'My first reaction
when I saw the photo was, 'No way, this is definitely Photoshopped,'
says tourism worker
photo that started it all. Max Kalluk sent CBC North this
photo back in August. It prompted widespread disbelief
and an investigation to determine if the formation actually
exists. (Max Kalluk)
A massive, pants-like rock formation, standing tall and glorious
in a pool of salt water in Canada's Arctic.
The Nunavut community of calls it "Qarlinngua" pronounced
"kar-ling-wah," which means "like pants" in Inuktitut.
You probably can't find much about it on Google, beyond photos
posted to CBC North's Facebook pages.
And not many people have seen it in person, according to our
CBC North received this photo from a local hunter from Arctic
Bay back in August, and shared it with the world.
But the internet thought it was fake; CBC even got a typo report
"Any provenance for that? Anything that big and spectacular
should be a Natural Wonder of the World, but Googling reveals only
THAT picture of it," a reader wrote back in December.
"It looks like a fake photo to me."
formation is located roughly 80 to 90 kilometres southwest
from the community of Arctic Bay, Nunavut, according to local
sources. (Max Kalluk)
CBC reached out to the tourism office in Iqaluit to verify the
photo, and got a similar response.
"My first reaction when I saw the photo was, 'No way, this is
definitely Photoshopped.' I definitely thought it was fake," said
Sarah Demeester, an information counsellor with the Unikkaarvik
"And also, I just wondered why I had never heard of such an
amazing formation before."
She said there was a buzz around the office as colleagues discussed
the validity of the photo. Demeester said after reaching out to
her local sources, she was able to confirm the arch exists.
haven't seen anything like this in the Arctic, despite my widespread
- John England, professor at University of Alberta
"[It's] really just amazing. It kind of emphasized to me how
remote we are in this part of the world up in Nunavut the
fact that something so amazing can exist ... and hardly any people
have laid their eyes on it in person."
Where is it?
The Qarlinngua is located in an uninhabited area of the Brodeur
Peninsula on the north end of Baffin Island, about 80 to 90 kilometres
southwest of the community of Arctic Bay, according to Max Kalluk,
the hunter who submitted the photo to CBC North.
The arch is only reachable by boat in the summer months. It's
a four- to five-hour ride from Arctic Bay.
And there's only a small window during the year when the summer
sea ice is broken up enough to get there, Kalluk said.
"I can see why it's considered fake because it's very phenomenal."
Kalluk said he was around 12 years old when he first saw the
formation, passing by with his family while they were out hunting
"We get to see it every year, going to our destination where
we narwhal hunt," he said.
Qarlinngua from another angle. The cliffs behind show similar
layering of rock. (Max Kalluk)
He estimates it stands more than 50 metres tall.
"Kind of makes you feel like small or humble, seeing something
like that," he said. "And makes you appreciate and feel privileged
that you get to see this."
A rocky cliff with similar layering serves as the Qarlinngua's
backdrop. Kalluk said there are more unique formations in the area,
including one that looks like an elephant, just five minutes away
How was it formed?
Four geologists from across Canada examined the Qarlinngua photos.
"I haven't seen anything like this in the Arctic, despite my
widespread fieldwork," said John England, a professor emeritus at
the University of Alberta's earth sciences department, who's done
research throughout Canada's Arctic for 50 years.
He said the scientific name for it is a sea arch, or a natural
scientific name for this formation is a sea arch, or a natural
arch. It's created through erosion over time. (Max Kalluk)
England explained that most coastlines in the Arctic are still
rising from the sea due to "the unloading of the crust" by the ice
sheets that melted away about 10,000 years ago, gradually moving
the coastline away from the cliff. But there are also areas where
the land is sinking relative to the sea.
"So, in these areas," he said, "likely like where your photo
was taken, the sea is now rising faster than the land, and if there's
a lot of open water in the summer, the sea is eroding into a nearby
cliff, whose coastline is slowly sinking."
A combination of wind and water would erode cliff rocks over
many years, forming isolated sea arches. The horizontal layers in
the Qarlinngua indicate it is sedimentary rock, or sandstone, which
is good erodible material.
The portion that's still standing likely contains a large volume
of quartz, which is resistant to erosion, said Linda Ham, chief
geologist with the Canada-Nunavut Geoscience Office.
hoodoo sandstone pillars south of Drumheller, Alta., are the
most famous ones in the province. These pillars, topped with
cap rocks that keep erosion to a minimum, are among the finest
examples of the rare geological formation. (CBC)
Ham also confirmed she and her fellow geologists in the office
in Iqaluit have never seen anything like the formation anywhere
in the Arctic.
"Because up here, [we have a] very, very hostile environment,"
said Ham, who explained it's more common to see natural formations
like these farther south in places like Alberta, Utah or the Oregon
Ham said the rocks in the Brodeur Peninsula area are Paleozoic
rocks, meaning they're around 250 to 600 million years old.
England said until recently, most of the coastlines in the Arctic
had been dominated by summer sea ice, which would allow for a slower
erosion of formations such as the Qarlinngua.
More open water could speed up the process.
has so many gems like this.'
- Nancy Guyon, director of tourism and cultural
England estimated the Qarlinngua could collapse and disappear
in a matter of decades, while other geologists who spoke with CBC
News said it could take thousands of years.
But they said the cliff behind the Qarlinngua will also erode,
so it's possible several new arches will form.
'A land of opportunities'
Arctic Bay Adventures confirmed it's the only tour company that
takes people to the Qarlinngua.
Manager Gene O'Donnell said he's taken several groups of tourists
to the formation in the past three years. He said the company plans
to advertise the tour on its website soon.
"It's like a monument to something. I'm not sure what it is,"
O'Donnell said. "I think it's something sacred."
tourism director says she was unaware of the Qarlinngua and
is excited to start promoting it. (Submitted by Max Kalluk)
The challenge, O'Donnell said, is the very limited window when
the formation is accessible last year it was just a week;
the two years prior it was 13 days.
"It's fantastic. It's phenomenal," said Nancy Guyon, Nunavut's
director of tourism and cultural industries.
She, too, was unaware of the formation until CBC asked for comment.
She said the government's tourism department will soon hold
meetings on the Qarlinngua and hopes to promote it to its target
tourism clients: high-income travellers aged 45 and up. It can cost
around $2,000 for a one-way flight from Iqaluit to Arctic Bay.
"Nunavut has so many gems like this," Guyon said.
"I'm always calling it a land of opportunities."