Yukon gov't seeks help as permafrost thaws on Dempster Highway

The territorial government has issued a request for proposals seeking solutions to deal with the impacts of thawing permafrost on the Dempster Highway. 'Climate change is impacting permafrost on the Dempster Highway, there is no doubt about that.'

'Climate change is impacting permafrost on the Dempster Highway, there is no doubt about that'

Motorcycle riders prepare to begin the Dempster Highway journey to Invuik. (Philippe Morin/CBC)

The Yukon government is looking for advice on how to deal with the effects of climate change on the Dempster Highway.

According to Paul Murcheson, the director of Highways Engineering for the territory, thawing permafrost on the highway is causing landslides. Making matters worse, torrential rains are washing out sections of the road. Highways engineers, says Murcheson, are looking for ways to deal with continued thawing.

"Climate change is impacting permafrost on the Dempster Highway, there is no doubt about that," says Murcheson. "In the long run it could be quite costly. Part of that is how serious are the problems going to be? And how much will the repairs cost?"

A request for proposals has been issued by the territorial government to study the problem, and identify geohazards that pose the greatest risk to the roadway, the only road access between Dawson City and Inuvik, Northwest Territories.

Researchers at Yukon College, as well as representatives from the territory's highways department, have conducted studies this summer on the North Alaska Highway to find ways to preserve permafrost under roadways.

Some suggestions that have come out of early work on the area include creating a ditch to intercept runoff along the highway and putting in white or clear pavement on the highway in an attempt to repel sunlight from the road surface.