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The western Arctic of North America is one of the fastest warming region in the world, challenging communities and affecting infrastructures built on permafrost (Burn and Kokelj, 2009). The Dempster Highway is the only four-season road linking the western Canadian Arctic to the South. The changing climate is inducing permafrost degradation that can lead to severe infrastructure damages in areas where permafrost is thaw-sensitive. Studies show that in addition to climate warming, local changes in the environmental conditions (e.g. snow thickness, drainage patterns) imbalance permafrost’s thermal regime thus resulting in active-layer deepening and thaw of ice at the active-layer/top of the permafrost interface. The highway is partially built on a rather warm and ice-rich permafrost, especially due to the presence of buried glacial ice, inherited from past glaciations.
This project aims to determine the global vulnerability of the Dempster Highway corridor between kilometers 74 and 160, according to permafrost thaw sensitivity, in order to support climate-resilient adaptation strategies to insure road sustainability. More precisely, the specific objectives are to:
1) assess the corridor’s geomorphology (superficial deposits, geomorphological processes);
2) assess permafrost properties;
3) localize and map massive buried ice bodies;
4) assess geophysical and geocryological (cryostratigraphy) properties of massive ice;
5) produce a vulnerability map of the highway corridor in terms of geological units, geomorphological surface processes, permafrost properties and ice conditions (massive ice and ice wedges).
These objectives will be achieved by using a multidisciplinary methodology combining core drilling, geophysical surveys and aerial photography analysis to assess and localize ice bodies as well as thaw sensitive areas. Field work will take place during the summer 2017. To provide a vulnerability assessment of the corridor, the data will be integrated into a GIS, with aerial imagery and other existing data from geotechnical surveys previously carried out by the Highway and Public Works (HPW) of Yukon.