The Great Bear Lake, the fourth largest lake of North America and the eighth largest in the world, covers an area of 31,328 square kilometers. The lake lies in the northwestern Inuvik region of the Northwest Territories Province of Canada near the Arctic Coast, 200 kilometers south of the Arctic Circle. The lake is approximately 320 kilometers long, 175 kilometers wide, and has a maximum depth of 1,356 feet. The Whitefish River, Big Spruce River, and Bloody River are some of the major Canadian rivers that are seen draining into the Great Bear Lake. The Great Bear River itself arises from this lake, and then forms a tributary of the Mackenzie River.
Large-scale exploration and commercial exploitation of the Great Bear Lake first began with the arrival of Europeans into the area in the 18th and 19th Centuries. Peter Pond, a fur trader, reported of learning about the location of the lake as early as the winter of 1783-1784. By the beginning of the 19th Century, the fur trade had become well-established around the Great Bear Lake region. Between 1825 and 1826, a fur trade post named Fort Franklin was established by the fur trader John Franklin. In 1900, Robert Bell, a geologist and explorer, performed a geological survey of the lake region, gathering knowledge about its geological history and mineral wealth as he went. Permanent European settlements grew up in the lake region, however, only after the discovery of mineral deposits in the area. In 1930, pitchblende deposits (a kind of radioactive uranium ore) were unearthed in the Great Bear Lake habitat. However, extensive mining in the region soon stripped the land of its mineral resources, leading to the abandonment of most of these early European settlements.
There is very little human habitation to be seen in and around the Great Bear Lake today. The Deline settlement is a permanent settlement based on the western shore of the lake, 544 kilometers northwest of Yellowknife. Though the Great Bear Lake has a substantial fish stock, commercial fishing is prohibited in its waters due to the low regenerative capacity of the fish inhabiting these cold depths. A few tourist lodges exist in the Deline locale, and these are largely visited by sport and recreational hunters and anglers for hunting and fishing in the lake habitat.
Habitat and Biodiversity
The clime in the area around Great Bear Lake is characterized by long, cold winters, and short, cool summers. The lake becomes frozen beginning in December and lasting on into spring, and by mid-June most parts of the lake are ice free. Snow covers the land around the lake for around 222 days each year. Most of the vegetation and animal life that live here occur directly along the shoreline of the lake. Mosses, lichens, shrubs, and low-lying plants cover the land in the summer season when snow cover is absent. Mammalian species inhabiting the region include Caribou, Grizzly bears, Wolves, Beavers, Foxes, Minks, Martens, and Lynxes. Fish species thriving in the waters of the lake are inclusive of numerous Whitefish species, as well as Lake trouts and Arctic graylings. Waterbirds and birds of prey can also be spotted along the lake. The critically endangered Eskimo curlews, which are birds in the sandpiper and snipe family, are the primary species of concern in this habitat.
Environmental Threats and Territorial Disputes
In the past, mining activities around the Great Bear Lake had led to a significant amount of pollution in the waters of the lake and river flowing out of it. Currently, however, climate change poses the greatest threat to the lake's habitat. Scientists predict that the lake watershed will become warmer towards the late 21st Century, and thus experience less severe winters and an increase in precipitation. Though these conditions might favor the growth of a new set of invasive species, the native flora and fauna of the lake, which are adapted to the cold climate of the habitat, will be subject to significant stress, and might even perish as a result.