin Island, Nunavut July 29 2008. REUTERS/Matt Nak/Parks Canada/Handout</p>