The Canadian permafrost community has been very active over the past year. Plans are underway for the 7th Canadian Permafrost Conference to be held with the 68th Canadian Geotechnical Society Annual Conference in Quebec, September 20-23 2015. Many Canadian permafrost researchers will also participate in the Arctic Change Conference in Ottawa in early December 2014. Highlights from the past year, including reports on a number of permafrost science and engineering projects, are provided below.

J.Ross Mackay. 31 December 1915 - 28 October 2014

Ross Mackay, for several decades the world authority on permafrost, left us peacefully, in his sleep, early in the morning of October 28th. He was 98. A biography of Ross was published in 2006 to celebrate his 90th birthday:

Ross's last field visit to the Mackenzie Delta was in 2011 at age 95. His most recent paper was also published that year in Permafrost and Periglacial Processes. His first field work in the western Arctic was based out of Paulatuk in 1951. The paper published (with coauthor Chris Burn) in 2011 concerned the pingo just west of the community. He had two other manuscripts in preparation, both of which, with Chris' help, we hope to see completed. Ross was the recipient of many awards, most recently the inaugural IPA lifetime achievement award in 2010.

Mountain Permafrost Workshop

From 22–25 October 2014, the workshop "Impacts of permafrost thaw in mountain areas of Canada and beyond" brought together national and international senior experts from academia, industry and government near Whistler, British Columbia. The 30 attendees developed priorities for research and knowledge transfer related to permafrost and permafrost thaw in Canadian and other mountain environments. A workshop report will be made available at The workshop received support from the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada (NSERC), BGC Engineering Inc., the British Columbia Ministry of Forests, Lands and Natural Resource Operations, and Carleton University.

Northern Infrastructure Standardization Initiative

The Standards Council of Canada's Northern Infrastructure Standardization Initiative, coordinated by the Canadian Standards Association Canada, continues the development of standards addressing climate change impacts on permafrost and northern infrastructure. CSA S500, "Buildings in Permafrost Supported on Thermosyphon Foundations" (chaired by Don Hayley) was published Sept. 2014. CSA S501 "Moderating the effects of permafrost degradation on existing building foundations", chaired by Toni Lewkowicz, has been publicly reviewed with release expected by end of 2014. A standard on drainage around foundations in permafrost is also under development.

New and upcoming publications

Geocryology Book

In 2012, Emeritus Professor Stuart Harris (University of Calgary) and Professor Anatoli Brouchkov (Chair, Department of Geocryology, Moscow State University) identified the need to summarize the current state of knowledge of Geocryology, and address the lack of a good summary of permafrost landforms. They agreed to write a book in three parts summarizing the major findings in the vast literature published in Russian, Chinese, English, and other languages. Part 1 describes the characteristics and distribution of permafrost, while Part 2 deals with the main landforms. Part 3 will discuss the development and use of permafrost areas, which is becoming of great economic importance, particularly in Siberia and China. Academician Cheng Guodong joined in the writing after Part 1 was largely completed, supplying information from the literature published in Chinese. The first two parts are essentially completed in English, while Part 3 is still being written. It is intended to publish the results in the three languages if possible as both printed and e-book versions.

Last Permafrost Maximum

Hugh French (Emeritus Professor, University of Ottawa), in collaboration with Jeff Vandenberghe (Vrije Universiteit, Amsterdam), co-edited a special issue of Boreas (Vol. 43, 3) containing the results of the IPA Action Group, 2012-2014, led by Vandenberghe on the Last Permafrost Maximum (LPM, 25-17 ka BP). A summary paper (Vandenberghe et al, 2014) presents a map of the extent of permafrost in the Northern Hemisphere at this time and another (French and Millar, 2014) summarises the extent of permafrost in North America at the time of the Last Glacial Maximum (LPM, 18-22 ka BP). French and Vandenberghe are now assisting a new IPA Action Group led by Huijun Jin (China) that aims to define more precisely the extent of Pleistocene permafrost in central and eastern Asia.


Vandenberghe, J., French, H. M., Gorbunov, A., Marchenko, S., Velichko, A.A., Jin, H., Cui, Z., Zhang, T., Wan, X., 2014. The Last Permafrost maximum (LPM) map of the Northern Hemisphere permafrost extent and mean annual air temperatures, 25-17 ka BP. Boreas, 43, 652-667.

French, H. M., Millar, S. W. S., 2014. Permafrost at the time of the Last Glacial Maximum (LGM) in North America. Boreas, 43, 667-677.

News from the Cold Regions Geotechnology Division

The Cold Regions Geotechnology Division of the Canadian Geotechnical Society (CGS) has had an active year and continues to move forward with initiatives aimed at increasing its visibility. The mandate of the Division is to promote and facilitate the advancement, exchange and transfer of knowledge, skills and experience in the field of Cold Regions Geotechnology for the benefit of its members and the profession.

The Roger J.E. Brown Award is presented bi-annually to an individual(s) for publishing the best paper on permafrost science or engineering in the Canadian Geotechnical Journal, Canadian Journal of Earth Sciences or Proceedings of national or international conferences, or to honour an individual for his/her excellence in the field of permafrost. This year's winners are Isabelle de Grandpré, Daniel Fortier, and Eva Stephani for their paper entitled "Degradation of permafrost beneath a road embankment enhanced by heat advected in groundwater" published in the Canadian Journal of Earth Sciences in 2012. The award was presented at GeoRegina2014 – the 67th CGS Annual Conference in Regina, Saskatchewan.

An International Short Course on Permafrost Engineering: Effective Design and Construction in Permafrost Regions was successfully run at the University of Alberta from December 5-10, 2013. It was attended by about 30 participants. The next Short Course is being planned for April 2015.

The Engineering Institute of Canada is organizing the 4th Climate Change Technology Conference in Montréal, Québec (May 25-27, 2015) with CGS as one of the participating organizers. The Cold Regions Geotechnology Division is actively participating in the organization of the 7th Canadian Permafrost Conference in Quebec in September 2015, by working with the Local Organizing Committee and contributing to special sessions on permafrost engineering and technology.

Government of Nunavut (GN) - Permafrost Community Meetings in Arviat Nunavut

Community engagement activities held in Arviat, Nunavut August 25 to 29, 2014 allowed relevant stakeholders, to gather and share information on how permafrost is changing in Arviat. Discussions focused on how infrastructure is affected by changing permafrost and the influence on current and future community development. These activities engaged community members, including the Hamlet of Arviat, local businesses, the housing sector, elders, and youth. The consultations are part of a larger GN led project to map the suitability of land for future development in seven Nunavut communities. The overall goal is to consider climate change impacts on communities and to develop adaptation measures.



The GN worked with the following project partners:

• Memorial University of Newfoundland (MUN) through ArcticNet: provided ground truthing through geotechnical and drilling exercise

• Nunavut Tunggavik Incorporated (NTI): contributed to youth activities and provided insight into research in Nunavut

• The Arviat Wellness Centre: Provided on-site coordination, including hosting a community information night, producing a mini documentary about the project, and conducting a permafrost knowledge survey with community members

Contact: Sara Holzman, Climate Change Program Specialist, Government of Nunavut's Department of Environment. For more information, please visit:

Geophysical and remote sensing applications for permafrost and infrastructure, Iqaluit

Natural Resources Canada (A.-M. Leblanc, G. Oldenborger of the Geological Survey of Canada and N. Short, Canada Centre for Mapping and Earth Observation), in collaboration with the Canada-Nunavut Geoscience Office, and Centre d'études Nordiques (Université Laval), is conducting research to better characterize permafrost conditions and to investigate active permafrost processes in the area of Iqaluit and at the Iqaluit International Airport. A suite of geophysical data have been collected from winter 2012 along a selected taxiway section at the airport in order to characterize the seasonal changes in ice and unfrozen water content. This innovative experiment includes time-lapse monitoring with one permanent electrical resistivity array and two boreholes equipped with thermistors, electrodes, and dielectric sensors. Preliminary results indicate that subsurface temperature fluctuations may result in significant ice formation near the base of the seasonal thaw layer and changes in unfrozen moisture content in the permafrost. Continued monitoring will help to better understand the active processes. Differential Interferometric Synthetic Aperture Radar (D-InSAR) has been applied in the Iqaluit area to map seasonal ground displacement during four consecutive summers. Results show that the D-InSAR derived seasonal ground displacement patterns align well with surficial geology units and reflect the thaw settlement characteristics of the sediments; localised displacement patterns in the vicinity of features such as ice wedges have also been identified with D-InSAR. Although D-InSAR is rapidly gaining acceptance as a source of ground displacement information for permafrost regions, the accuracy of the information is still not well established. One of the objectives is to quantitatively evaluate D-InSAR measurements of seasonal ground displacement over permafrost terrain, using ground truth data sources. Results suggest that D-InSAR ground displacement accuracy is not uniform over large areas. The true ground settlement is significantly under-estimated in areas with flooded vegetation whereas the accuracy for dry areas is in sub-centimetre agreement. The geophysical and remote sensing components of this project provide baseline information on the current and evolving permafrost conditions in Iqaluit and contribute to better understanding of permafrost processes that influence stability and degradation of land-based infrastructure.

Université Montreal, Geocryolab Studies

Geocryolab's studies (directed by Dr. Daniel Fortier) focus on the dynamics of permafrost biogeosystems. Field work was conducted across a latitudinal transect spanning four typical permafrost settings.

1. Polar desert - Ward Hunt Island, Nunavut

Collaborative studies of the NEIGE project (Northern Ellesmere Island in the Global Environment, W.F. Vincent, ULaval) concerning periglacial mass movements and watershed geochemistry have been conducted around Ward Hunt Lake on the northern coast of Ellesmere Island. These studies are linking watershed organization and processes with the benthic ecosystems and physical characteristic of Canada's northernmost lake (M. Paquette, PhD student, M. Verpaelst, MSc student).


Figure 2. Water tracks, sorted stripes and solifluction lobes on the slopes of Ward Hunt Lake.

2. Continuous permafrost – Bylot Island, Nunavut

Permafrost degradation dynamics are being investigated in the eastern Canadian Arctic archipelago, including assessment of the impacts of gullying on wetlands, where runoff infiltration in ice wedges is leading to rapidly enlarging gullies. The studies focused on fluxes of energy and matter during and after thermal erosion processes in ice-wedge terrains, especially on positive feedbacks accelerating permafrost degradation and negative feedbacks promoting permafrost recovery (E. Godin, PhD student, A. Veillette, MSc student) and shrub colonization (M. Tremblay, MSc student, co-sup. E. Lévesque, UQTR). Permafrost degradation under aquatic systems and how it affects carbon cycle dynamics, especially GHG emissions, was also studied (F. Bouchard, postdoctoral researcher, V. Preskienis, PhD student, co-sup. I. Laurion INRS-ETE).  Other projects are examining: the effects of permafrost degradation on the nesting ecology and breeding of the rough-legged hawk (A. Beardsell, MSc student, co-sup. G. Gauthier, ULaval); and the vulnerability of arctic fox dens to active layer deepening (F. Lapierre-Poulin, MSc student, co-sup. D. Berteaux, UQAR). S. Coulombe (PhD student) studied the cryostratigraphic signature and physicochemical properties of buried glacier ice to better understand the impact of its degradation on landscape evolution.


Figure 3. Actively eroding thermo-erosion gully, Bylot Island (Photo: E. Godin)

3. Discontinous permafrost – southern Yukon Territory

Work in the Yukon focused on the characterization of ice-rich and carbon-rich Pleistocene yedoma deposits (L. Lapointe-Elmrabti, MSc student, co-sup. J. Talbot, UofMontreal). The Beaver Creek test site was utilized as a platform to study the degradation of this type of thaw-sensitive permafrost in response to changes in the hydrogeological and thermal regimes (M. Sliger, MSc student, J. Malenfant-Lepage, PhD student, co-sup. G. Doré ULaval). The vulnerability of permafrost in Yukon communities (Dawson, Faro, Ross River and Old Crow) to climate change was studied in collaboration with the Yukon Research Centre.


Figure 4. Permafrost core - Old Crow, Yukon

4. Sporadic mountain permafrost - southern Québec.

The parameters controlling the thermal regime of the ground surface were investigated in the Chic-Chocs range (G. Davesne, MSc student). Mt Jacques-Cartier's permafrost was used to illustrate how climate change affected the spatio-temporal evolution of this marginal alpine permafrost body over the last 35 years and to simulate its near future evolution using numerical modeling approaches.

Collaborative Research in the Northwest Territories

Steve Kokelj and Kumari Karunaratne of the NWT Geoscience office (NTGO) have been involved in collaborative research with several Universities, Federal science agencies and Territorial Departments to advance permafrost studies and knowledge of environmental geosciences in NWT. The distribution of thaw slumps has been mapped across a 1, 300, 000 km2 area of northwestern Canada through collaboration with University of Victoria (Trevor Lantz) and Territorial Government Agencies (NWT Centre for Geomatics, Prince of Wales Heritage Centre). A grid-based mapping technique was used to identify areas where retrogressive thaw slumping is prevalent. The project provides a quantitative basis for re-evaluating the distribution of ice-cored permafrost terrain and assessment of the sensitivity of northern landscapes to climate change. The results, including the map data and metadata, are being published as a NTGO open file and will be available through the NWT Discovery Portal. NTGO has worked closely with Lantz and his students to map the distribution of ice-wedges and polygonal terrain along the Inuvik-Tuktoyaktuk Highway (ITH). The ITH is a major infrastructure project entering into the second season of construction.

NTGO has coordinated permafrost studies on the Peel Plateau, which involve collaboration with University of Ottawa (Denis Lacelle), Canadian Centre for Remote Sensing (Rob Fraser), Carleton University (Brendan O'Neill) and University of Victoria (Trevor Lantz). The multidisciplinary research has: 1) Advanced the development of remote sensing tools to better map the distribution and development of large thaw slumps prevalent on the Peel Plateau; 2) investigated the environmental and geomorphic impacts of these large disturbances; 3) assessed permafrost ground thermal conditions along the Dempster Highway; and 4) documented road dust, shrub and snow feedbacks resulting shrub proliferation and permafrost warming adjacent to the road embankment.

NTGO is collaborating with Natural Resources Canada (NRCan, Steve Wolfe) and Wilfred Laurier University (Jennifer Baltzer) to evaluate permafrost –ecological relationships in the North Slave region (see below). Research in the region will gain momentum in 2015 with a CANNor funded surficial drilling program that will support assessment of permafrost, geotechnical and ground thermal conditions in this region of infrastructure and resource development interest. Participants include Canada Research Chair, Stephan Gruber and his students from Carleton University, NRCan (Wolfe) and Kokelj and Karunaratne of NTGO.

Sub-arctic permafrost research in the Great Slave Region

An extensive collaborative network between NTGO, NRCan's Geological Survey of Canada and Canada Centre for Remote Sensing, Carleton University, University of Ottawa and Wilfred Laurier University have undertaken research on permafrost at the discontinuous-continuous permafrost boundary of the northern Great Slave Lake region NWT, in relation to landscape sensitivities, climate change and infrastructure issues. Papers published this year include the occurrence of extensive ice-rich terrain (lithalsas) within the Great Slave Lowlands in Geomorphology; modelling and mapping of permafrost change in The Cryosphere; and detection of landscape changes in high latitude environments using Landsat trend analysis in Remote Sensing. Several theses are presently investigating the origins of ice-rich terrain, seasonal development of winter overland ice (aufeis), sub-surface material properties and improved spatial sampling of permafrost and related environmental information (Carleton University), and the occurrence and ecological relations of near-surface ground ice (Wilfred Laurier University). This research has considerable application, given notable climate warming trends, warm permafrost temperatures, and implications for extensive community and industry infrastructure in this region. Contact: Stephen Wolfe, Geological Survey of Canada, NRCan

Graduate research at Carleton University

Adrian Gaanderse has just completed a Master's degree in Geography at Carleton University evaluating ground ice conditions in lithalsas near Yellowknife, under the supervision of S. Wolfe, C. Burn, and S. Kokelj. His project examined the geomorphic origins of a 700-metre long lithalsa; one of over 1700 newly recognized mineral permafrost mounds throughout the Great Slave Lowlands. The lithalsa is adjacent to Highway 3 near Yellowknife, where ongoing highway subsidence is being monitored.


Figure 5. Lithalsa along Highway 3

Lithalsas in the Great Slave Lowlands were formed in glaciolacustrine clay deposits of Glacial Lake McConnell. The stratigraphy of the lithalsa, described through a series of boreholes drilled to 8.4 m depth was of domed sediment layers. Segregated ice lenses, some tilted and up to 24 cm thick, were layered between the clays below 4 metres, suggesting that ice at depth is responsible for the lithalsa's raised topography. δ18O values from ice within the lithalsa indicated modern water sources for the ice lenses. Radiocarbon dates indicate that lithalsa formation began within the last 400 years. Degradation of ice-rich lithalsas throughout the region is a likely contributor to local subsidence-related issues, especially along Highway 3, which was realigned before the significance of these mounds had been recognized.

Inuvik to Tuktoyaktuk Highway (ITH) -A Mega Project in Arctic Permafrost Construction

The Government of Canada and the Government of the Northwest Territories are collaborating on an exciting and challenging project which is to construct a 145 km extension of the National Highway System to Canada's arctic coast. This unique infrastructure project will be completed over a permafrost rich environment, challenging the engineers, technicians, and operators. Much work was done during the pre-engineering phase to determine best practices, maximizing the design and evaluating innovative highway construction techniques aimed at addressing the difficult permafrost conditions.


The ice rich terrain beneath the ITH is unlike any other in the world. Permafrost underlies the full length of the highway alignment and significant thermal analyses were considered in designing the highway embankment, bridge structures and alignment. Permafrost monitoring is incorporated in the construction and maintenance plans. The unique features of this project location, including ice polygons and pingos, present the opportunity to employ innovative construction techniques complementing current permafrost research initiatives in progress across the Canadian Arctic and around the world. The unique site condition also lends itself to significant research opportunities and the Government of the NWT (GNWT) and Transport Canada (TC) are keen to introduce scientific research into the project. At the moment the GNWT and TC group have two major research projects under review to include: a section of a deep fill embankment employing a geosynthetic reinforced soil (GRS) technique and a section of the highway employing a bank of high density polyethylene (HDPE) pipes in lieu of a large culvert structure. The project team hopes to install and instrument these projects in March 2015. The proposed experiments will evaluate the effectiveness and feasibility of technical options for different environments encountered along the ITH. The project spans a range of physical environments and climate zones so that results will inform embankment, right-of-way management and water course crossing construction options for a broad range of northern roads to be used elsewhere.

The Project is now into its second year of the major construction program with completion estimated in 2018. The majority of the embankment construction takes place in winter to preserve a frozen core of the roadbed. Minimum embankment height varies from 1.6m to 2m depending on the results of the thermal analysis and the region the section of highway is located.

The ITH is the first leg of the Mackenzie Valley Highway, a key priority for the GNWT. This project is generating economic and social opportunities for the region. When complete, it will decrease the cost of living in Tuktoyaktuk by enabling goods to be shipped year-round by road, increase opportunities for business development, reduce the cost of job-creating onshore oil and gas exploration, and strengthen Canada's sovereignty to the North.

This major project greatly contributes to the creation, growth and competitive capacity of NWT businesses. Maximizing economic benefits to Northwest Territories businesses, offering opportunities for economic diversification, and training and development for residents and businesses are key goals for the GNWT.

The GNWT's commitment to environmental sustainability is a key part of this project, and the planning involved years of research, study, and analysis. Healthy northerners depend on a healthy environment. This project is being managed to address residents', contractors', and regulatory bodies' requirements.

An all-weather highway through the Mackenzie Valley to the Arctic Coast has been a strategic priority for the federal government since the 1950s. The envisioned Mackenzie Valley Highway will be the final link connecting our nation from coast to coast to coast and will open up countless opportunities for the people of the region, unlocking Northern potential and reducing the cost of living.

The project is being managed according to the GNWT's commitments to socially responsible and environmentally sustainable development. As the northern-most segment of the envisioned Mackenzie Valley Highway, it will strengthen and diversify the NWT economy, unlocking its resource potential and improving mobility and opportunities throughout the territory.

Contact: Kevin McLeod P. Eng., Project Director

For further details see and follow the links for the ITH.


Report prepared by Sharon Smith, Canadian National Committee for the International Permafrost Association (