The Canadian Permafrost Community has much to report this year. A key highlight was the 7th Canadian Conference on Permafrost (CanCoP7) held jointly with the 68th Canadian Geotechnical Conference at GEOQuebec and was co-sponsored by the Canadian National Committee for the International Permafrost Association (CNC-IPA) and the Canadian Geotechnical Society. CanCoP7 was dedicated to the memory of J. Ross Mackay and also featured the inaugural Mackay lecture. An entire day was devoted to the Mackay Symposium which featured presentations by our international colleagues as well as Canadians. We were also pleased that a number of students were able to attend. An article in Frozen Ground provides more details on the conference. Other highlights from the past year including reports on a number of permafrost science and engineering projects are provided below.
News from the Cold Regions Geotechnology Division
The Cold Regions Geotechnology Division (CRGD) of the Canadian Geotechnical Society (CGS) has 87 first choice members and 235 second choice members this year. The Division’s membership has had a steady increase since the last three years (66, 71 and 87 first choice members for 2013, 2014 and 2015 respectively).
CRGD provided strong support to the 68th CGS Conference and the 7th Canadian Permafrost Conference, Québec City, QC, Sept. 20 - 23, 2015. The Division actively participated in contacting the potential authors for contributions to the conference and the review of the abstracts and manuscripts.
CRGD is participating in the development of a National Standards of Canada on Geotechnical Site Investigations for Building Foundations in Permafrost (CAN/BNQ 2501-500) lead by BNQ, an initiative of the Standard Council of Canada. The document is planned to be published in 2017. The Division’s executive members (Lukas Arenson and Baolin Wang) are on the board of the Technical Committee for the development of the Standards.
CRGD is currently working on sponsoring a young engineer/scientist/student to attend the 5th Canadian Young Geotechnical Engineers & Geoscientists Conference, Whistler, BC, September 29 – October 1, 2016. The Division is also planning on sponsoring a young engineer/scientist/student to attend the XI International Conference on Permafrost (ICOP 2016), Potsdam, Germany, June 20-24, 2016.
Contact: Baolin Wang, Geological Survey of Canada, Natural Resources Canada
News from the Territories
NWT Geological Survey
The NWT Geological Survey has been engaged in several mapping projects in northwestern NWT delineating both the broad and fine-scale distribution of thaw slump and thermokarst disturbance. The results indicate both significant increases in rates and magnitude of landscape change in ice-rich glaciogenic deposits, and a general association between slump impacted and glaciogenic terrain. Collaborators on this work include University of Victoria (T. Lantz), University of Ottawa (D. Lacelle) and University of Auckland (J. Tunnicliffe).
A project in partnership with Canada Centre for Remote Sensing researchers Rob Fraser and Ian Olthof is testing new image acquisition and processing techniques using UAV and structure for motion technologies to efficiently develop high resolution digital elevation models of permafrost features, including geomorphic disturbances such as thaw slumps. Promising results suggest that repeat surveys using this technique can resolve downslope movements of only a few cm.
The NWT Geological Survey is leading a Canadian Northern Economic Development Agency (CanNor) funded program in collaboration with Carleton University researcher Stephan Gruber that involves assessing ground ice conditions, geochemistry and ground temperatures in the Slave Geological Province. NWT Geological Survey is actively collaborating in the TRACS program led by the Geological Survey of Canada (S. Wolfe and P. Morse) with focus on improving the ground temperature data collection across treeline in this economically important region of the NWT.
The NWT Geological Survey is also working with the Geological Survey of Canada (P.Morse and S.Smith) to improve the reporting, organization and archiving of permafrost ground temperature data and metadata. The project has engaged several Canadian permafrost scientists and northern engineers, and once refined, it will provide a template to compile existing ground temperature data from the NWT and will be encouraged for future use by the Government of the Northwest Territories via government contracting, the regulatory process and scientific licensing.
Contact: Steve Kokelj, NWT Geological Survey
Yukon Research Centre (YRC)
Hazards mapping in Yukon communities
The Northern Climate ExChange (led by B. Benkert, YRC) and its partners, including the Yukon Geological Survey (J. Bond), U of Montreal (D. Fortier) and U of Ottawa (A. Lewkowicz), and Yukon communities and First Nations, continued hazard mapping activities for Yukon communities. Maps, which integrate permafrost vulnerability to thaw, have been completed for Mayo, Pelly, Destruction Bay, Burwash Landing, Dawson City, Faro and Ross River. A hazard map for Old Crow will be completed by March 2016. Reports and maps can be found at:
Funding for these projects is provided by Indigenous and Northern Affairs Canada.
Assessing Risks from Permafrost Thaw for Buildings in Ross River, Yukon
Using funding from Natural Resources Canada, Northern Climate ExChange (led by F. Calmels, YRC) has conducted a two-year study to evaluate the risks from permafrost thaw to key Yukon Government owned buildings in the community of Ross River. Part of this community is situated on warm, ice-rich permafrost. There is a history of substantial damage to buildings from thawing permafrost, and this damage is anticipated to increase in the context of climate change. The project has identified a range of adaptation measures that are intended to slow permafrost thaw and stabilize the foundations of the structures. Many of these practices will have relevance in other communities across the North. The project will be completed in January 2016.
Vulnerability of the North Alaska Highway to Permafrost Thaw
This project examined 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. The research team (led by F. Calmels, YRC) identified and characterized sensitive permafrost areas underlying the highway, and estimated the potential impacts of climate variability and change on thaw-sensitive permafrost. Findings culminated in the development of a permafrost thaw sensitivity vulnerability map and handbook (pictured below) for use by maintenance workers, engineers and decision-makers working on the highway. This report can be accessed at:
A fourth year of the project is devoted to collecting detailed information for specific sites along the highway in collaboration with Université Laval (G. Doré). The new acquired knowledge will allow design of adapted road sections that will contribute to maintenance of cold enough conditions underneath the highway to promote permafrost stability. The project, funded by Yukon Government and Indigenous and Northern Affairs Canada, will end in March 2016.
Costing Adaptation for Community Infrastructure in Northern Canada
The Northern Climate ExChange (led by A. Perrin, YRC) is working with Memorial University (T. Bell), the International Institute for Sustainable Development (J. Dion), the Hamlet of Arviat and the Vuntut Gwitchin First Nation to create maps that reveal the financial costs and benefits of adaptation choices for community infrastructure, including housing, to climate change and permafrost thaw. The goal is to provide maps that aid northern communities affected by permafrost thaw in making effective and efficient infrastructure choices. The project will focus on two northern communities, Old Crow, YT and Arviat, NU, and will build on existing hazard maps to develop a methodology and tools that can be applied throughout the Arctic and sub-Arctic. This project is funded by the Canadian Northern Economic Development Agency and will be completed by June 2016.
Human Dimensions of a Thawing Landscape
The Northern Climate ExChange (led by F. Calmels and A. Perrin, YRC) is working with the University of Saskatchewan (G. Strickert), the Yukon School of Visual Arts (C. Collins), the Jean Marie River First Nation and the Vuntut Gwitchin First Nation to study how traditional land uses are affected by climate change and permafrost thaw. The research will explore ways to combine biophysical and social science products to meet the needs of northern communities and identify adaptation strategies in response to a thawing landscape. This project is being conducted with funding from the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council and will be completed in June 2018.
Contact: Bronwyn Benkert, Yukon Research Centre
Yukon Department of Transportation and Public Works
Collaborative research is continuing between the Yukon Dept. of Transportation and its academic partners and the Yukon Research Centre. Many of these projects are supported through the Transport Canada Northern Transportation Adaptation Initiative. Projects include assessments of vulnerability of highway infrastructure (including Alaska Highway) to climate change, a monitoring study at the Beaver Creek test site, assessment of the feasibility of remote sensing techniques to monitor ground movements and establishment of baseline data collection sites and assessment of permafrost response to climate warming.
Contact: Muhammed Idrees, Yukon Government, Dept. of Transportation and Public Works
Government of Nunavut
The Government of Nunavut’s Climate Change Section is developing a centralized Permafrost Databank that will house permafrost data for Nunavut by 2016. This databank will make permafrost data, in its various forms, more accessible to practitioners. The major components of the project include collecting permafrost temperature data from various sources (including governments, academia, and industry) and integrating it into an online interface. This databank is being designed for user-friendly accessibility and is intended for Nunavut researchers, government and community decision makers, as well as the general public. Due to the varied formats and sources of data, the databank will be developed as a geo-referenced map, linking to other online forums that contain key permafrost data, publications, or references. It will be located on the Nunavut Climate Change Centre’s website, www.climatechangenunavut.ca. This project is not intended to duplicate existing work or databases, but rather to compile and centralize these sources into one centralized location. If you have permafrost data for Nunavut that you would like to have included in the databank, please contact the Climate Change Section at email@example.com.
Contact: Sara Holzman, Department of Environment, Government of Nunavut
ARQULUK Engineering Research Program – Laval University
The ARQULUK engineering research program at Laval University, Québec, focuses on the development of cost-effective solutions to adapt the design and the management of transportation infrastructure built on permafrost. It aims to improve current adaptive capacities, by developing expertise for the mitigation of permafrost instability.
Until now, the program has provided a calculation tool to assess the effect of albedo on the surface temperatures of pavements, and a core-barrel that performs in-situ thaw consolidation tests. In the coming months, the program will also provide a gravimetric method to detect buried massive ice and ice-rich permafrost, a profile analysis tool to locate permafrost degradation under paved embankments, a better understanding of creep behavior in marginally frozen soils, a thermal stabilization procedure for paved structures using high albedo surfacing material, and a design tool that considers the accumulation of snow along an embankment.
Figure 3. High albedo material test site, Alaska Highway, Yukon.
Figure 4. Core-barrel prototype for in-situ thaw consolidation testing.
Additional projects carried out by Arquluk consist of the development of a quantitative risk analysis tool for linear infrastructure on permafrost, a methodology for the design of low-impact drainage systems and a decision tool for mitigation and adaptation techniques.
ARQULUK is a Cooperative Research and Development Program, financed by NSERC and 12 partners from public and private sectors: Kativik Regional Government, Ouranos, Transports Québec, Yukon College Research Center and Cold Climate and Innovation Center, Yukon Highways and Public Works, Colas, GHD, Kryotek Arctic Innovation, Nippo, Tetra Tech EBA, WSP.
Contact: Guy Doré and Chantal Lemieux
Laval University, Department of Civil and Water Engineering, Québec
Chris Burn has maintained a field program in Yukon and western Arctic Canada, studying permafrost response to climate change in this region. Recent emphases have been on stability of transportation infrastructure underlain by permafrost, and carbon capture by soils in the western Arctic. Chris organized a symposium at the 7th Canadian Permafrost Conference to honour the work and memory of J. Ross Mackay. Eighteen papers were presented at the symposium, and are available upon request. A commemorative issue of PPP is also in preparation, to be published in 2017.
The Carleton permafrost group holds a weekly 1.5 hour seminar, regularly attended also by Geological Survey of Canada scientists. Contributions to the Canadian Permafrost Conference (6 to 8 page papers) by members of the seminar are available on the internet at: http://carleton.ca/permafrost/canadian-permafrost-conference/
Marcus Phillips (supervisor: C.R. Burn) is a Ph.D. student working to investigate organic matter in soils affected by the burial mechanisms of cryoturbation, alluvial sedimentation, and solifluction. His work will elucidate how these processes influence the depth distribution and bioavailability of organic matter in permafrost-affected soils of the Mackenzie Delta region.
Figure 5. Marcus Phillips and Chris Burn retrieve a core from Garry Island, NWT
Brendan O’Neill (supervisor: C.R. Burn) is a Ph.D. student studying the thermal regime of permafrost on Peel Plateau, Northwest Tertritories, and the effects of infrastructure on permafrost stability in the region.
Alice Wilson (supervisors: C.R. Burn, E. Humphreys) is working on her MSc thesis about the vegetation succession and subsequent carbon storage at Illisarvik, a drained thaw lake basin on Richards Island, western Arctic coast, NWT. This research will assess the vegetation productivity and soil carbon storage since drainage of the lake in 1978, to improve understanding of the Arctic carbon balance.
Andrée-Anne Laforce (supervisors: C. Burn, E. Humphreys) is working on her MSc thesis on the relevance of permafrost characteristics on summer carbon dioxide and methane emissions from an undisturbed tundra soil and a drained lake basin. Radiocarbon dating of the gas fluxes is planned to understand the source of carbon released from these soils.
Jeffrey Moore (supervisor: C.R. Burn) is in the third year of his M.Sc. degree in Geography at Carleton University in collaboration with Yukon College and Transportation Engineering – Yukon Government. His project revolves around modeling the magnitude of thermal change that will occur as a result of climate change along the Dempster Highway in the Yukon and Northwest Territories.
Wendy Sladen (Geological Survey of Canada) is completing an MSc thesis (supervisor: C. Burn) studying icings that occur near the Tibbitt to Contwoyto winter road, north of Yellowknife, NWT. The study uses time-lapse photography to record the timing and duration of overflows; geochemical analysis to determine the source of the icings; and measurements of snow and air and ground temperature to investigate controlling factors.
Figure 6. a) Augering through lake ice to obtain a water sample for geochemical analysis. b) Measuring snow depth and snow water equivalent to obtain snow density.
Figure 7. Photo of core showing overflow ice overlying frozen peat.
Together with the Northwest Territories Geological Survey, Carleton researchers established a permafrost measurement network in the tundra near Lac des Gras in the Slave Geological Province, N.W.T. in summer 2015. More than 40 sites, each with a borehole (2-12 m deep), have been established in differing terrain types. In many cases core was recovered to support analysis to characterize the contents of ice, organic material, and cation concentration in water. Boreholes were cased and instrumented with thermistor chains and data loggers. At the surface, plots of 15m x 15m have been described in detail, including laser scanning and surveying of terrain elevation as well as the measurement of soil and vegetation properties. More than 220 additional single channel data loggers were installed to characterise near-surface ground and air temperature variability.
Taylor McWade’s Honours thesis (supervision: S. Gruber, P. Morse, S. Wolfe) describes new surficial features, tentatively termed “Eyeliner Slumps”. Her work details a number of morphometric measures for 152 such features identified in the Slave Geological Province near the Ekati Diamond mine.
The MSc thesis of Julia Riddick (supervision: S. Gruber) analyses near-surface temperature variability and its drivers. One month of preliminary data from the Lac de Gras region of the Northwest Territories shows average temperatures within 15m x 15m plots to vary by up to 5ºC, similar in magnitude to the observed variability between plots in differing landscape elements. A full year data set is expected in 2016 and will form the basis of her thesis.
Nick Brown (supervision: S. Gruber) is working on his MSc thesis about methods to invert soil properties from a combination of measured temperature time series and models. The recovery of soil parameters will allow better estimates of the total heat gain and ice loss within the ground to be made for sites where this information is not available through direct observation.
Christian Peart (supervision: S. Gruber) is developing and testing methods for quantifying surface subsidence with terrestrial surveying and laser scanning. The work is focused on quantifying and increasing the accuracy with which the average surface elevation of man-made and natural surfaces can be determined. This is done to make repeated surveys suitable for detecting subsidence as a proxy for subsurface ice loss.
Rupesh Subedi (supervision: S. Gruber, C. Burn, S. Kokelj) is investigating the geochemistry and carbon content of permafrost and active layer soils in the Lac de Gras region, N.W.T. His work extends existing knowledge to a new environment and will contrast vertical geochemical profiles from aggrading and degrading parts of the landscape.
Nicola Colombo (supervision S. Gruber and M. Giardino, Torino, Italy) is pursuing a joint PhD between Carleton University and the University of Turin, Italy. His thesis work investigates the interactions between permafrost and physiochemical characteristics of surface water in the Western Italian Alps. Bin Cao is a visiting scholar from China working on a high-resolution (< 100m) permafrost map in Qilian Mountains focused on the upper reaches of Heihe River Basin, western China.
A laboratory device for the accurate measurement of temperature dependent dielectric spectra in frozen soil is being built by S. Gruber with the support of A. Adler. The instrument will enable better analysis of freezing characteristic curves as well as improved measurement of ice and water content in frozen or thawing soil.
S. Gruber is participating in a pilot study on permafrost in the Hindu-Kush Himalaya (HKH) conducted by the International Centre for Integrated Mountain
Development (ICIMOD), Nepal. Based on a systematic mapping of rock glaciers from Google Earth, a first-order evaluation of permafrost maps for the mountainous part of the HKH has been conducted. While large uncertainties remain in this data-sparse area, the study corroborates the existence of large, and mostly unstudied areas of permafrost in these mountains.
Contact: Chris Burn and Stephan Gruber, Carleton University
Deep Borehole Instrumentation in Nuvavik, QC
Raglan Mine, a Glencore company retained Amec Foster Wheeler Environmental & Infrastructure, a division of Amec Foster Wheeler Americas Ltd. to investigate deep permafrost conditions at the Raglan Mine, located at the northern tip of the Ungava Peninsula in the Province of Québec, about 1,800 kilometers north of Montréal.
Figure 8. Diamond drill exploration rig, Raglan Mine, QC.
The work was part of a combined geomechanical and hydrogeological program to support underground mining to depths of greater than 700 m. The specific objectives included: locating a potential lake talik near a crown pillar area; assessing the potential for groundwater inflows from isolated taliks along fracture zones within and below the permafrost; and an assessment of rock properties to support mining.
The project was awarded in January 2015, and field work was completed in March 2015. To meet the project objectives Amec Foster Wheeler applied its experience in deep rock characterisation to work with Glencore and the equipment supplier (GKM Consultants Inc, Canadian affiliate of Geokon Inc) to develop a field program suitable for winter conditions at a fly in only site in Canada’s subarctic. The executed program included in situ hydraulic permeability testing of the rock mass (packer testing) at the transition zone and below the permafrost, geomechanical characterisation of the rock mass and laboratory core strength testing, and the installations of thermistors and vibrating wire piezometers in two clusters of boreholes up to 750 m deep.
After overcoming some initial challenges, the packer testing and thermistor/vibrating wire installations were successfully completed in two short field campaigns of several weeks in early 2015. Follow-up measurements taken by Glencore show that the instruments continue to provide accurate data about the local ground conditions within and below the permafrost. Further measurements are planned which will provide a multi-year record of ground temperatures through and below the permafrost.
Contacts: Richard Caumartin, Glencore, Eliane Cabot, Amec Foster Wheeler, Stéphane-Éric Thivierge, GKM Consultants
New Publications from the Geological Survey of Canada, Natural Resources Canada
The Geological Survey of Canada, through its publication series, has produced maps, reports and data products that are of interest to the permafrost science and engineering community and also practitioners, governments and decision makers. These publications are available for free download at:
Publications released in 2015 include:
Aden, A.A, Wolfe, S.A., Percival, J.B., Grenier, A. 2015. Characteristics of glacial Lake McConnell clay, Great Slave Lowland, Northwest Territories; Geological Survey of Canada, Current Research (Online) 2015-7.
Couture, N.J., Forbes, D.L., Fraser, P.R., Frobel, D., Jenner, K.A., Manson, G.K., Solomon, S.M., Szlavko, B., Taylor, R.B. 2015. A coastal information system for the southeastern Beaufort Sea, Yukon and Northwest Territories; Geological Survey of Canada, Open File 7778.
Duchesne, C., Smith, S., Ednie, M., and Chartrand, J. 2015. 20 years of active layer monitoring in the Mackenzie Valley, Northwest Territories Geological Survey of Canada, Scientific Presentation SP31.
Ednie, M., and Smith, S.L. 2015. Permafrost temperature data 2008-2014 from community based monitoring sites in Nunavut, Geological Survey of Canada Open File, 7784.
LeBlanc, A.-M., Short, N., Mathon-Dufour, V., Chartrand, J. 2015. DInSAR interannual seasonal surface displacement in permafrost terrain, Iqaluit, Nunavut, Geological Survey of Canada, Open File 7874.
Oldenborger, G.A., LeBlanc, A.-M., Stevens, C.W., Chartrand, J., and Loranger, B. 2015. Geophysical surveys, permafrost conditions and infrastructure damage along the northern Yukon Alaska Highway, Geological Survey of Canada Open File 7875.
Oldenborger, G.A., LeBlanc, A.-M., Sladen, W.E. 2015. Electrical and electromagnetic data for permafrost characterization at Iqaluit International Airport, Nunavut, Geological Survey of Canada, Open File 7750
Smith, S.L., and Ednie, M. 2015. Ground thermal data collection along the Alaska Highway easement (KP 1559-1895) Yukon, summer 2014, Geological Survey of Canada Open File 7762.
Smith, S.L., Chartrand, J., Duchesne, C., and Ednie, M. 2015. Report on 2014 field activities and collection of ground thermal and active layer data in the Mackenzie Corridor, Northwest Territories, Geological Survey of Canada Open File 7935.
Report prepared by Sharon Smith, Canadian National Committee for the International Permafrost Association and Geological Survey of Canada, Natural Resources Canada (Sharon.Smith(at)canada.ca)