Vulnerability of the North Alaska Highway to climate change

This project examined the potential sensitivity of permafrost along the northern 200 km of the Alaska Highway, from Destruction Bay to the Yukon/Alaska border, to present and future climate variability.  Researchers identifed and characterized sensitive permafrost areas underlying the highway, and estimated the potential impacts of climate variability and change on thaw-sensitive permafrost.

Project Overview

To conduct this project, geophysical data, geotechnical reports, highway maintenance records, air photos, and other readily available information were combined with field investigations and used to identify thaw-sensitive permafrost areas underlying the highway. Findings culminated in the development of a permafrost thaw sensitivity vulnerability map. Projections of future climate scenarios were used to examine potential climate change impacts.

A fourth year of the project will be devoted to collecting detailed information for specific sites along the highway.  The information from these sites will then be used to design solutions that may help keep the permafrost underneath the highway cool enough to remain stable. 

Developing an understanding of the impacts of climate change on highway infrastructure is critical for the continued development and maintenance of this highway corridor into the future. Project deliverables will be used to develop recommendations for Government of Yukon Highways and Public Works (H&PW) regarding strategies of adaption to climate change for the highway, allowing H&PW to identify present and future priority maintenance areas and develop remediation methods for high-risk highway sections. Importantly, this project will contribute to transportation security for multiple Yukon communities and First Nation groups.

Project Team

Project Coordination:

Lacia Kinnear, Director of Governance and Strategic Initiatives, University and External Relations

Brian Horton, Manager, Northern Climate ExChange, Yukon Research Centre, School of Science

Permafrost Researchers:

Louis-Philippe Roy, Permafrost Researcher, Northern Climate ExChange, Yukon Research Centre

Project Proponent:

Paul Murchison, Director of Transportation Engineering, Highways and Public Works, Government of Yukon

Muhammad Idrees, Manager, Geotechnical and Materials Program, Highways and Public Works, Government of Yukon


Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development Canada