The Dempster Highway is the only road connection to the western Arctic, and with its connection to the Inuvik-Tuktoyaktuk Highway in 2017, it is part of the essential infrastructure linking southern Canada with the Arctic Ocean.
Extensive reconstruction of the Dempster Highway has been completed on the NWT side of the territorial border in response to degradation of the road surface and embankment. Recognizing the need to ensure year-round availability of the Dempster Highway in the context of increasing traffic and a changing climate, Government of Yukon's Department of Highways and Public Works (HPW) initiated a project to create a functional plan that considers climate change and incorporates climate resiliency into, short, medium, and long-term planning. The Permafrost and Geoscience Research group (formerly within the Northern Climate Exchange) at the YukonU Research Centre contributed to this functional plan by conducting the research and analysis required to assess climate and geohazard vulnerability of the Dempster Highway.
To assess the vulnerability of the Dempster highway to permafrost-related geohazards in the context of a changing climate, a combination of methods were used. First, a review of existing literature, data and geological maps were compiled to better understand the landscape, highlight research gaps and determine priority sites for further investigation. Following this, field surveys were conducted at seventeen sites along the Dempster Highway, from kilometer 82 to kilometer 458. Field surveys included electrical resistivity tomography (ERT), shallow borehole drilling and the collection of geotechnical cores, and the installation of ground temperature monitoring sensors. The data from these surveys were analyzed and presented in a report that was completed and submitted to Government of Yukon's Highways and Public Works in 2018 to support the development of the Dempster Highway’s functional plan.