Muskeg (Cree: maskīk; French: fondrière de mousse, lit. moss bog) is an acidic soil type common in Arctic and boreal areas, although it is found in other northern climates as well. Muskeg is approximately synonymous with bogland, but "muskeg" is the standard term in Western Canada and Alaska, while 'bog' is common elsewhere. The term became common in these areas because it is of Cree origin; maskek (ᒪᐢᑫᐠ) meaning low-lying marsh.[1] Large tracts of this soil existing in Siberia may be called muskeg or bogland interchangeably.

Muskeg consists of dead plants in various states of decomposition (as peat), ranging from fairly intact sphagnum moss, to sedge peat, to highly decomposed humus. Pieces of wood can make up five to fifteen percent of the peat soil. Muskeg tends to have a water table near the surface. The sphagnum moss forming it can hold fifteen to thirty times its own weight in water, allowing the spongy wet muskeg to form on sloping ground. Muskeg patches are ideal habitats for beavers, pitcher plants, agaric mushrooms and a variety of other organisms.

Poplar muskeg
Poplar growing on muskeg


Muskeg forms because permafrost, clay or bedrock prevents water drainage. The water from rain and snow collects, forming permanently waterlogged vegetation and stagnant pools. Muskeg is wet, acidic, and relatively infertile, which prevents large trees from growing, although stunted shore pine, cottonwood, some species of willow, and black spruce are typically found in these habitats.[2] It needs two conditions to develop: abundant rain and cool summers. A dead plant that falls on dry soil is normally attacked by bacteria and fungi and quickly rots. If the same plant lands in water or on saturated soil, it decomposes differently. Less oxygen is available under water, so aerobic bacteria and fungi fail to colonize the submerged debris effectively. In addition, cool temperatures retard bacterial and fungal growth. This causes slow decomposition, and thus the plant debris gradually accumulates to form peat and eventually muskeg. Depending on the underlying topography of the land, muskeg can reach depths greater than 30 metres (100 ft).


Although at first glance muskeg resembles a plain covered with short grasses, a closer look reveals a bizarre and almost unearthly landscape. Small stands of stunted and often dead trees, which vaguely resemble Bonsai trees, grow where land protrudes above the water table, with small pools of water stained dark red scattered about. Its grassland appearance invites the unwary to walk on it, but even the most solid muskeg is spongy and waterlogged. Traveling through muskeg is a strange and dangerous experience for the unaccustomed. Muskeg can grow atop bodies of water, especially small ponds and streams. Because of the water beneath, the muskeg surface sometimes ripples underfoot. Thinner patches allow large animals to fall through, becoming trapped under the muskeg and drowning. Moose are at a special disadvantage in muskeg due to their long legs, minimal hoof area, and great weight. Hunters and hikers may occasionally encounter young moose in muskeg-covered ponds submerged up to their torsos or necks, having been unaware of the unstable ground.

Surface strength

Muskeg D6 caterpillar
Heavy equipment breaking through thawing muskeg in Wabasca oil field, Alberta.

Muskeg can be a significant impediment to transportation. During the 1870s, muskeg in Northern Ontario was reported to have swallowed a railroad engine whole when a track was laid on muskeg instead of clearing down to bedrock.

Many other instances have been reported of heavy construction equipment vanishing into muskeg in the spring as the frozen muskeg beneath the vehicle thawed. Construction in muskeg-laden areas sometimes requires the complete removal of the soil and filling with gravel. If the muskeg is not completely cleared to bedrock, its high water content will cause buckling and distortion from winter freezing, much like permafrost.

One method of working atop muskeg is to place large logs on the ground, covered with a thick layer of clay or other stable material. This is commonly called a corduroy road. To increase the effectiveness of the corduroy, prevent erosion,[3] and allow removal of material with less disturbance to the muskeg, a geotextile fabric is sometimes placed down before the logs. However temporary winter access roads on muskeg (ice road), created by clearing the insulating snow and allowing the muskeg to freeze, are more commonly used as they are cheaper to construct and easier to decommission. Water is often sprayed on these roads to thicken the ice allowing heavy trucks and equipment to safely access remote sites in the winter.

In fiction

In Jack London's short story, "Love of Life," the starving protagonist eats muskeg berries along the trail. "A muskeg berry is a bit of seed enclosed in a bit of water. In the mouth the water melts away and the seed chews sharp and bitter. The man knew there was no nourishment in the berries, but he chewed them patiently with a hope greater than knowledge and defying experience."

Also, in Rick Riordan's young adult novel "The son of Neptune", one of the protagonists accidentally gets swallowed by muskeg soil as a trap laid by the Earth goddess Gaia.


Wrangell Muskeg

Stunted shore pine growing on muskeg in Wrangell, Alaska.

Tracked Excavator placing Corduroy

Tracked excavator placing corduroy on muskeg near Rocky Mountain House, Alberta

Cat D300E on Corduroy Lease road

Caterpillar D300E hauling on a corduroy road built over muskeg


  • C. Michael Hogan. 2008. Black Spruce: Picea mariana,, ed. Nicklas Stromberg, November, 2008
  • "What on Earth is Muskeg?". Forest Facts. Tongass National Forest. 25 August 2000. Archived from the original on 14 January 2012.

Line notes

  1. ^ Cree Dictionary. "Maskek". Retrieved 2009-04-15.
  2. ^ C. Michael Hogan. 2008
  3. ^ Government of Alberta: Geotechnical and Erosion Control Archived 2007-12-21 at the Wayback Machine
Albian Sands

Albian Sands Energy Inc. is the operator of the Muskeg River Mine and Jack Pine Mine, an oil sands mining project located 75 kilometres (47 mi) north of Fort McMurray, Alberta, Canada. It is a joint venture between Shell Canada (10%), CNRL (70%) and Chevron Canada (20%). The company's legal headquarters are located in the Shell Tower in Calgary, Alberta. Albian Sands got its name from the Albian Boreal Sea which, during the Albian stage of the Cretaceous (over 100 million years ago), moved over the McMurray sands and deposited a blanket of marine shale on its floor which trapped the hydrocarbons of the McMurray Formation. The oil sands resources of the Muskeg River Mine are a legacy of the Albian Sea.At full production, Albian Sands can produce 340,000 barrels per day (54,000 m3/d) of crude bitumen, a naturally occurring semi-solid form of crude oil. The mine product, diluted bitumen or dilbit, is sent to be upgraded at the Scotford Upgrader in Fort Saskatchewan. The Muskeg River Mine stands on a Shell Canada lease containing more than 5 billion barrels (790,000,000 m3) of mineable bitumen, of which it is expected to recover 1,650 million barrels (262,000,000 m3) of bitumen over the next 30 years. The Muskeg River Mine, Jack Pine Mine and the Scotford Upgrader together comprise the Athabasca Oil Sands Project (AOSP).A proposed future mine expansion would increase production by 100,000 bbl/day. The 100,000 barrels per day (16,000 m3/d) (incremental) expansion project received regulatory approval in late 2006.At the mine site, the 175 megawatt MRM Cogeneration plant owned 70% by ATCO Power and 30% by SaskPower supplies process steam and electricity to the mine. 50% of the electricity produced is surplus to mine needs and is sold into the Alberta power grid. The Corridor Pipeline which transports diluted bitumen from the Muskeg River Mine to the Scotford Upgrader is owned by Inter Pipeline Ltd.. To accommodate its workforce, the project has built a 2460-room "village" with service and recreation facilities.The project is using satellite based imaging to ensure transparent reporting of its land use.

Carp Lake Provincial Park

Carp Lake Provincial Park is a provincial park in British Columbia, Canada, located 2 hours northwest of Prince George between the Muskeg and McLeod Rivers, to the southwest of the community of McLeod Lake, which is 32 km from the park's campground.

Cheryle Chagnon-Greyeyes

Cheryle Chagnon-Greyeyes is the leader of the Green Party of Alberta. She was elected as leader September 2018. She has worked at the University of Calgary and is Cree from Muskeg Lake Cree Nation.

Crimson Lake Provincial Park

Crimson Lake Provincial Park is a provincial park located in Alberta, Canada, 14 kilometres (8.7 mi) west of Rocky Mountain House, off the David Thompson Highway along secondary highway 756.

Crimson Lake received its name from the striking colours of the setting sun reflecting on the surface of its waters seen by an earlier trapper. It is a small, clear, shallow lake set in the meeting spot of foothills pine forests, aspen parkland, bog and muskeg ecosystems. Located on the northeast shore of the lake is Pioneer Ranch Camp, a Christian summer camp within the park's boundaries.

Cumberland House Cree Nation

Cumberland House Cree Nation is a Cree First Nation in Saskatchewan, Canada. Their reserves include:

Budd's Point 20D

Cumberland House Cree Nation 20

Muskeg River 20C

Pine Bluff 20A

Pine Bluff 20B

Division No. 16, Saskatchewan

Division No. 16 is one of eighteen census divisions in the province of Saskatchewan, Canada, as defined by Statistics Canada. It is located in the north-central part of the province. The most populous community in this division is North Battleford.

Hay River (Canada)

The Hay River (South Slavey: Kátå’odehche) is a large river in northern Alberta and southern Northwest Territories, Canada.

It originates in the muskeg of north western Alberta, flows west to British Columbia, then curves northward and returns to Alberta, where it follows a north-northeast course towards the Northwest Territories. After passing over two main waterfalls, the Alexandra Falls and Louise Falls, it flows through the town of Hay River and discharges into the Great Slave Lake. From there, its waters are carried to the Arctic Ocean by the Mackenzie River.

Hay River has a total length of 702 kilometres (436 mi) and a drainage area of 48,200 square kilometres (18,600 sq mi).Tributaries of the Hay River are the Chinchaga River, Meander River (in South Slavey: Tahchee), Steen River, Melvin River and Little Hay River. The Hay River effectively flows through the Hay-Zama Lakes. Rainbow Lake is a widening of the river itself.Communities in the Hay River basin include Rainbow Lake, Zama City, Steen River, Indian Cabins (in South Slavey: Dzêtú) in Alberta and Enterprise and the homonymous Hay River in the Northwest Territories. There are two first nations communities in the river basin: Chateh and Meander River.

At the Alberta – Northwest Territories border, the annual discharge is 3,630,000 cubic decametres (2,940,000 acre⋅ft).

Hughes, Wisconsin

Hughes is a town in Bayfield County, Wisconsin, United States. The population was 383 at the 2010 census. The unincorporated communities of Muskeg and Wills are located in the town.

Innoko Wilderness

Innoko Wilderness is a 1,240,000-acre (500,000 ha) wilderness area in the U.S. state of Alaska. It was designated by the United States Congress in 1980. It lies within the southeastern part of Innoko National Wildlife Refuge. Innoko Wilderness is a transition zone between the boreal forestland of interior Alaska and the open tundra of western Alaska. More than half of the Wilderness is wetlands of muskeg and marsh, lakes, rivers, and streams dotted with islands of black spruce and an understory of mosses, lichens, and shrubs. Along the Yukon and Innoko Rivers are numerous privately owned subsistence camps used periodically for hunting and fishing by Alaska Natives.

Liard River

The Liard River flows through Yukon, British Columbia and the Northwest Territories, Canada. Rising in the Saint Cyr Range of the Pelly Mountains in southeastern Yukon, it flows 1,115 kilometres (693 mi) southeast through British Columbia, marking the northern end of the Rocky Mountains and then curving northeast back into Yukon and Northwest Territories, draining into the Mackenzie River at Fort Simpson, Northwest Territories. The river drains approximately 277,100 square kilometres (107,000 sq mi) of boreal forest and muskeg.

Marcelin, Saskatchewan

Marcelin is a village in Saskatchewan, Canada within the rural municipality of Blaine Lake No. 434. It was named after the first postmaster Antoine Marcelin in 1904.It is the administrative headquarters of the Muskeg Lake Cree First Nations band government. During World War II, the Muskeg Lake reserve had the highest rates of Indigenous enlistment in the country, and Mary Greyeyes became the first First Nations woman to enlist in the Canadian Forces.

Mary Greyeyes

Mary Greyeyes Reid (November 14, 1920 – March 31, 2011) was a Canadian World War II servicewoman. A Cree from the Muskeg Lake Cree Nation in Saskatchewan, she was the first First Nations woman to enlist in the Canadian Armed Forces. After joining the Canadian Women’s Army Corps (CWAC) in 1942, she became the subject of an internationally famous army publicity photograph, and was sent overseas to serve in London, England, where she was introduced to public figures such as George VI and his daughter Elizabeth. Greyeyes remained in London until being discharged in 1946, after which she returned to Canada.

Michael Greyeyes

Michael Greyeyes (born June 4, 1967) is a Canadian actor, choreographer, director and educator. He is Plains Cree from the Muskeg Lake First Nation in Saskatchewan. His father was from the Muskeg Lake First Nation and his mother was from the Sweetgrass First Nation, both located in Saskatchewan.

In 2018, Greyeyes portrayed Sitting Bull in Woman Walks Ahead to critical acclaim.

Muskeg, Wisconsin

Muskeg is an unincorporated community located in the town of Hughes, Bayfield County, Wisconsin, United States.

Muskeg Formation

The Muskeg Formation is a geologic formation of Middle Devonian (Givetian) age in the Western Canada Sedimentary Basin. It extends from the plains of northwestern Alberta to northeastern British Columbia, and includes important petroleum and natural gas reservoirs in the Zama lake and Rainbow Lake areas of northwestern Alberta.

Muskeg Lake Cree Nation

The Muskeg Lake Cree Nation is a Cree First Nation band government in Marcelin, Saskatchewan, Canada.

The Muskeg Lake Cree Nation is affiliated with the Saskatoon Tribal Council, along with six other First Nations.

Noted people from this reserve include World War II servicewoman Mary Greyeyes, the first indigenous woman to join the Canadian Forces.

Muskeg River, Alberta

Muskeg River is a settlement in northern Alberta, Canada within the Municipal District of Greenview No. 16.

Scatter River Old Growth Provincial Park

Scatter River Old Growth Provincial Park is a provincial park in British Columbia, Canada, located on the Liard River downstream from Liard River Hot Springs Provincial Park and Liard River Corridor Provincial Park and Protected Area. The park includes the Grand Canyon of the Liard, a 30km stretch of canyon and whitewater between the Toad and Trout River confluences with the Liard. The park includes high upland plateau and muskeg as well as stands of old growth spruce forests. Established in 1999, the park is c.1140 ha. in area.

Swift, Minnesota

Swift is an unincorporated community in Roseau County, Minnesota, United States.

The community is located east-southeast of Warroad on State Highway 11 (MN 11). Swift is located within Laona Township and Moranville Township.

Nearby places include Warroad, Roosevelt, Williams, and Lake of the Woods at Muskeg Bay.

Classification systems

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