New Canada-wide project to study permafrost
"Within the next 150 years there could be a complete disappearance of permafrost"
Over the next four years scientists and northerners will work together on a project to better understand the frozen land which stretches from Labrador to Yukon.
The $4-million project, called Arctic Development and Adaptation to Permafrost in Transition or ADAPT, will involve 10 universities, 15 laboratories and many collaborators in Canada and abroad.
They’ll study the changing permafrost and snow conditions affecting the northern landscape, water, and wildlife as well as their impact on northern communities and industries.
Their goal: to identify the impacts of rapid environmental changes underway in the North which are caused by thawing permafrost and to collect information for an adaptation strategy.
Not enough is known about the nature of permafrost and what happens when it melts, said Warwick Vincent, ADAPT’s lead scientist, who is the director of the Center for Northern Studies and a researcher at Laval University.
“What we do know is that we have to be braced for change,” Warwick said.
People in the North are already seeing the impacts of melting permafrost, which include buckling houses, streets and runways and changes to wildlife, he said.
In the southern Hudson Bay community of Kuujjuarapik, where Warwick spent much of last month, warming of the surrounding region is occurring at a rate seven times higher than the global average.
And people are seeing moose, skunks, morning doves and American goldfinches — animals and birds which were never seen there previously.
“A man from Kuujjuaraapik said ‘as Inuit we don’t even have recipes for moose. We’re getting lots of moose meat as presents, but we’re not too sure what to do with it.’ That’s an exampe of the changes that are taking place,” Warwick said.
But changes due to the thawing permafrost are no laughing matter.
Around the Kuujjuaraapik area, more thaw lakes are also cropping up, and this is troubling because that means more methane, a potent greenhouse gas, is being released, Warwick said.
So the warmer future could be even more disturbing because melted permafrost will trigger even more warming.
Right now, 50 per cent of Canada is permafrost, Warwick points out.
Although all projections have a high level of uncertainty about them. all projects show a “massive decline,” he said.
“There are some projects that suggest within the next 150 years there could be a complete disappearance of permafrost,” he said.
ADAPT will focus on “this time in which we’re in such rapid transition and permafrost is such a critical part of our environment.”
And its team will also look at resource development in the North, where there are plans for more development under the federal government’s Northern Strategy and Quebec’s Plan Nord.
ADAPT wants to produce with new models to assess risk and suggest solutions for large-scale projects like Mary River iron mine project’s planned railway in northern Baffin Island, to see what the key issues for its structure, stability and surrounding wildlife are, Warwick said.
The project — one with project with “strategic value” to Canadians and a special interest to people in the North — is the first to receive a “Discovery Frontiers” grant from the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada, he said.