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Québec is made up of land, fresh water and a marine environment that includes the Fleuve Saint-Laurent, Golfe du Saint-Laurent, Baie James, Baie d’Hudson, Détroit d'Hudson and Baie d'Ungava. Privately owned land accounts for just 8% of the territory of Québec. Everything else is public land.
Public land is managed by the Ministère de l’Énergie et des Ressources naturelles and the Ministère des Forêts, de la Faune et des Parcs. These departments oversee the use and development of land as well forest, mineral and energy resources.
Located in northeastern North America, Québec is the largest of the 10 Canadian provinces. Its territory spans 1,667,712 km2, making it nearly three times the size of France and over 40 times the size of Switzerland. Québec is also a peninsula bordered on three sides by the Atlantic Ocean, the Labrador Sea and Baie d’Hudson. Water accounts for 22% of the area of Québec.
Nearly 80% of Québec’s population is concentrated in St. Lawrence Lowland areas, around the Gaspé Peninsula, and the Saguenay—Lac-Saint-Jean and Abitibi regions. In January 2016, half of Québec’s 8.1 million inhabitants occupied less than 1% of the province’s highly urbanized areas.
Québec has three main geological regions. These include the St. Lawrence Platform, around the Fleuve Saint-Laurent, embedded between the Precambrian Massif of the Canadian Shield in the north and the Appalachian region in the south.
The Canadian Shield covers nearly 90% of the area of Québec. This bedrock dates back to the Precambrian Era, the longest and oldest of the geological ages (4.3 billion to 540 million years ago). It consists largely of intrusive igneous rock, but also of sedimentary and volcanic rock that is usually folded and metamorphosed. The region forms a plateau whose relief is accentuated in the south by the Laurentian mountain range.
The St. Lawrence Platform is made up of ancient sedimentary rock (570 to 430 million years ago) arranged more or less in layers formed primarily from the accumulation of sediments under or near a sea.
The Appalachian region is an ancient mountain range (600 to 300 million years ago) located south of the Fleuve Saint-Laurent. It consists largely of sedimentary and volcanic rock as well as some intrusive units metamorphosed to varying degrees.
Over time, erosion (in particular by the action of glaciers) has flattened the tops of these mountain ranges, whose average altitude is now around 300-600 m.
The highest mountain in Québec, at 1,652 m, is Mont D’Iberville in the Torngat mountains, in Nunavik. The second highest mountain is Mont Jacques-Cartier (1,268 m), in the Chic-Chocs mountains, in the Gaspésie region.
Climate and season
Québec’s cold and humid climate is largely determined by its northern and maritime location. With such a huge land mass, Québec is characterized by significant fluctuations in temperature and precipitation in its different regions, depending on latitude, topography and maritime influence.
Nearly 80% of Quebecers live along the shores of the Fleuve Saint-Laurent, in an area with a temperate continental climate and four distinct seasons: spring, summer, fall and winter.
Four types of climate
Humid continental climate
The humid continental climate, typical of areas located south of 50° latitude, is characterized by warm, slightly humid summers and relatively long, cold winters. The temperature range (difference between the highest and lowest temperatures) is approximately 30ºC. Precipitation is significant year-round, usually exceeding 900 mm per year.
The subarctic climate, typical of areas located between 50° and 58° latitude, is characterized by a very cold, long winter and a short, cool summer. Precipitation is scarce. The average annual temperatures of Chapais and Natashquan are near freezing.
The arctic climate, found in the Far North, is defined by a harsh, very cold and dry winter and a short thaw season. In Kuujjuaq, the mean duration of the frost-free period is 115 days per year. The recorded precipitation of barely 530 mm per year is the lowest in Québec.
Eastern maritime climate
The eastern maritime climate is found in the Îles-de-la-Madeleine. Winter is fairly long, but relatively mild, while summer is short, hot and rainy.
Although it may not seem like it from the weather, the first official day of spring (or spring equinox) is around March 20. The temperature rises, the snow begins to melt, and maple sap starts to flow.
Warmer, longer days herald the arrival of summer, which officially begins with the summer solstice around June 20 and lasts until September 20. Summer in Québec is hot and humid. In cities, it is usually warm until the end of August. Temperatures can reach 35ºC during heat waves (usually in July).
The first day of fall officially arrives on or around September 21 and is called the autumn equinox. As September draws to a close, the forests are infused with warm hues, especially reds, yellows and oranges. Leaves change colour in the fall primarily in response to diminishing light as a result of shorter days. Come mid-November, the trees have shed their leaves, temperatures hover around freezing, and the risk of snowfall increases.
Winter does not officially begin in the Northern Hemisphere until the winter solstice, around December 21. Winter in Québec is cold and snowy. From mid-December to mid-March, temperatures range from 15ºC to -20ºC, but can sometimes change suddenly within 24 hours.
In Québec, the distribution of vegetation is mostly determined by climatic factors. In the St. Lawrence Plains, the climate changes gradually from southwest to northeast. In southern Québec, significant changes in elevation can result in changes in vegetation levels similar to those caused by latitude. Soil type, landforms and disturbance factors such as forest fires, epidemics, and logging also affect the distribution of vegetation.
Québec is divided into three vegetation zones:
- the northern temperate zone, dominated by hardwood and mixed forests
- the boreal zone, characterized by coniferous (softwood) forests
- the arctic zone, characterized by shrub and herbaceous vegetation
Biodiversity - protected areas
Owing to its geographical position and vast area, Québec harbours enormous biological diversity. To preserve it, areas representative of typical samples of Québec’s biodiversity are protected from commercial natural-resource exploitation. These protected areas, be they designated as national parks, marine parks, ecological reserves, biodiversity reserves or otherwise, help conserve ecosystems and maintain natural processes.
The Ministère des Forêts, de la Faune et des Parcs is responsible for managing wildlife and wildlife habitat. Currently, Québec wildlife includes around 650 species of vertebrates in all major animal groups, that is, mammals, birds, fish, amphibians, reptiles and turtles. Québec also harbours thousands of species of invertebrates, of which the largest group includes around 30,000 species of insects.
The Québec government committed to protecting wildlife and plant species by passing the Act respecting threatened or vulnerable species. Responsibility for enforcing the Act was entrusted to the Ministère de l’Environnement (the present-day Ministère du Développement durable, de l’Environnement et de la Lutte contre les changements climatiques). In 1988, the Ministère created the Centre de données sur le patrimoine naturel to guide actions to protect animal and plant species.
The Québec géographique portal provides information on Québec government expertise in geomatics and geographical information. Among other things, it provides access to the Géoinfo search tool, which contains most of the geographic knowledge (maps, data, satellite images, etc.) held by Québec government departments and agencies. The Géoinfo search tool also contains an interactive map of the territory of Québec where it is possible to locate geographic information held by the government.
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