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Research Paper Published in Geology Examines Permafrost Thaw

Across the vast landscape of the Northwest Territories (NWT), cold climates and permafrost have preserved large amounts of ancient ground ice for thousands of years. However, recent climate warming is beginning to dramatically alter some of these landscapes. The Northwest Territories Geological Survey (NTGS) is taking a proactive approach to learning more.

A recently-published study in the high-profile journal Geology, titled Climate-driven thaw of permafrost preserved glacial landscapes, northwestern Canada, describes some of the research efforts and findings. Steve Kokelj, a Permafrost Scientist with the NTGS, is the lead author of the paper.

The research team mapped the distribution of thaw slumps in the NWT, which are indicators of landscapes underlain by thick layers of ground ice. The research shows that areas of high thaw slump density mainly coincide with the margins of the former Laurentide Ice Sheet that covered most of Canada roughly 14,000 years ago. The abundant ground ice along these margins has been preserved by permafrost since the end of the last glaciation. However with climate warming, these ice-rich landscapes are now undergoing dramatic change.

The subject of permafrost thaw sparked attention in July 2015 when an advancing thaw slump resulted in the rapid drainage of a lake near Fort McPherson, NWT. This is just one example of the landscape changes that Kokelj and his colleagues are observing across northwestern Canada.

Backgrounder - Climate Driven Thaw of Permafrost.pdf