Changing Permafrost Landscapes

Implementing an applied permafrost research program: The Dempster - Inuvik to Tuktoyaktuk highway research corridor

Tuesday, November 19, 2019 - 10:40am to 11:00am Theatre Three


S.V. Kokelj (Presenting)
Northwest Territories Geological Survey
A.C.A. Rudy
Northwest Territories Geological Survey
R. Connon
Environment and Natural Resources, GNWT
T. Ensom
Wilfrid Laurier University
P. Morse
Geological Survey of Canada
J. van der Sluijs
Northwest Territories Centre for Geomatics
A. Wilson
Aurora Research Institute

The Beaufort Delta region is one of the most rapidly warming areas on Earth. Societal consequences of permafrost thaw are significant as the area hosts the highest density of Arctic communities and the longest road network constructed on ice-rich permafrost in Canada. The Dempster and Inuvik to Tuktoyaktuk Highways (ITH) comprise a 400-km corridor connecting the Beaufort Delta region with southern Canada. The highways traverse warm (0 to -2 °C) to cold (<-4 °C) permafrost, cross diverse terrain with varying ice contents, and intersect a range of hydrological and ecological environments. In this region, the diversity of sensitive permafrost environments and the rich legacy of research, scientific infrastructure, and traditional environmental knowledge facilitates the study of permafrost variability and Arctic change. The Dempster-ITH road corridor has provided a unique opportunity to develop a societally relevant, northern-driven permafrost research agenda to support planning and maintenance of infrastructure, regulation, and monitoring of climate change impacts and informed adaptation.

In 2017, the GNWT, in collaboration with Federal and Academic partners, implemented a state of the art ground temperature-monitoring network along the Dempster-ITH corridor. This, in combination with the maintenance of the Dempster Highway and recent design and construction of the ITH, has created a national legacy of permafrost geotechnical, terrain and geohazard information. The objectives of this program are to integrate existing and new data to synthesize physiographic, hydrological, thermal, and geotechnical conditions along the corridor, and to develop applied permafrost research projects that support planning and maintenance of this critical northern infrastructure. In this presentation, we highlight: 1) a collaborative research framework that builds northern capacity and involves northerners in the generation of knowledge and its application; 2) summaries of existing infrastructure datasets and their foundation for research; and 3) new projects that address emerging climate-driven infrastructure stressors. As the effects of climate change on permafrost environments, infrastructure and communities continue to increase, the need for northern scientific capacity and applied research to support engineering solutions, informed decision-making, climate change adaptation and risk management will become increasingly critical.