Building a Northwest Territories Permafrost Database

Building a Northwest Territories Permafrost Database

Rock temperature logger with braided stainless steel protection over sensor cable. Stephan Gruber, Carleton University


Permafrost is a geological manifestation of cold climate, which affects terrestrial and aquatic ecosystems and influences virtually all community and industry development plans in the Northwest Territories (NWT).  Information on permafrost ground temperatures is a very important component of northern environmental monitoring and research, assessing trends and climate change effects, and for planning and managing northern infrastructure. Currently, a database of permafrost information does not exist for the Northwest Territories. This project will develop a standardized and accessible permafrost database for the territory.   This project involves establishing protocols and data reporting templates to guide the collection, publication and management of permafrost ground temperature data. 

Peter Morse, GSC, reading out shallow ground temperatures from a site located on a degrading ice-rich permafrost mound (lithalsa) near Yellowknife, NT. Credit: Stephen Wolfe, GSC.


This project will compile, synthesize and disseminate information on permafrost conditions from across the NWT. The majority of available permafrost data in the NWT is collected in the Mackenzie Valley and Beaufort-Delta region.  Although, permafrost ground temperatures have been collected in many communities and from different natural environments across the territory, this data is largely unavailable because a data reporting and management framework have not been established. 

Two ground temperature boreholes side by side. Credit: Stephan Gruber, Carleton University


Permafrost conditions govern the stability of northern landscapes and can influence the state of northern ecosystems and the integrity of infrastructure. Permafrost is sensitive to natural and anthropogenic disturbance as well as climate change, and affects almost all communities in the NWT. Several groups and agencies collect permafrost data at significant expense and for a wide range of purposes, however there is no standard reporting protocol or repository in the NWT for this kind of data. The overarching goal is to develop permafrost data management system that will improve organization and accessibility of the data and contribute positively to project planning, and environmental and regulatory monitoring in the NWT. 

Calibration bath, reference thermometer, and thermistor strings in the Carleton University Geocryology Lab. Credit: Stephan Gruber, Carleton University


The first step towards creating a permafrost database is to develop, test and publish standard reporting templates. This step is being undertaken by a multidisciplinary Technical Working Group, consisting of Permafrost Researchers and Geotechnical Engineers and Data management experts who work in the NWT.  The standard reporting and publication procedures for permafrost data will be published at the NTGS. The second component of this project involves evaluation of the reporting template through compilation and recovery of NWT ground temperature data sets. A third phase of the project is focused on engagement with stakeholders who can assist with promoting and implementing the protocol for future and continued use in the NWT, as well as with data users and contributors. Some key stakeholders include the Aurora Research Institute, Cumulative Impact Monitoring Program, Department of Transportation, various regulatory agencies, the research community and Industry. Finally we will work with the Technical Working Group to develop NWT relevant ground temperature syntheses. Data will be made publically available through a database hosted at the Northwest Territories Geological Survey.

Looking down the borehole casing that houses the ground temperature measurement equipment. The Aluminium brace holds the logger and the thermistor string in place. With the lid screwed tight, this is completely waterproof. Credit: Stephan Gruber, Carleton


The project was initiated in 2015 and is ongoing. The plan is to develop a robust reporting system for ground temperature data collected in the NWT. NTGS will develop a publication system for ground temperature data and a repository so that data can be readily accessible in the future.  

Peter Morse, GSC, reading data from a ground temperature monitoring station. Phillippe Normandeau, NTGS, and Yu Zhang, CCRS, determining soil conditions at the site. Credit: Stephen Wolfe, GSC.

Partners and Support

Stephan Gruber, Carleton University
Sharon Smith, Geological Survey of Canada
Peter Morse,Geological Survey of Canada
Trevor Lantz,Univeristy of Victoria
Ed Hoeve, Tetra Tech EBA
Tim Ensom, Golder Associates
Mike Palmer, Cumulative Impact Monitoring Program,GNWT
Department of Transportation, GNWT
Aurora Research Institute, Aurora College, GNWT
Government of the Northwest Territories (GNWT)

Wireless downloading of ground temperature measurements recorded on four miniloggers and one thermistor string logger. Peter Morse, GSC


Permafrost, Ground Temperature Data, Climate Change, Environmental Monitoring, Regulatory Process, Database