Aerial Geology: Quebec’s Pingualuit Crater

A NASA satellite image of the Pingualuit Crater among other lakes in northern Quebec

Northern Quebec is laced with over half a million lakes, formed by water pooling on top of the ubiquitous bedrock of the Canadian Shield, the geologic core of North America. One of these lakes, however, stands out from all the rest by being perfectly round. Located on the Ungava Peninsula in northern Quebec, this circular lake sits inside the Pingualuit Crater, a scar left in the Earth’s crust by a meteorite impact 1.4 million years ago.

Pingualuit translates from the Inuit language as “place where the land rises.” From the ground, the crater does appear as nothing more than a sharp rise, with the rim of the crater looming 500 feet taller than the surrounding landscape. When the meteorite hit the hard rock of the Canadian Shield, it exploded, melting thousands of tons of rock and incinerating itself in the process. Today, few traces of the meteor have been detected near the impact zone. The force of the impact shattered and shocked the rocks that now make up the crater rim, causing them to expand out and up, forming a raised ring in an otherwise flat landscape.

You will likely only fly over the Pingualuit Crater on a chartered flight. This isolated place is over 60 miles from the closest settlement and difficult to reach except by air. Image by NASA/ Jesse Allen.

The scar the impact left behind is over 2 miles in diameter and 1,300 feet deep, and filled nearly to the brim, making this one of the deepest lakes in the world. The lake has no inlets or outlets, though it does host a population of arctic char fish that have evolved to be genetically unique due to their isolation from other char populations. All the water that has accumulated in the lake comes from rain, snow and snowmelt, making for exceptionally clear freshwater. Viewed from the air, the water appears bright electric blue due to its depth and purity.

The Pingualuit Crater has been known by the Inuit for thousands of years and is considered a sacred place of healing. The crater was put on the map by pilots during World War II, who used its perfectly round shape to navigate across the often confusing lake-covered landscape of northern Quebec. Today the crater is protected within the boundaries of Pingualuit National Park

Read more about this distinctive landmark and 99 more in my newly published book Aerial Geology: A High-Altitude Tour of North America’s Spectacular Volcanoes, Canyons, Glaciers, Lakes, Craters and Peaks from Timber Press.

You can pre-order a signed author’s copy direct from me for $27, plus $5 shipping per book, through the Paypal link below. Or pre-order through Amazon, Barnes & Noble or Indie Bound or find it online or at your local bookseller in early October.


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About theblondecoyote

Mary Caperton Morton is a freelance science and travel writer with degrees in biology and geology and a master’s in science writing. A regular contributor to EARTH magazine, where her favorite beat is the Travels in Geology column, she has also written for the anthologies Best Women's Travel Writing 2010 and Best Travel Writing 2011. Mary is currently based in Big Sky, Montana. When she’s not at the computer she can usually be found outside -- hiking, skiing, climbing mountains and taking photographs. Visit her website at www.marycapertonmorton.com.
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3 Responses to Aerial Geology: Quebec’s Pingualuit Crater

  1. Alex Brown says:

    Thanks for Pingualuit Crater! I’ll be back for your book!

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