In many ways, Newfoundland and Labrador heritage has been influenced by our location.
One very important feature of this location is the fact that the geological boundary of
North America lies offshore at the edge of the continental shelf. The shelf varies in
width from about 100 km off Labrador to over 600 km off the east coast of the island of
Newfoundland. It includes relatively shallow areas known as banks, and deeper areas,
known as troughs, or channels.
Parts of the
Grand Bank portion of the continental shelf are less
than 50 m deep, while some troughs are as deep as 400 m. Beyond the shelf edge,
the ocean floor descends to depths beyond 2000 m.
Courtesy of MUNCL, ©1998.
In the shallower areas where light can reach the sea bed, photosynthesis
occurs throughout the water column allowing for the growth of
phytoplankton, the first link
in the marine food chain. These conditions normally favour reproduction, and
help explain the abundant stock of fish and marine mammals which have been
important in Newfoundland and Labrador history for centuries.
With the exception of the Nose and Tail of the Grand Bank and
the Flemish Cap which lie further offshore and the area adjacent to
St. Pierre and Miquelon, Canada's current 200-mile fisheries management zone
includes most of the continental shelf.
|Fishing Banks and Management Zones.
The Grand Bank lying just off the southeast coast of Newfoundland extends
beyond the protection of Canada's 200 mile fisheries management zone. This
zone has been in effect since 1977.
Courtesy of MUNCL, ©1998.
The ocean over the continental shelf is cold. On an annual basis water
temperatures are 7-10°C lower than at corresponding latitudes on the
west coasts of North America and Europe. This is primarily because a major
cold ocean current, the Labrador Current, flows southward along the east
coasts of the province at a rate of about 35 km a day. Over the Grand Bank
it turns southwest and a branch current flows westward along the south coast of
the island and into the Gulf of St. Lawrence through the Cabot Strait. The
Labrador Current also enters the Gulf through the Strait of Belle Isle.
||Major Ocean Currents.
Image modified by Duleepa Wijayawardhana with permission, 1998. Courtesy of Gary E.
McManus and Clifford H. Wood, Atlas of Newfoundland and Labrador (St. John's, Newfoundland:
Breakwater, ©1991 MUNCL) Plate 5.2.
The water of the Labrador Current is less saline (salty) than that of
the main North Atlantic Ocean and thus freezes more easily. By the end
of the average winter coastal Labrador inlets and the northern bays of
the island are frozen. Beyond this land-fast ice, Arctic and sub-Arctic
floes are carried by the current as far south as the Grand Bank. During
spring and summer the ice pack retreats northward and by the end of July
all coastal waters are normally ice-free.
Icebergs carried southwards by the Labrador Current come mainly from the
calving fronts of tidewater glaciers in West Greenland. These can be an
extreme hazard to shipping. More than two thousand icebergs pass Cape
Chidley, the northern tip of Labrador, in an average year, but only about
one in eight survives to enter the Grand Bank area. Occasionally icebergs
reach 40°N, which is in the same latitude as Madrid in Spain or
Philadelphia in the United States.
|Iceberg in the Narrows off St. John's harbour.
Iceberg-viewing has become a popular tourist attraction, but icebergs
can also present a real danger to shipping and vessel movement.
Reproduced by permission of Brian Bursey. From postcard entitled,
"Iceberg at St. John's, Newfoundland." M&B Postcards, ©1996.
Many icebergs ground on shallower
areas of the continental shelf, and are a potential hazard to shipping and
offshore oil installations. In recent years water from iceberg ice has
been used commercially because of its purity and novelty, while iceberg-viewing
has become an increasingly popular attraction for tourists.
©1973. Serigraph, A. P.
45.6 x 45.6 cm.
Reproduced by permission of Christopher Pratt. Serigraph ©1973. Courtesy of the
Art Gallery of Newfoundland and Labrador, Arts and Culture Centre, St. John's, Newfoundland.
The Labrador Current also has a marked moderating effect on the climate
of the island and coastal Labrador, especially in summer. Cool temperatures
and fog are common, in turn affecting coastal vegetation. The Newfoundland
artist Christopher Pratt has described the Labrador Current as "a relentless flood of molten ice, the bloodstream of our near sub-Arctic climate."
© 1997, Joyce Macpherson