New NTGS Research Paper Examines Permafrost Thaw

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(Photo by Jurjen van der Sluijs. Large thaw slumps on the Peel Plateau, northwestern Canada)

The ongoing study of climate-driven permafrost thaw continues to produce interesting results in the Northwest Territories (NWT).

Across the territory’s vast landscape, cold climates and permafrost have preserved large amounts of ancient ground ice for thousands of years. However, recent climate warming is beginning to dramatically alter some of these landscapes and the NWT Geological Survey (NTGS) has taken a proactive approach to learning more.

A recent published paper, Climate-driven thaw of permafrost preserved glacial landscapes, northwestern Canada, was researched and written by a team of scientists from the NTGS, University of Victoria, University of Auckland and University of Ottawa.

The team mapped the distribution of thaw slumps in the NWT, which are indicators of landscapes underlain by thick layers of ground ice. The research showed that the affected terrain was delineated by the margins of the Laurentide Ice Sheet, which covered most of Canada roughly 14,000 years ago. While the ancient ground ice had been preserved by permafrost since the end of the last glaciation, these landscapes are now seeing dramatic climate-driven changes.

Steve Kokelj, Ph.D., a Permafrost Scientist with the NTGS and lead-author of the paper, explains why the research is so important.

“Climate-driven thaw of permafrost is accelerating changes to northern landscapes and this research helps us understand why some landscapes are very sensitive to change and others are not. This is crucial for understanding impacts to ecosystems and informing decisions related to planning infrastructure and climate change adaptation.”

The subject of permafrost thaw sparked attention in the NWT in July 2015, when a thaw slump resulted in the rapid drainage of a lake near Fort McPherson. This captured a site specific example of changes that Kokelj and his team mapped across northwestern Canada.

Permafrost Thaw Causes Lake Drainage and Flow of Debris, Peel Plateau

The NTGS is a science-mandated division of the Department of Industry, Tourism and Investment (ITI). The research conducted by the division enables government, residents and investors to make informed decisions regarding the future of the NWT.