A collaborative project led by S. Smith (Geological Survey of Canada, GSC), A. Lewkowicz (University of Ottawa) and C. Burn (Carleton University) was one of 44 science and research projects announced in March 2007 that were selected for funding under the Canadian Government’s IPY program.
This project represents the main Canadian contribution to the International IPY project led by the IPA, Thermal State of Permafrost (TSP). TSP-Canada is examining the ongoing impacts of climate change on permafrost conditions. A primary objective will be the measurement of permafrost temperatures in new and existing boreholes in Canada over a fixed time period to provide a ‘snapshot’ of ground thermal conditions in both time and space, thus providing a baseline against which to measure change. The new IPY funding is facilitating the establishment of new boreholes to fill key gaps in the existing network. New boreholes have recently been established in the western Arctic including ones in the Yukon in collaboration with mining exploration companies. Collaboration with Parks Canada has facilitated the establishment of new boreholes in northern Manitoba. Discussions are currently under way with communities in Nunavut to collaboratively establish boreholes next year to fill key gaps in the central and eastern Arctic. Data collected from existing boreholes during the first IPY year are currently being compiled and analysed, and preliminary results will be presented in a poster at NICOP and in outreach products for northerners.
At the University of Ottawa, A. Lewkowicz and his graduate students are continuing their research on permafrost distribution and characteristics in the Yukon. One of their contributions to the TSP IPY project was to repeat a survey of permafrost conditions along the Alaska Highway undertaken by the late Roger Brown in 1964. The results show that significant loss of permafrost has occurred over the past 43 years. In addition, they undertook Basal Temperature of Snow (BTS) measurements in five study areas spread across the southern Yukon in March 2007 and followed up these with ground-truthing at the same sites in August. They now have a network of more than 80 air and ground temperature monitoring stations in six clusters spread throughout the climatological regions of the southern half of the Yukon Territory. The goal of this project, which is primarily financed by the Canadian Foundation for Climate and Atmospheric Sciences, is a detailed permafrost probability map for this area of 250,000 km2. Further BTS and ground-truthing measurements are planned for 2008, as well as investigations of vegetation type and rock glaciers as permafrost indicators.
Lead by W. Pollard the permafrost activities at McGill University (contact: W. Pollard, Department of Geography) were divided into three themes. Landscape dynamics associated with massive ground ice and the vulnerability of ice-cored environments to climate change (VICE) was submitted as a separate project to the IPY Program (Project 376) and was subsequently linked to IPY Project 50 TSP. This theme includes ongoing monitoring of retrogressive thaw slumps and ground ice mapping on Ellesmere Island in the high Arctic and Herschel Island in the southern Beaufort Sea by Pollard. It also includes research linked to three graduate student projects. N. Couture is doing PhD research concerned with the analysis of coastal erosion process and the calculation of soil organic carbon fluxes into the Beaufort Sea. Couture has been analysing changes in the position of coast and computing the volume fraction of sediment, ice and carbon for different terrain systems. This research also involves modelled predictions of erosion patterns using wave-simulated climate forecasts based on GCM outputs and a thermo-mechanical model for wave-induced erosion. This project is also linked to the IPY Project 90: Arctic Circumpolar Coastal Observatory Network (ACCO-Net). A. Hoque was also part of this project.
T. Haltigin (McGill) is doing PhD research concerned with high Arctic ice-wedge dynamics, and the analysis of relationships between the geometric patterns of ice-wedge polygons with surfaces of different age but common climate and geology. This research involves the collection and analysis of georeferenced aerial photograph mosaics, analysis of surficial geology and ground ice conditions based on GPR and resistivity surveys, and the development of a point pattern statistical technique that reveals degrees of similarity of polygon geometry between different sites. This research fits into the Canadian Space Agencies analogue research program.
J. Grom (McGill) is doing MSc research studying the microclimatic feedbacks within retrogressive thaw slumps in high Arctic polar deserts. In this study automatic weather stations were placed inside and outside a retrogressive thaw slump, and instrumentation was positioned at the retreating ice face. Preliminary data suggest that under certain climate conditions there is an amplification of thaw processes linked to slump morphology.
In 2007 a new spring system was located bringing the total of spring systems mapped to eight. Each system is characterized by very different geologic, hydrologic, thermal and hydrochemical characteristics raising questions about groundwater source, age, flow paths and biophysical properties. In 2007 new data on spring hydrogeology, geomorphology and microbial ecology were collected. This research is being undertaken in collaboration with D. Andersen (SETI) and L. Whyte (McGill). These systems provide insights into the cold temperature biophysical limits of water on Earth and provide a valuable analogue for past and even present groundwater systems on Mars.
In collaboration with R. Gowan (Federal Department of Indian and Northern Affairs) and funded by the Federal Panel on Energy Research and Development, research continued on ground ice occurrence in coarsegrained sediments. The occurrence of ground ice in sand and gravel deposits has significant implications for both granular resource estimates as well as resource extraction. In 2007 late winter fieldwork focused on geophysical mapping of ground ice in glacifluvial deposits on Richards Island in the Mackenzie Delta. Also the data for the last four years were collated into a summary report in preparation for the next phase of massive ice mapping. Researchers involved in this research included G. De Pascale, T. Haltigin and N. Couture. Although not linked with the VICE project, the data collected in this study will be incorporated into the final analysis of landscape vulnerability.
The coastal and nearshore borehole program of the Geological Survey of Canada (GSC Atlantic Division, contact: S. Solomon) drilled six boreholes 10 m deep across a shoal containing near surface permafrost. Ice thickness above the seabed ranged from a few cm to 1.2 m. University of Calgary undertook ground penetrating radar surveys across the surface of the shoal and conducted downhole radar at each borehole. Ground temperature data from thermistor cables deployed in March 2005 in boreholes at four of the core locations were successfully recovered for the second consecutive years, providing two complete years of temperature data from beneath bottomfast sea ice. Permafrost thicknesses along the transect exceed 20 m. Further collaborative work with B. Moorman and C. Stevens, University of Calgary, aims to define the controls on permafrost within shallow water environments and develop geophysical applications, which can provide useful spatial information on the thermal/physical conditions within the coastal zone. This research also includes quantification of heat flow in the ground throughout periods of open water and ice cover. Laboratory freeze-thaw experiments will be conducted with cores obtained from the delta site.
Bottomfast ice (BFI) controls the distribution of nearshore permafrost. Its distribution in the Mackenzie Delta region can be mapped with synthetic aperture radar. The GSC-Atlantic Division has been using this technique to monitor changes in BFI extent for the past four years. Ground penetrating radar and drill verification have been conducted each year to confirm the delineation of bottom-fast ice. Interannual variability depends primarily on ice thickness, but is also dependent on water levels at the time of freeze-up. The effect of variations in ice conditions on near-surface thermal conditions is currently being investigated by the University of Calgary.
Global positioning system (GPS) measurements are being undertaken at a network of recently installed benchmarks to monitor natural subsidence over the Mackenzie Delta surface (GSC Atlantic Division). The information will be used to help understand impacts of subsidence induced by human activities (i.e. hydrocarbon extraction) in the region.
Studies in coastal communities in Nunavut are underway to determine potential impacts of climate change and to help develop adaptation strategies (GSC Atlantic Division). Coastal permafrost and associated erosion processes are important factors for quantification of impacts. A recent fire on Ibyuk Pingo in the Pingo Canada landmark caused wide spread destruction of surface vegetation and organic layers. GSC-Atlantic Division personnel undertook surveys in the region in order to monitor surface elevation changes that may result from the fire.
In the last three years, the Geological Survey of Canada-Northern Division (contact: R. Couture), through the Secure Canadian Energy Supply Program, has been contributing new geoscience information on regional landslide hazards along a new proposed pipeline corridor in the Mackenzie Valley. This initiative aimed to i) provide baseline knowledge on the types, regional distribution, and control of landslides through a compilation of existing and new information; ii) monitor zones of potentially unstable slopes along the proposed gas pipeline route using remote sensing technologies; and iii) map susceptibility to landslides in a permafrost environment. Over 1800 landslides and other natural terrain hazard features (e.g. karstic sink holes, rock glacier) have been mapped along the proposed gas pipeline route, between Norman Wells and Inuvik, and integrated into a GIS spatial database. A preliminary landslide susceptibility map has been developed using a qualitative parametric method driven by expert judgment taking into account environmental parameters, such as geology, land cover, permafrost, and slope angle and aspect. Such a susceptibility map is useful for a better land and infrastructure planning. Finally, ten corner reflectors were deployed at various landslide sites with the objectives of monitoring active landslides and slopes through a remote sensing technique, InSAR (Interferometric Synthetic Aperture Radar) – the first ever such program in Canada. Such monitoring with InSAR will improve the understanding of slope movements in permafrost environments that are otherwise difficult to analyse with standard geotechnical tools.
GSC modellers at GSC- Northern Division (Contact: C. Duchesne; M. Ednie and F. Wright) have initiated a GIS-based geostatistical analysis of slope instability (slides, slumps) in the Mackenzie River valley, as part of an broader regional assessment of the geothermal and geomorphological responses of terrain to continued climate warming. The predictive component of the modelling will evaluate terrain instability potentials along existing and proposed pipeline corridors, and possible changes in these potentials over the next century. A Weights-of-Evidence-based analytical toolkit enables an integrated analysis of key physical and geothermal attributes of the permafrost landscape, such as geology, vegetation cover, topography, and surface hydrology, in the context of evolving permafrost conditions. The results of this work will be of interest to engineers, government agencies and community stakeholders concerned with the long-term viability of linear infrastructure in the north. The project is sponsored by the Program of Energy Research and Development and is scheduled for completion in March 2008.
R. van Everdingen, Senior Research Associate with the Arctic Institute of North America, University of Calgary, performed airphoto interpretation for the Mackenzie Gas Project to identify karst features in selected areas along the Mackenzie River. The Canadian Geotechnical Society’s Roger J.E. Brown award is given for an outstanding publication in the field of frozen soil research or engineering, or to honour an individual for his or her excellence in the field of permafrost. The worthy recipient of the 2007 Roger J.E. Brown Award was Dr. Chris Burn. Dr. Burn holds an NSERC Northern Research Chair, and is a Professor in the Department of Geography and Environmental Studies at Carleton University in Ottawa. He came to Canada in 1981 as a Commonwealth Scholar, and completed both the M.A. and PhD at Carleton, studying permafrost. He then moved to U.B.C. as a Killam Fellow. Chris has been studying frozen ground since 1982, and has a particular interest in the effects of climate change in the Canadian north. His research includes work at research stations in the Yukon and Mackenzie Delta as well as extensive investigations at the Illisarvik experimental drained lake site in the Mackenzie Delta, with world renowned Canadian permafrost pioneer, J. Ross Mackay. His work links the scientific study of permafrost with the practical needs of engineers working in the North, which is evermore critical to the successful and sustainable development of the North. This is especially important given the extensive northern mining and oil and gas developments ongoing and proposed for northern Canada.
In late November 2007, the Joint Review Panel (JRP) closed their environmental assessment review hearings on the proposed Mackenzie Gas Project (MGP). The MGP would involve the development of three onshore natural gas fields in the Mackenzie Delta, and the transport of natural gas and natural gas liquids via buried pipelines south through the continuous and discontinuous permafrost regions of the Mackenzie valley to northwestern Alberta. The applications and environmental impact studies for the proposed MGP were filed in October 2004, triggering the regulatory review process. The JRP comprehensive and extensive environmental assessment review hearings commenced in February 2006. The JRP held numerous topic specific (both bio-physical and socioenvironmental) hearings as well as community hearings. The JRP’s report is expected in spring 2008. Following the government’s response the National Energy Board will then conclude their hearings (expected in late 2008) and render their decisions on the project. Many permafrost scientists and engineers, from government, universities and the private sector were actively involved over the last three years in the technical aspects of the project investigations and design, or its regulatory review. Further information on the MGP project and its review, and links to the JPR and NEB public registry; see the Government of Canada’s Northern Gas Project Secretariat at: . K. Biggar and L. Arenson have recently joined BGC Engineering Inc. in their Edmonton and Vancouver offices, respectively. Biggar has 20 years experience in permafrost and frozen ground engineering, and 15 years in geo-environmental engineering including contaminated site assessment and remediation, mine waste management and horizontal directional drilling applications. Arenson has extensive research experience related to mountain permafrost, frost heave and modeling of convective heat transfers to industry.
The Canadian National Committee for the International Permafrost Association (CNC-IPA) would like to highlight and express the acknowledgement for the financial support provided by the Canadian Geotechnical Society’s Cold Region Division to distribute Frozen Ground in Canada. We thank the outgoing chairman, Jim Cassie of BGC Engineering in Calgary, for instituting this support. We welcome E. Hoeve of EBA Engineering in Yellowknife as their new chairman effective in the New Year. In closing, the CNC-IPA is pleased to announce that together with the Calgary Chapter of the Canadian Geotechnical Society (CGS), they will be co-hosting in Calgary, in September 2010, a joint Canadian National Permafrost Conference and annual Canadian Geotechnical Conference (CGC). A Canadian Permafrost Conference has been long overdue, the last having been held in Quebec in 1990. Fitting nicely between the international conferences now to be held every four years, the 2010 Conference will be an opportune time for the Canadian community to gather and to share the developments in the recently increasing process-based and climate change related scientific research and engineering activity in the Canadian north.
Margo Burgess (firstname.lastname@example.org)