Natural Region 10: Mackenzie Delta

Represented by Ivvavik National Park and Pingo Canadian Landmark


A spongy world of pingos and permafrost, of stunted spruce forests and treeless tundra, of more water than land. A maze of shifting channels, shallow lakes and ephemeral islands. A land, too, where the traditional and the modern exist side by side.

Pingo Mackenzie Delta


Natural Region 10 comprises three distinct areas -- the delta of the present Mackenzie River, remnants of earlier deltas to the northeast, and the Yukon Coastal Plain to the west. The coastal plain, about 20 kilometres wide, slopes gently to the Beaufort Sea. Permafrost is a dominant factor in this region, influencing vegetation and landforms.

The present delta, the largest river delta in the Arctic, is as flat as the sea. It is a tracery of islands and lakes, a labyrinth of channels and oxbows. Scores of pingos (cone-shaped hills with a core of ice) provide the only relief in this flat land. Here is found the highest concentration of pingos in the world. The tallest, Ibyuk Hill, is 40 metres high. Patterned or polygonal ground, like the pattern of cracks seen on newly dried mud on a giant scale, is a major feature of this region.

This land has traditionally been populated by both Inuvialuit and Gwich'en Dene. With about 6000 residents in various communities, this is also one of the most populated of the northern natural regions - a notable concentration given the small size of the region. This reflects the relative richness of the land.

Mackenzie Delta, Beaufort Sea in distance


Two types of vegetation dominate. Along the Beaufort Sea is the Low Arctic or tundra zone; inland and southward is forest-tundra.

The Low Arctic vegetation is typified by dwarf shrubs, sedges and herbs. On well-drained sites, woody species such as dwarf birch, willow, Labrador tea, alder and various species of the blueberry clan are typical; on wet sites, sedges and willows dominate.

The forest-tundra zone, as its name implies, is a mixture of trees and tundra. Here, open stands of stunted black spruce, white spruce and tamarack grow over a ground cover of dwarf tundra vegetation. These are the most northerly trees in Canada. The spruce here are commonly about three metres in height and 250 years old.

Beluga Whales


The juxtaposition of tundra and forest in this region provides for a variety of wildlife not often seen this far north. The tundra provides important summer range and calving grounds for caribou; the forest-tundra zone provides critical winter range. Black bears reach the northern limit of their range here. Red fox and arctic fox, wolves, grizzly bears, muskrat, beaver, lemming, rock ptarmigan, spruce grouse and raven are characteristic wildlife. Muskox are common. The delta is a critical staging and nesting area for shorebirds and waterfowl. Hundreds of thousands of snow geese stop at the outer delta islands and on the coastal plain each fall to accumulate fat for the long migration south, covering the land like a dusting of snow. Beluga whales congregate offshore. Farther out to sea in the Arctic Ocean, is an important migration route and feeding area for the rare bowhead whale.


About 2400 square kilometres, or one-quarter, of the northernmost part of Ivvavik National Park extends into the coastal plain portion of the Mackenzie Delta Natural Region, protecting about 6 percent of the total region. It is dominated by the massive fan deltas of the Firth and Malcolm rivers draining north from the British Mountains and provides habitat for a variety of wildlife including polar bear, wolverine, golden eagle, peregrine falcon, gyrfalcon, and arctic char. The majority of muskox in Ivvavik are found on the coastal plain. The Canadian portion of the calving ground of the Porcupine Caribou Herd lies within this portion of the park. The coastal plain here is also a very important staging area for migrating snow geese.

Northern Yukon National Park Reserve
None of the Mackenzie Delta, the namesake for this natural region, is included within the national park. The Babbage River delta, however, shares many of the same characteristics as the delta of the Mackenzie River, and part of the Babbage River delta lies within the park - the east shore of the river forms the park's eastern boundary. It is particularly important here to work through the Wildlife Management Advisory Council of the North Slope to manage the entire Babbage River delta in an integrated fashion.

Pingo Canadian Landmark is Canada's first, and only, landmark. Established through the Inuvialuit Final Agreement, this area is situated on the Tuktoyaktuk Peninsula and contains an outstanding concentration of pingos and other permafrost phenomenon, including Canada's highest pingo. The Pingo Canadian Landmark, through protecting these features, rounds out representation of the natural region.

See Natural Region 9 for details on establishment of Ivvavik National Park.