The Canadian permafrost community has had a very busy year. There is much activity with respect to initiatives to support adaptation to a changing climate in Northern Canada. A number of these projects have been led by the governments and other organizations in Canada’s northern territories (Northwest Territories, Yukon and Nunavut). A few of these are highlighted in this report.
Pan-Territorial Permafrost Workshop
One of the highlights this past year was the Pan-Territorial Permafrost Workshop held in Yellowknife NWT in November 2013. This workshop brought front-line decision makers from Nunavut, NWT and Yukon together with permafrost researchers and experts to share knowledge, form connections and investigate possibilities for adaptation in the future. The workshop included an introduction to permafrost, poster session, and sessions that included landscape change, tools for adaptation, mapping and communities, building infrastructure, transportation, mining oil and gas, traditional knowledge and outreach. A short course was also offered on Developing and Managing Transportation Infrastructure in Permafrost Regions and was taught by Don Hayley using the Transportation Association of Canada Curriculum. Approximately 200 people participated in the workshop including 33 sites that remotely participated by web cast. The workshop was organized by the Pan-Territorial Adaptation Partnership with support from Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development Canada’s Climate Change Adaptation Program and the Canadian Northern Economic Development Agency. The Pan-Territorial Adaptation Partnership consists of the Governments of Yukon, Northwest Territories and Nunavut working together on climate change adaptation as a result of the Pan-Territorial Adaptation Strategy.
Video podcasts of all presentations including a keynote address by Sheila Watt-Cloutier as well as pdf copies of presentations are available at: http://www.northernadaptation.ca/news/pan-territorial-permafrost-workshop-webcast-available.
Further details of the Pan-Territorial Adaptation Partnership is available at: http://www.northernadaptation.ca/.
Northern Infrastructure Standardization Initiative
Another important activity involving scientists, engineers and practitioners is the development of standards addressing climate change impact on infrastructure in Canada’s far north. This initiative includes the development of four standards and is part of part of the Standards Council of Canada’s Northern Infrastructure Standardization Initiative and is coordinated by the Canadian Standards Association. Two of these standards have direct links to permafrost. The first is “Buildings in Permafrost Supported on Thermosyphon Foundations” which is chaired by Don Hayley. Public review of the draft standard was conducted at the end of 2013. The draft standard on “Moderating the effects of permafrost degradation on existing structures” is currently being revised by a Committee chaired by Toni Lewkowicz and will be publicly reviewed in early 2014.
Government of Northwest Territories Permafrost Scientist
In 2013, the Department of Industry, Tourism and Infrastructure, Government of Northwest Territories (GNWT) established a Permafrost Scientist Position at the NWT Geoscience Office. This position has been filled by Dr. Steve Kokelj, formerly of Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development Canada (AANDC) in Yellowknife. The position was created in response to the growing need for up to date knowledge on permafrost conditions in the NWT. The aim of the position is to enhance the knowledge of permafrost in the NWT and direct research to meet the needs of the people and the Government of NWT, with emphasis on landscape change, permafrost-infrastructure interactions and sustainable communities. Another major objective is to strengthen partnerships with other government departments, including the Geological Survey of Canada at Natural Resources Canada (NRCan), academic researchers and practitioners. A brief description of current research projects is provided below.
Terrain hazards and permafrost conditions in the Peel Plateau – This project is coordinated by Steve Kokelj and supported by the NWT Cumulative Impact Monitoring Program, Department of Transport and NSERC. Permafrost conditions are being investigated in the Peel Plateau with a focus on the Dempster Highway and the geomorphic and environmental effects of large thaw slumps (see photos) now common throughout the region. These “mega slumps” are discussed in a recent paper by Kokelj et al. (2013) in Journal of Geophysical Research. Contributors include: Trevor Lantz and Harneet Gill (MSc) (University of Victoria), Brendan Oneill (PhD) and Chris Burn (Carleton University), Alex Brooker (MSc) and Denis Lacelle (University of Ottawa), Rob Fraser (NRCan).
Ground ice conditions along the Inuvik-Tuktoyaktuk Highway (ITH): Kokelj led a synthesis paper describing the regional thermal and ice-wedge conditions in upland terrain between Inuvik and Tuktoyaktuk along the ITH corridor in which an all season road is to be constructed. Contributors include Trevor Lantz (University of Victoria), Steve Wolfe and Peter Morse (NRCan), Julian Kanigan, (AANDC), Ron Coutts (Matrix Solutions) and Chris Burn (Carleton).
Mapping the distribution of thaw slump sensitive terrain: The NWT Geoscience Office in partnership with University of Victoria, and several GNWT departments have utilized an online interactive mapping tool developed by the NWT Centre for Geomatics to document the distribution of thaw slumps across northwestern Canada. Over 1.2 million km2 of terrain was assessed across the NWT, Yukon and western Nunavut. The map of slumps is also a surrogate for the spatial distribution of ice-cored terrain. NWT Geoscience Office will share the final product with NRCan and this may be utilized as a basis to improve the Permafrost Map of Canada.
The NWT Geoscience Office is also collaborating with NRCan on a project in the Great Slave region led by Steve Wolfe of the Geological Survey of Canada. This project provides essential information on permafrost to inform infrastructure development and to understand permafrost changes in a warming climate.
Figure 1. Photos of mega slumps in the Peel Plateau NWT. These slumps cover about 40 ha and have a headwall about 25 m high. (Photos courtesy of Steve Kokelj, NWT Geoscience Office).
A Homeowner’s Guide to Permafrost in Nunavut is a plain language guide (released in 2013) providing information and suggestions for homeowners to help maintain permafrost under their homes. The guide was developed by the Government of Nunavut Department of Environment Climate Change Section. A similar guide for NWT is currently under development and is being led by GNWT Environment and Natural Resources (ENR) Climate Change with support through the NRCan Regional Adaptation Cooperative. The Nunavut Guide is available at: http://www.climatechangenunavut.ca/en/resources/news/homeowners-guide-permafrost-nunavut-just-released.
GNWT ENR is leading several other projects foucussed on climate change vulnerability. The Centre for Geomatics leading a project to monitor, map and predict the effects of ground movements (heave and subsidence), associated with freezing and thawing ground, in NWT communities using RADARSAT differential Interferometry Synthetic Aperture Radar (DInSAR) methodologies. Public Works and Government Services is developing tools to evaluate the risk to building foundations associated with thawing permafrost. ENR is conducting a climate change vulnerability assessment to evaluate risk to hazardous waste in Beaufort Delta/High Arctic communities focussing on the impacts of slumping, coastal erosion and permafrost thaw. Information from the risk assessment will be utilized to inform prioritization of waste for removal and other management practices. The NWT Hazard Identification and Risk Assessment (HIRA), led by GNWT Municipal and Community Affairs, will provide guidance for risk assessment for natural, technological and human-caused climate change hazards. HIRA will identify potential hazards, such as permafrost thaw, in a region and assess the probability of occurrence and likely impact in order to inform development of mitigation strategies and support emergency and climate change adaptation planning. A terrain mapping project conducted through the Prince of Wales Northern Heritage Centre, is developing a vulnerability index tool for climate change-induced threats to community heritage resources in the Gwich’in Settlement Area. A GIS-based predictive model integrates spatial data on retrogressive thaw slumps, sacred sites, Gwich’in toponyms, traditional land use, archaeological sites, and landscape variables.
The Yukon Government and Yukon Research Centre (YRC) are also leading a number of research projects focussing on permafrost and climate change. The Vulnerability of the North Alaska Highway to Climate Change project is led by the Department of Transportation and Public Works and coordinated by YRC with collaborators from the University of Alberta and Montreal. The project examines the potential sensitivity of permafrost along the northern 200 km of the Alaska Highway, from Destruction Bay to the Yukon/Alaska border, to present and future climate variability. Geophysical data, geotechnical reports, highway maintenance records, air photos, and other readily available information will be combined with field investigations to identify thaw-sensitive permafrost underlying the highway and to develop a thaw sensitivity vulnerability map. YRC is also leading a project aimed at enhancing the resiliency of the transportation and mining sectors to changes in permafrost. The project involves several partners and focusses on development of knowledge products that transfer permafrost information to industry decision makers. Further information on these projects can be found at: http://www.yukoncollege.yk.ca/research/project.
Report prepared by Sharon Smith, Canadian National Committee for the International Permafrost Association (Sharon.Smith@NRCan-RNCan.gc.ca)