Permafrost monitoring and collection of baseline terrain information in the Mackenzie Valley Corridor, NWT

Regions: Inuvialuit Settlement Region, Gwich'in Settlement Area, Sahtu Settlement Area, Dehcho Region

Tags: physical sciences, active layer, ground temperature, permafrost, climate change, environmental baseline, surface disturbance, thaw depth

Principal Investigator: Smith, Sharon S (16)
Licence Number: 15207
Organization: Geological Survey of Canada
Licenced Year(s): 2018 2017 2016 2015 2014 2013 2012 2011 2010 2009 2008 2007 2006
Issued: Mar 08, 2013

Objective(s): To provide baseline knowledge of permafrost and terrain conditions and improve characterization of terrain sensitivity in the Mackenzie Valley; monitor ground temperature and active layer to detect changes in permafrost conditions resulting from surface disturbance or climate change and to improve prediction of future response; and to provide information which contributes to environmental impact assessment and mitigation of northern development, land use planning and to climate change assessments.

Project Description: This project combines the ongoing monitoring program of the same title (Permafrost monitoring and collection of baseline terrain information in the Mackenzie Valley Corridor, NWT) and the activities previously undertaken by the project title, “Active Layer Monitoring Network in the Mackenzie Valley”.

The objectives of this study are to provide baseline knowledge of permafrost and terrain conditions (specifically ground temperature and permafrost active layer thickness) and improve characterization of terrain sensitivity in the Mackenzie Valley; to monitor ground temperature and active layer to detect changes in permafrost conditions resulting from surface disturbance or climate change and to improve prediction of future response; and to provide information which contributes to environmental impact assessment and mitigation of northern development, land use planning and to climate change assessments.

The combined temperature and active layer monitoring network extends from Fort Simpson to the Arctic Coast. With monitoring instrumentation already in place through work under previous licenses, the main work of this phase will be data collection. While different parts of the network are visited at different times by different research team members, all sites are expected to be visited briefly (less than an hour) once annually.

The principal active layer monitoring trip will be in August; temperature data is also collected at many sites during this trip. Travel will be by road, small boat on the river and helicopter from Inuvik. Access to the sites is always on foot from road or river. This year will be the 19th annual survey of a network of thaw depth measuring devices (thaw tubes) and temperature data loggers along a transect extending from Fort Simpson to Tuktoyaktuk. The tubes consist of small diameter (2.5cm. or 1”) water filled pipes anchored at 4 meter (12') depth and protruding about 30cm (1') above the surface that record the maximum annual thaw depth at a site. Temperature loggers are installed in small screens above ground and buried just below the surface.

The principal ground temperature monitoring trip will be in late September extending from south of Fort Simpson to Fort Good Hope. Instrumentation at these sites consists of ground temperature cables in cased boreholes 5 m to 20 m deep, attached to automatic data logging equipment recording temperatures at eight depths. At some sites, small temperature loggers are also installed in small screens above the ground and buried just below the surface. At each site, ground temperature monitoring visits of less than an hour will be used to retrieve data from on-site instrumentation, and service and re-program the instruments for continued data collection. Access will be mainly by helicopter and/or road (if near town, or in winter) and by foot. Visits will cause minimal disturbance.

Accumulated over several years, the series of annual active layer thaw depth readings and the collection of long term ground temperature records in permafrost and unfrozen ground will show how changes in permafrost conditions are related to changing climatic and other environmental conditions.

This phase of the project is largely data collection. Travel to most sites will be by helicopter from Norman Wells, Fort Simpson and Inuvik. Due to transportation logistics and the load associated with equipment and GSC personnel, it is difficult to have direct local involvement. Four students from the Gwich’in Renewable Resources Board were engaged for 3 days of field work near Inuvik in 2012, learning about permafrost and how it is monitored, and the research team hopes to repeat this experience this year. There may be additional opportunities for limited local involvement, and local suppliers for accommodation, vehicles and other supplies are used as much as possible.

The research team communicates with NWT communities through the scientific license application process. Information generated by the project will be made available through GSC publications (available for free download) and scientific publications.

Permafrost temperature data will be disseminated through the Canadian Permafrost Monitoring Network website (www.canpfnetwork.com). Reports and publications from this study will be sent to the regional regulatory organizations (see report on 2008 for details on previous information dissemination). Dissemination to communities will occur through reports and/or presentations. The research team will gladly provide any additional information required in any practical way.

The fieldwork for this study will be conducted from August 1, 2013 to October 6, 2013.