When Superman needs a little down time, he retreats to his Fortress of Solitude. But where is this ultimate man cave?
Depends which version of Superman you’re into. In comic book eras and Superman movies, the fortress is often in the Arctic, embedded in a giant hunk o’ ice. But it’s also been in a mountain outside Metropolis, in the Andes, and in the Amazon rainforest.
And now Man of Steel, the new Superman movie, has created a new kind of fortress: It’s an abandoned scout ship sent from the planet Krypton to Earth some tens of thousands of years before Clark Kent was even born. The ship was incased in ice until Clark finds it and —with the help of Krypton’s version of a flash drive— uses the ship to communicate with his dead father and learn about his alien life story.
Superman finds the ship after he catches wind of a U.S. military investigation looking into a mysterious object on Ellesmere Island. So where is this island and what do we know about the place that protected Superman’s ship for so long?
It’s Canadian: As pointed out in the film, Ellesmere Island is Canadian—and the Canadians allow journalist Lois Lane to get access to America’s top-secret project on the island. Ellesmere is located in the far north of Canada, about 800 miles from the North Pole (map). As far as we know, America hasn’t had a top-secret project on the island, but there has been an American presence. The Canadian Forces Station Alert—currently the northernmost settlement in the world—was originally opened as a joint operation with the U.S. Weather Bureau.
It’s big: Ellesmere is the 10th largest island in the world (Greenland, its neighbor, is the largest). The icy, mountainous island covers more than 75,000 square miles and some of its coastline is covered in ice shelves.
It’s been home to people for a long time: Superman may have been lucky that he got to the ship first. Despite the remoteness of the island, it has been visited by people for thousands of years. The Dorset people lived along the eastern Arctic coast for about 2,000 years until they disappeared around 1400 AD. The Thule people (ancestors of the Inuit) arrived in the area around the 12th century. Evidence shows that Vikings lived and hunted in the Dorset territories around the same time and may have traded with them. Artifacts from a Viking ship were found on the coast of Ellesmere, pointing to a likely shipwreck. A “mini Ice Age” from around 1550 to 1850 seems to have put human habitation of the area on hiatus.
It’s been explored: European and American explorers came to the island throughout the 19th and 20th centuries. In 1852 Edward Augustus Inglefield, a British Naval officer, set off in search of John Franklin, an explorer who disappeared in the Arctic while searching for the Northwest Passage. Inglefield never found Franklin, but he surveyed the region and named Ellesmere Island after Francis Egerton, the first Earl of Ellesmere. Others passed through on their way to the North Pole, including Robert E. Peary, whose 1909 expedition to the Pole was funded by National Geographic.
It’s changing: The movie doesn’t disclose why the ship was found after being on the island for tens of thousands of year. But one theory might make sense: climate change. Ellesmere’s ice is disappearing. If the glaciers would ever give up their secrets, now’s the time. A cool real-life example? Earlier this year, researchers discovered moss that had been under a glacier for 400 years was able to grow once the glacier retreated. Must be supermoss!