Environmental Monitoring and Research

Permafrost and Terrain Research for the Dempster and Inuvik-Tuktoyaktuk Highway Infrastructure Corridors

Thursday, November 22, 2018 - 10:40 to 10:59 Theatre 3


S.V. Kokelj (Presenting)
NWT Geological Survey

R. Connon
Wilfrid Laurier University

T. Ensom
Wilfrid Laurier University

R.H. Fraser
Canada Centre for Mapping and Earth Observation

T.C. Lantz
University of Victoria

P. Morse
Geological Survey of Canada

A. Rudy
Wilfrid Laurier University

J. van der Sluijs
NWT Centre for Geomatics

W. Woodley
NWT Centre for Geomatics

Permafrost thaw and climate change are major stressors on northern infrastructure. Societal consequences of permafrost thaw in the rapidly warming Beaufort Delta region are significant because the area hosts the greatest density of Arctic communities, historic northern oil and gas exploration infrastructure, and the longest road network constructed on ice-rich permafrost in Canada. The Dempster and Inuvik to Tuktoyaktuk Highways (ITH) connect the Beaufort Delta region with southern Canada and comprise a 400 km-long corridor within NWT. This corridor transitions from warm (0 to -2 °C) to cold (<-4 °C) permafrost, traverses glaciated and unglaciated terrain with varying ice contents, and intersects a range of hydrological and ecological environments. The diverse range of geologic, climatic, and ecologic conditions yield gradients that facilitate research on permafrost variability and Arctic change, while at the same time presenting challenges to developing and maintaining northern infrastructure. The objective of this presentation is to summarize recent scientific research results conducted along the Dempster-ITH corridor with focus on: A) Spatial heterogeneity in ground temperatures in natural settings and along infrastructure; B) Terrain mapping and ground ice distribution, and; C) Integrating field observations with new remote sensing and modeling techniques to document permafrost dynamics in natural and built environments. These summaries provide context for part two of the presentation which pertains to the need for a regional research strategy related to terrain, permafrost, and infrastructure.

The Dempster-ITH road corridor provides a unique opportunity to develop a societally-relevant, northern-driven permafrost research network to support planning and maintenance of infrastructure, regulation, monitoring of climate change impacts, and informed adaptation. A network with a corridor focal point encourages collaboration and pure and applied studies that engage stakeholders, community participation, and support northern interests. Successful implementation requires leadership and institutional support from the Government of the Northwest Territories and Inuvialuit and Gwich’in landowners, and coordination between research organizations including NWT Geological Survey, Aurora Research Institute, Geological Survey of Canada, and universities to define key research priorities, human and financial resources to undertake studies, and protocols to manage data collection and reporting. The development of resilient researcher-stakeholder-community relationships is also necessary for the scientific and research initiatives to reach their potential. Ongoing efforts along the Dempster-ITH corridor include: A) Consolidation and dissemination of existing datasets; B) Monitoring conditions at disturbances including quarries; C) Monitoring thermal evolution of permafrost across climate and ecological gradients and testing effects of snow manipulation to inform infrastructure management; D) Study of permafrost hydrology and road interactions, and; E) Monitoring terrain and roadbed stability and interaction with geohazards across different permafrost environments. The GNWT is working with partners to implement these studies. However, as the effects of climate change on the northern environment rapidly increase, a deficit in northern scientific capacity to support informed decision making, climate change adaptation, and risk management becomes more apparent.