At the University of Ottawa, Antoni Lewkowicz and students carried out several permafrost-related projects in the Yukon.


The largest is on modelling permafrost probability for mountainous parts of the southern Yukon, an area of about 200,000 km2. This project uses a newly installed ground and air temperature monitoring network with more than 70 sites in five climatic regions spread across 3° of latitude and 7° of longitude. A combination of the BTS method, GIS modelling and ground-truthing is planned in collaboration with Ottawa colleague Mike Sawada and graduate students Philip Bonnaventure and Emily Schultz. Support has come from the Canadian Foundation for Climate and Atmospheric Sciences, NSERC, the Yukon Geological Survey and Natural Resources Canada. Other projects in the Yukon concern the development of palsas and thermokarst lakes in mid-elevation valleys, and landsliding and permafrost degradation following the 2004 forest fires around Dawson. Bernd Etzelmüller (U. Oslo), who was a visiting researcher at the University of Ottawa in 2006, contributed both his expertise and his DC resistivity equipment to explore permafrost conditions at these sites. In the High Arctic, detachment slides that occurred on Ellesmere Island in 2005 were re-visited and numerous intact samples were retrieved for geotechnical analyses by graduate student Pauline Favero. In addition, a small collaborative project was initiated with Hanne Christiansen (UNIS, Norway) to test a new solifluction measurement technique on Svalbard.

At Carleton University, Kumari Karunaratne (PhD student) completed her fieldwork on permafrost conditions in the Slave Province, north of Yellowknife, including data collection at the abandoned Colomac Mine. Pascale Roy-Leveillee (MSc) has been working at the south end of the Dempster Highway in association with Environment Yukon to determine the relations between topography, vegetation and snow in this mountainous environment. The project is associated with determining the rate of ground freezing and snow accumulation, and therefore the conditions under which snow machine access may be managed in this remote area. Chris Burn has been preparing to contribute to the IPY project on the Thermal State of Permafrost, and has now installed deep surface temperature cables at Herschel Island (42 m), Illisarvik (50 m), Paulatuk (28 m), Old Crow (20 m), and Mayo (40 m) in preparation for obtaining a full suite of data during the IPY.

McGill University’s permafrost research programme (lead by Wayne Pollard) currently has three scientific themes: landscape dynamics related to ground ice processes, the biophysical analysis of groundwater and perennial springs in cold polar deserts, and the Arctic as an analogue for space exploration. In 2006 research was international through collaborations with colleagues from Germany and the United States. The McGill team has four projects focusing on ground ice related systems. The first is an investigation of erosion and thermokarst along the Beaufort Sea coast. Largely the PhD research of Nicole Couture, this project looks at current rates of coastal erosion and soil organic carbon flux as a function of wave induced thermo-mechanical erosion of ground ice and ice-rich permafrost. The aim of this research is to predict future erosion patterns and feedbacks related to climate change. A sub-component is concerned with the analysis of block failures linked to thermo-erosional niche development and ice wedges (M.D. Hoque). The 2006 field programme included a joint expedition with researchers from the Alfred Wegener Institute, concerned with massive ice origin near Wisconsinan glacial limits on the Yukon Coastal Plain. This project has strong ties to ArcticNet and to the IASC project on Arctic Coastal Dynamics. The second project involves the mapping of massive ice in coarse-grained fluvio-glacial deposits in the Mackenzie Delta using a combination of GPR and resistivity techniques. This research is undertaken in partnership with Robert Gowan (DIAND) under the PERD Northern POL. The third project is concerned with the analysis of ice wedge polygon patterns in the high Arctic and their relationship to superficial geology and ice contents (Tim Haltigin). A new project is looking at retreat rates of high arctic retrogressive thaw slumps as a function of surface energy relationships and slump morphology (J. Grom). This project is part of ongoing research on massive ice and thermokarst in the Eureka Sound Lowlands. The team of McGill researchers and graduate students working on the hydrogeology, microbiology and geomorphology of perennial springs on Axel Heiberg Island has now mapped eight distinct spring groups in a variety of settings. Research includes analysis of mineral precipitates and ice deposits related to the discharge of cold (-6 to +4º C) and highly mineralized groundwater, and led to the successful identification of distinct microbial communities linked to the springs (D. Andersen, N. Perreault and L. Whyte), to permafrost (B. Stevenson and L. Whyte) and to local sandstones (C. Omelon).

Study of the Arctic as an analogue for space exploration at McGill included in 2006 the last year of field testing in the Eureka area of a NASA (ASTID) funded Mars autonomous deep drilling systems in collaboration with US colleagues from NASA Ames (G. Briggs) and JSC (J. George). The second year of fieldwork involved the integration of geophysical data collected using a RAMAC GPR rough terrain system and a Geometrics OhmMapper capacitive coupled resistivity system. It is a CSA funded Mars instrument concept study focusing on the delineation of ground ice. The third project involves the establishment of a CSA Canadian Analogue Research Network site at Expedition Fiord on Axel Heiberg; this site hosted three CSA funded CARN projects in 2006.

Personnel from Geological Survey of Canada (GSC), Geodetic Survey of Canada, University of Calgary and McGill University undertook field surveys in March 2006 to investigate aspects of coastal and nearshore permafrost in the Mackenzie Delta and Yukon coast regions (Steve Solomon). Spring surveys concentrated in areas of bottomfast ice and involved ground penetrating radar, electrical resistivity surveys and seabed drilling and sampling. The highlight of the survey was the successful recovery of a year of ground temperature data from thermistor cables buried beneath the bottomfast ice. As anticipated, small changes in ice thickness (water depth) above the seabed result in dramatic changes in temperature history and thermal properties. The geophysical data collected will permit extrapolation of cryostratigraphy between ground temperature locations. High resolution GPS occupations of previously established benchmarks were undertaken as part of an ongoing investigation of subsidence in the delta.

GSC personnel collaborated with Chevron Canada to investigate breakup processes in the outer Mackenzie Delta in May and June 2006. Remotely sensed data revealed that over ice flooding is at least partially controlled by the distribution of bottomfast ice. Time lapse video of flooding at several outer delta sites will be used to determine the depth and duration of flooding at the coast. July-August field activities included surveys of coastal stability on the Yukon coast and the Mackenzie Delta along with sidescan, multibeam and subbottom surveys to examine ice-seabed interaction, especially strudel and ice scour. Yukon coast and Pingo Canadian Landmark surveys involved collaboration between the GSC and Parks Canada.

Since 2005, the GSC through its Secure Canadian Energy Supply Programme’s project on regional landslide hazards mapping, has been contributing to providing geoscience information towards the hydrocarbon exploration and development in the Beaufort Sea, Mackenzie River Delta, and Mackenzie Valley (Réjean Couture and Simon Riopel). This regional landslide hazards mapping initiative aims, with funding support from the federal Northern Energy Development Memorandum to Cabinet to: (i) provide baseline knowledge on the types, regional distribution, and control of landslides through a compilation of existing and new information; (ii) assess the potential influence of environmental factors (e.g. climatic parameters, forest fires) on frequency and magnitude of landslides; (iii) monitor zones of potentially unstable slopes along the proposed gas pipeline route using remote sensing technologies; and (iv) map susceptibility to landslides in a permafrost environment. A preliminary landslide susceptibility map was developed using a qualitative parametric method driven by expert judgment and taking into account environmental parameters, such as geology, land cover, permafrost, and slope angle and aspect. During summer 2006, ten corner reflectors were installed for the first time in Canada at various landslide sites in a permafrost environment to monitor active landslides and slopes through a remote sensing technique, InSAR (Interferometric Synthetic Aperture Radar).

The GSC (Baolin Wang) has been conducting geotechnical investigations on landslides in the Mackenzie Valley to improve the understanding of triggering mechanisms. Two landslide sites have been instrumented to monitor ground condition changes in test plots adjacent to the selected landslides. Field and laboratory tests for geotechnical and geothermal parameters are being carried out. Modellers at the GSC (Caroline Duchesne, Fred Wright) are conducting a regional assessment of climate change impacts to permafrost along all-season highways and winter roads in Canada’s Northwest Territories (NWT). The major objective of the research is to assess the future viability of the northern transportation system given the expected increase of MAAT throughout the NWT by as much as 3-5° C by 2050. A GIS-integrated finite-element transient ground thermal model developed at the GSC generates predictions of climate-induced impacts to permafrost terrain along major transportation corridors over time spans of 20 to 50 years. The modelling results provide a basis for evaluating likely future trends in roadbed stability, maintenance frequencies and remedial activities, and associated future costs. The two-year project, sponsored by the Climate Change Action Fund (CCAF) in partnership with the Government of the NWT (Dep. of Transportation), Environment Canada, and Transport Canada is scheduled for completion late in the fiscal year 2006-07. GSC researchers Scott Dallimore and Fred Wright are conducting a detailed characterization of several large methane seeps occurring in stream channels and shallow lakes in the outer extent of the Mackenzie River delta. Seasonal and/or annual measurements of gas discharge rates, water and gas geochemistry, structural morphology, and fluid temperature anomalies provide insight into the genetic origins of the source gas (shallow biogenic vs. deep thermogenic), structural stability and temporal consistency, and volumetric estimates of annual methane discharge to the atmosphere. Scientific and anecdotal evidence suggest that at least some of these seeps have been continuously active for more than 40 years. Scientists and engineers from the GSC (contact: F. Wright, S. Dallimore) are working to characterize the geotechnical and geothermal properties of sediments in deep permafrost environments of the Mackenzie-Beaufort region of the NWT, an area slated for intensive hydrocarbon resource development within the next few decades. Production of these resources will involve the installation and operation of production strings and well casings extending through deep permafrost, and in some cases, through thick deposits of thermodynamically unstable gas hydrate overlying conventional oil and gas reserves. Distributed Temperature Sensing (DTS), conducted in collaboration with GeoForschungsZentrum (Potsdam, Germany) has enabled the acquisition of continuous highresolution ground temperature profiles through more than 600 m of permafrost, extending to depths of greater than 1 km. Planned future work will investigate the possibility of significant occurrences of intra-permafrost gas hydrates (hydrates within permafrost), a phenomenon that is thermodynamically likely, but as yet undocumented. With funding received through Northern Energy Development Memorandum to Cabinet, the GSC is enhancing its permafrost monitoring network in the Mackenzie corridor to address knowledge gaps regarding permafrost and terrain conditions in support of the assessment, planning and management of hydrocarbon extraction, production and transmission in the Mackenzie corridor. A major field campaign will be carried out during winter 2006-07. Temperature cables will be installed to depths of up to 20 m and information on soil properties and ground ice conditions will be collected. Monitoring sites were recently established in the central Mackenzie valley in collaboration with Enbridge Pipelines and this included additional instrumentation to monitor slope movements. GSC (Sharon Smith) and the Department of Indian and Affairs and Northern Development (DIAND; Steve Kokelj) have collaborated on the establishment of field sites in the Mackenzie Delta region to assess environmental conditions in the Kendall Island Bird Sanctuary and across the treeline transition.

The Water Resources Division of DIAND acquired science funding through the Northern Energy Memorandum to Cabinet to investigate «Permafrost and Terrain Conditions across Treeline in the Mackenzie Delta Region » (Steve Kokelj). This research investigates interactions between ground temperatures, vegetation, snow and terrain processes across the subarctic boreal - tundra transition zone in the Mackenzie Delta region. Several study sites were established in the tundra uplands along the proposed Mackenzie Gas Pipeline corridor and in the Kendall Island Bird Sanctuary. The breadth of environmental data collected at these locations is the result of collaboration with Chris Burn and Carleton University students Mike Palmer, Peter Morse, Julian Kanigan and Thai Nguyen; Trevor Lantz (Univ. of British Columbia), and Jill Johnstone (Univ. of Saskatchewan). Peter Morse (PhD student) returned to the outer delta to continue investigations of the relations between topographic and vegetation factors and ground temperature, and to determine if there are any variations in ground ice conditions that are associated with such variations in ground temperature. Julian Kanigan (MSc student) has been trying to delineate permafrost temperatures and established a network of 20 sites to monitor ground temperatures at 20 m depth throughout the delta. Thai Nguyen (MSc) has been working to delineate the extent of permafrost in the delta. He visited over 100 sites to determine the relations between vegetation communities and permafrost occurrence. He will use these relations to interpret permafrost extent in the area from SPOT satellite images acquired in July. Trevor Lantz (PhD candidate) is studying the distribution and changes in the aerial extent of thermokarst disturbance along the proposed pipeline corridor north of Inuvik, and an examination of the effects of natural disturbance on ground-thermal conditions. In partnership with Sharon Smith (NRCan/GSC), deep thermistor cables were placed at several of these locations and will contribute data to the Mackenzie Valley Permafrost Monitoring Program. Specific aspects of this research that are in press or preparation include: (a) an examination of the effects of thaw slumping on the variation of water chemistry in tundra lakes (S. Kokelj); (b) development and validation of a model of hummock growth and degradation (S. Kokelj, C. Burn and C. Tarnocai); (c) assessment of the morphology and activity of ice-wedges in Mackenzie Delta (S. Kokelj, M. Pisaric and C. Burn); (d) examination of the spatial structure of active-layer depths across treeline (T. Nguyen, C. Burn and S. Kokelj); and (e) assessment of permafrost and vegetation conditions at abandoned drilling mud sumps in the Kendall Island Bird Sanctuary (J. Johnstone and S. Kokelj).

J.D. Mollard and Associates Limited (JDMA) devoted a significant amount of time selecting three competing alternative road route corridors and rights-of way, and mapping their terrain conditions in continuous and discontinuous permafrost zones in Nunavut and northern Manitoba; clients were Manitoba, Nunavut, federal governments. Multiple physical environmental studies (erosion, sedimentation, hydrology and terrain studies) were undertaken in discontinuous permafrost terrain on hydro development projects in Manitoba. Earlier alternative all-weather road routes proposed by JDMA from Yellowknife to the diamond mines in the Northwest Territories and Nunavut were reviewed. None of these routes were constructed owing to less costly winter ice roads being used. The routes were reviewed because global warming had shortened the winter haul season using ice roads. JDMA also acted as a subcontractor investigating the effects of global warming on permafrost degradation in the Northwest and Yukon Territories; clients were C-CORE and ESA. J.D. Mollard was awarded the Roger J.E. Brown medal for excellence in permafrost engineering. The award was given at the 59th Canadian Geotechnical Society Conference in Vancouver, October 2006.

The Coastal Zone Canada Conference was held in summer 2006 in Tuktoyaktuk. This was the first time the conference was held in the North. Among the many sessions, a joint Coastal Zone Canada-Canadian Coastal Science and Engineering Association session of the impacts of climate change on coastal infrastructure was organized. Papers on western Arctic climate change scenarios, applications of LiDAR and coastal observatories were presented. Abstracts for the conference can be viewed at

The Geological Association of Canada will be holding its 2007 Annual Meeting in Yellowknife in May ( There will be a symposium on permafrost, partially sponsored by the Canadian National Committee for the IPA. Papers on the following subjects are invited: Permafrost in a changing climate; Permafrost and industrial development; Coastal permafrost and Arctic coastal dynamics; Permafrost and gas hydrates; Permafrost and the International Polar Year.

Margo Burgess ([email protected])