Landscape change resulting from permafrost melt in the lower Liard River valley: implications for stream flow in the region
Principal Investigator: Quinton, William L. (16)
Licence Number: 14488
Organization: Dept. Geography, Wilfrid Laurier University
Licenced Year(s): 2016 2015 2014 2013 2012 2011 2010 2009 2008 2007 2006 2005 2004 2003 2001
Issued: Mar 17, 2009
Project Team: Dr. Masaki Hayashi (Computer modelling, University of Calgary), Dr. Robert Schincariol (Laboratory simulations, University of Western Ontario), Dr. Laura Chasmer (Interpretation of satellite and airborne imagery, Wilfrid Laurier University), Mr. Robin Thorne (Equipment Technician, Wilfrid Laurier University)

Objective(s): The objective of this project will examine the energy balance of the seasonally thawed layer (i.e. active layer) that overlies the permafrost in the wetland-dominated region of the lower Liard River valley. Specifically, the following questions will be addressed: 1) What are the major factors (e.g. soil moisture, tree canopy density) controlling the flow of energy into and from the active layer? 2) How do these factors vary over space? 3) What values for these factors are needed to maintain the permafrost? 4) Do ground-based measurements indicate that permafrost melt is occurring? 5) If permafrost melt is suggested by ground measurements, is the same suggested by satellite/aerial images of the region, and if so to what extent?

Project Description: The objective of this project will examine the energy balance of the seasonally thawed layer (i.e. active layer) that overlies the permafrost in the wetland-dominated region of the lower Liard River valley. Specifically, the following questions will be addressed: 1) What are the major factors (e.g. soil moisture, tree canopy density) controlling the flow of energy into and from the active layer? 2) How do these factors vary over space? 3) What values for these factors are needed to maintain the permafrost? 4) Do ground-based measurements indicate that permafrost melt is occurring? 5) If permafrost melt is suggested by ground measurements, is the same suggested by satellite/aerial images of the region, and if so to what extent?

In order to address the objectives stated above, the following measurements will be made at Scotty Creek:

1) Heat flow into the ground over the thaw season at a peat plateau (i.e. a site with permafrost and trees) and at an adjacent bog and linear disturbance (i.e. sites with neither permafrost nor trees) for the period of soil thawing. This will be measured with a graduated steel rod along transects. Measurements will be repeated weekly.

2) Use automatic sensors to measure the balance of heat flow into and out of the ground over the entire year at several points on a peat plateau and at an adjacent bog and linear disturbance. These small portable sensors will be connected to a data logger so that they can be left at the study site over the winter period.

3) Measure the spatial variability of energy flow into the ground on a peat plateau. This will be done using the same instruments identified above, but the measurements will be made at a sampling grid set-up for intensive measurement of multiple variables. This grid will be 50 m x 50 m and the measurement points will be 10 m apart (i.e. 25 measurement points). At each point, the following measurements will be made weekly: depth of soil thaw, soil moisture content and tree canopy density above the point.

4) Review ground-based measurement records (e.g. soil temperature, soil thaw transects and active layer energy balance) from recent years for evidence of permafrost melt.

5) Review recent aerial images, including the 1947-2008 aerial photograph archive of the study region for evidence of landscape change resulting from permafrost melt. Any detectable change will be measured using image analysis software.

Guidance of project will be sought through public consultation with community groups at Jean-Marie and Fort Simpson. The researchers are also interested in hiring a local Field Assistant to join the research team at the study site for a period of up to 4 weeks. In the event that fixed-wing (Twin Otter) aircraft transport to the study site is not possible due to poor snow/ice conditions on the lake used for landing, the researchers will be looking to local First Nations communities in the hope of hiring guides that can transport the researchers and their supplies to the camp by snowmobile. Most of their supplies, provisions and equipment are purchased through local retailers in Fort Simpson. They also purchase services (e.g. radio telephone, helicopter and fixed-wing aircraft transport, hotel/accommodations) from local providers each year.

The researchers are hoping to meet with community groups that might be interested in the information they are generating. Annual reports to the Aurora Research Institute, and publications will be sent to the communities each year. Dr. Quinton also visits as many of the band offices and government agencies when he is in the Fort Simpson region.

The fieldwork for this study will be conducted from April 01 to September 15, 2009, within the Scotty Creek drainage area, approximately 62 km SSW of Fort Simpson, 15 km SSW of Checkpoint, and 1.1 km north of Goose Lake.