Permafrost in the western Arctic

Regions: Inuvialuit Settlement Region, Gwich'in Settlement Area

Tags: physical sciences, ground temperature, permafrost, climate change, hydrology, remote sensing

Principal Investigator: Kokelj, Steve V (3)
Licence Number: 15867
Organization: NWT Geological Survey
Licenced Year(s): 2018 2017 2016
Issued: Apr 25, 2016
Project Team: Steve Kokelj (Scientist, NWT Geological Survey), Denis Lacelle (Professor, Geography, Ottawa University), Trevor Lantz (Professor, School of Environmental Studies, University of Victoria), Jon Tunnicliffe (Professor, School of Environment, University of Auckland), Robert Fraser (Scientist, Canada Centre for Remote Sensing), Ian Olthof (Scientist, Canada Centre for Remote Sensinig), Kumari Karunaratne (Scientist, NWT Geological Survey), Ian Clark (Professor, Earth Sciences, Ottawa University), Lindsay Armstrong (Graduate student, Geography, Ottawa University), Roxanne Frappier (Graduate student, Geography, Ottawa University), Benoit Faucher (Graduate student, Geography, Ottawa University)

Objective(s): To develop and test new methods of monitoring permafrost landscape change; to investigate the impacts of natural and human disturbance on permafrost terrain and the ground temperature conditions in natural environments and in communities; and, to assess the physical and chemical characteristics of permafrost.

Project Description: The primary objectives of this research are: 1) to develop and test new methods of monitoring permafrost landscape change; 2) to investigate the impacts of natural and human disturbance on permafrost terrain and the ground temperature conditions in natural environments and in communities; and 3) assess the physical and chemical characteristics of permafrost.

To achieve the objectives the following methods will be implemented:
1. Monitoring and tracking permafrost change will involve collection and analyses of remote sensing information. Most of this data is obtained by satellite, but some methods involve field surveys and use of Unmanned Aerial Vehicle’s (UAV’s). These are typically small multicopters which are very quiet. They have a mounted camera and flights are typically low level and last about 10 minutes in duration. By surveying and resurveying sites, the team will be able to monitor change in disturbances impacting the landscape. Landsat satellite imagery will be analyzed to determine areas intense terrain disturbance, and may be used to track change in remote regions. The team will also use traditional field survey equipment to measure landforms and verify the data acquired by remote sensing. At some locations, remote cameras will be deployed to visualize and model phenomena including unstable slopes and thaw slumps.
2. To monitor changes in disturbed environments the team will conduct field surveys to build extremely accurate three dimensional models of the landscape. These surveys will be complemented at some locations by shallow and deep ground temperature cables. For the most part, these ground temperature sites were installed during past projects. The research team proposes to maintain these sites and continue ground temperature data collection at these locations. Some roadside sites have been established to investigate permafrost stability adjacent to road embankments and in riparian areas.
3. The physical and chemical characteristics of permafrost will be evaluated by obtaining samples from permafrost. These can be collected by a small two person portable drill, or by carefully sampling the permafrost exposed by the headwalls of thaw slumps. Larger slumps will be only accessed in winter when it is safe. The samples are analyzed for ice content and geochemistry.

The research team has a long history of working closely with communities in the Gwich'in and Inuvialuit Settlement regions. This proposal is in part the continuation of a multi-year project conducted in close collaboration with the Tetlit Gwich'in Renewable Resource Council (RRC) studying the impacts of thaw slumps on streams and rivers in the Peel Plateau. The Tetlit RRC played a central role in coordinating community logistics, including annual management of project funds, organizing local research assistants and communicating results to the community. The project involved numerous opportunities for local involvement, including youth and college students. Northern students that have participated in this project have gone on to post-secondary education in the environmental field and several have found employment in the environmental sciences in the Northwest Territories (NWT).

The research team would continue to operate a program that involves local community members in several aspects of the research project to the greatest extent that the resources will enable.

Research results will be communicated through various means including plain language presentations (i.e.: Inuvialuit Game Council meetings; Regional RRC meeting; Local RRC and Hunters and Trappers Committee meetings); plain language summaries; presentations to students at local schools and in the Natural Resources and Technology program; local conferences; including NWT Cumulative Impacts Monitoring results workshops; NWT Geoscience Forum; local media; and through public lectures.

The fieldwork for this study will be conducted from April 25, 2016 to September 30, 2016.