Permafrost analysis completed for North Alaska Highway

Permafrost researchers at the Northern Climate ExChange, of the Yukon Research Centre, have completed a study on the state of the permafrost under the North Alaska Highway. They have found that over eighty percent of the permafrost that lies beneath the highway between Burwash Landing and Beaver Creek is moderately or highly vulnerable to thaw in a changing climate. This research, conducted in partnership with Government of Yukon’s Highways and Public Works (HPW), will support highway maintenance and planning.

Over the last three years, research included a review of previously collected information, satellite photo analysis, drilling of permafrost cores, geophysical analysis, and monitoring of ground temperature.  When combined, these information sources provide a much better picture of what lies below and adjacent to the highway.

“It is the first time in Canada that such a long section of highway has been assessed in this manner”, Dr. Fabrice Calmels, Permafrost Researcher, Yukon Research Centre.  “This study merges multiple methods in order to evaluate how permafrost will impact the road in the next few decades as climate changes”, said Calmels.

The research has identified long stretches of warm, ice rich, and thick permafrost.  As the climate changes, some of this permafrost will thaw, leading to settlement of the highway. These stretches of the highway will become more and more challenging to maintain.
“The information garnered from this project will help the government manage the impacts of changing permafrost beneath our highways,” said Highways and Public Works Minister Scott Kent. “The Alaska Highway is a key supply route into Alaska and this type of data will inform our highway maintenance practices and ensure that this integral piece of our highway system remains safe for all travellers.”

This week, the researchers have returned to the field and are conducting a more detailed analysis of a number of specific sites. Guy Doré, a permafrost engineer from University of Laval will then design engineering solutions to stabilize the permafrost under the highway for 2 or 3 of these sites.

“The Yukon Research Centre is here to address northern challenges with our team of experts”, said Dr. Chris Hawkins, Vice President Research and Community Engagement, Yukon College. “Our permafrost experts are partnering with Yukon organizations to support climate change adaptation through applied research”, said Hawkins.

Media are welcome to visit the researchers who will be in the field from now until Friday, June 12th. Please contact Tanis Davey to make arrangements.

This research was funded by the Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development Canada, and Government of Yukon’s Highways and Public Works.

For more information on this project, please visit our website.

The Northern Climate ExChange is one of six key programs that operate under the Yukon Research Centre at Yukon College. The others include: Biodiversity Monitoring, Cold Climate Innovation, NSERC Industrial Research Chair in Mine Life Cycle, and Resources and Sustainable Development in the Arctic, and Technology Innovation.