Erupting from the pancake-flat tundra just outside the community of Tuktoyaktuk is the bulbous, ice-filled mound known as Ibyuk, the second-largest “pingo” on Earth. These unique Arctic landforms provide a distinctive backdrop to this welcoming community at the end of the Dempster Highway.
Ibyuk is 305 metres (about 984 feet) wide at its base and rises to the height of a 15-storey building. Other pingos here range from five metres to 70 metres tall and represent different stages of growth, from budding newborns to elderly pingos that are shrinking and slumping back into the earth.
The Mackenzie Delta has the highest concentration of pingos on Earth – approximately 1,350 of them. Eight, including the famous Ibyuk and Split Pingo, are protected by Parks Canada in the 16-square-kilometre Pingo Canadian Landmark. The region was the first of what was to be a Canada-wide series of national landmarks proposed in the 1980s. The program, however, was never finished, leaving the pingos as Canada’s only official National Landmark.
For centuries, the pingos have acted as navigational aids for Inuvialuit travelling by land and water across this area. They were also of a convenient height for spotting caribou on the tundra or whales offshore. Today, the area is a popular tourist destination and the focus of scientific research to understand the origin and growth of these peculiar Arctic giants. Because of the delicate vegetation and permafrost active layer, walking on the pingos themselves is prohibited from April 15 to October 31. However, a boardwalk is in place to provide visitors with an opportunity to experience pingos up close.