The Canadian permafrost community continues to be active in research initiatives to improve characterization of permafrost conditions and to provide information to better understand the impact of climate change and human activity on the northern landscape. A number of projects have been aimed at providing information that can facilitate the development of climate change adaptation strategies to minimize risk to infrastructure and to minimize environmental impacts of northern development.

Collaborative work between the University of Ottawa (A. Lewkowicz and students M. Duguay and C. Miceli) and Geological Survey of Canada (S. Smith) is leading to a better understanding of the ground thermal conditions along the Alaska Highway corridor in the southern Yukon. A key accomplishment in summer 2011 was the re-instrumentation of several boreholes where ground temperatures were last measured over 30 years ago. The ground temperature data collected from these sites will improve the baseline information on current ground thermal conditions and facilitate analysis to better characterize how conditions are changing. This information is essential for planning development in the corridor.

In August 2011, a successful field course was held in the southern Yukon as part of the CRYOEX program. CRYOEX is an exchange program between Canada and Norway involving University of Ottawa, Carleton University and University of Oslo. The course focused on aspects of permafrost and glaciers and involved a total of 19 professors and graduate students from Norway and Canada.

The Geological Survey of Canada (S. Wolfe and M. Leblanc) is also working collaboratively with territorial governments, academia (M. Allard, Laval, C. Burn Carleton) and Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development Canada (S. Kokelj) to better characterize the properties of surficial materials along transportation corridors in NWT and at airports and communities in Nunavut. Maps and databases are being generated to assess the terrain sensitivity to a changing climate, providing information to reduce the risk to infrastructure.

The Fifteenth International Specialty Conference on Cold Regions Engineering will be held in Quebec in August, 2012. G. Doré (Laval) is the chair of the conference which is organized by the Canadian Society of Civil Engineering and the American Society for Civil Engineering.

The conference will include a wide variety of topics under the theme “Sustainable infrastructure development in a changing cold environment”. Conference objectives are to foster knowledge exchange and promote technological advancement in areas of cold regions engineering.

A number of interesting research projects are being conducted at the University of Montreal under the leadership of Daniel Fortier. In this report, we highlight some of their work.  The U of Montreal team (M. Sliger, MSc Student and I de Grandpré, research coordinator) has been collaboratively working with the Yukon government on groundwater flow in the permafrost environment and its thermal impact on permafrost degradation and road stability. Through collaboration with Guy Doré (Laval) and the contribution of students (J. Malenfant-Lepage, S. Coulombe and L. Langis) work is progressing on the development and assessment of mitigation techniques aimed at controlling permafrost degradation under the embankment at an experimental road test site in the Alaska Highway corridor.

In Nunavik, northern Quebec, the U of Montreal team (students K. Larrivée and K. Grandmont, and C. Lemieux, research coordinator) are working in collaboration with M. Allard and E. L’Hérault (Laval) on the geomorphological and geotechnical mapping of permafrost terrain to identify suitable areas for building new housing to support planning of development.

On Bylot Island, studies focus on the impact of snowmelt water runoff infiltration in the ground and rapid processes of thermo-erosion on permafrost degradation dynamics (E. Godin, PhD student).  The impact of these thermo-erosion gullies on drainage of wetlands and ecosystems is being studied by MSc student N. Perrault, in collaboration with E. Levesque (UQTR). Paleoecological, paleoclimatological and paleoenvironmental reconstructions of a Pliocene fossil forest buried in the permafrost are being investigated as an analog to future climate change (A. Guertin-Pasquier, MSc). A new project has been initiated on buried glacier ice bodies in the permafrost, recently exposed by active-layer detachment slides (S. Coulombe, MSc). Associated with an early Pleistocene glaciation, this ice shows great potential as a natural archive of the earth’s past climate.

Collaborative studies are being conducted with W. Vincent (Laval) on the northern coast of Ellesmere Island to determine the influence of periglacial mass movements and meltwater on the geochemistry of Ward Hunt Lake and on its benthic biological system (also M. Paquette, D. Sarrazin). Further south, in the Chic-Choc Range (southern Quebec), where the sporadic permafrost thermal regime has been monitored since 1977 on Mt-Jacques Cartier (1268 m a.s.l.), ground surface temperature and snow conditions at a dozen other summits are being studied to refine the permafrost distribution mapping in south-eastern Canada (JT Gray and students G. Davesne and F. Pelletier).

Sharon Smith (sharon.smith@nrcan-rncan.gc.ca)