North

Transport Canada pledges funding for permafrost research

Researchers will collaborate on projects examining the Dempster Highway, the Iqaluit Airport, and two projects in Tasiujuq and Salluit, in Nunavik.

Research to focus on thawing permafrost and impacts on roads and airports in North

Federal Transport Minister Marc Garneau announced the funding in Whitehorse on Tuesday. 'Climate change threatens the safety, efficiency, and resilience of Northern transportation,' he said. (Philippe Morin/CBC)

Scientists working in Canada's North are getting more funds to study thawing permafrost and its effects, especially when it comes to roads and airports. 

New funding totaling $368,000 over two years was announced for Yukon College's Climate ExChange on Tuesday in Whitehorse. Another $339,000 is being pledged to Université Laval.

The funding deals with climate change but it is being provided by Transport Canada. 

The Yukon government has acknowledged that thawing permafrost is having an effect on the territory's roads, which have required some repairs over the years. 

Researchers will collaborate on projects examining the Dempster Highway, the Iqaluit Airport, and two projects in Tasiujuq and Salluit, in Nunavik.  

Federal Transport Minister Marc Garneau announced the funding in Whitehorse.

"Climate change threatens the safety, efficiency, and resilience of Northern transportation," he said. 

A driver heads over a bumpy stretch of Highway 3, between Yellowknife and Behchoko. Thawing permafrost can cause roads to buckle and crack. (Chantal Dubuc/CBC)

Bronwyn Hancock, associate vice president of research development at Yukon College, said permafrost is "the literal foundation" on which northern infrastructure is built.

She said the goal of the research isn't only to understand the extent of thaw, but also develop ways to adapt. 

"Permafrost thaw is happening, and when it's the foundation for infrastructure, that has big consequences. It threatens the efficiency, safety, and reliability of Northern transportation systems and we see that every day — we see that when we drive our Yukon highways," Hancock said. 

Problems caused by thawing permafrost can include buckling of roads, cracks, landslides and other deformations. Some buildings can also sink or shift when the permafrost thaws beneath their foundations. 

One example in Yukon has been the school in Ross River, which has been sinking due to a poorly-installed system intended to prevent the ground from thawing underneath the building.

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