Meighen Island lies in the centre of the north coast of the Queen Elizabeth Islands and fronts on the Arctic Ocean. An ice cap of about 76 km.2 covers about one-tenth of the island. Its greatest thickness of 150 m. occurs under the summit, near the south end, which was 268 m. above sea-level in 1960. The northern half of the ice cap is less than 30 m. thick; and the total volume is of the order of 2,000 × 106 m.3.
Precipitation is low in the northern Queen Elizabeth Islands, and Meighen Island lies in an area where summer temperatures are lowest. In the winters of 1959–60, 1960–61 and 1961–62, the snow accumulation was 12.6, 18.2 and 14.1 cm. of water equivalent. Some snowfall remained on the higher part of the ice cap in the cold summer of 1961; but the ice cap diminished in volume in each year; by 36 × 106, 72 × 106, 22 × 106 and 91 × 106 m.3 in the 1959, 1960, 1961 and 1962 ablation seasons.
If the conditions of these four seasons were maintained the ice cap would disappear in about 100 yr. However, a radio-carbon dating of a saxifrage exposed by the retreat of the ice from a small nunatak near the northern edge gave a date of less than 100 yr., and it appears that the existence of the ice cap might be sensitively related to recent climatic change.
Careful surveys were made in 1959, 1960 and 1961 in an attempt to detect movement in the ice cap. Unequivocal evidence is not available from these surveys; but the stake network has been maintained and another survey has recently been completed.