TThe Impacts of Permafrost Degradation on Peatland Biota and Transport Infrastructure in the Central Northwest Territories, Canada
PhD project title and outline, including interdisciplinary dimension:
The Impacts of Permafrost Degradation on Peatland Biota and Transport Infrastructure in the Central Northwest Territories, Canada
Rationale and Aims: High-latitude regions have experienced rapid warming in recent decades, which has stimulated
dramatic changes in the physical and ecological systems of arctic and boreal regions. Recent evidence suggests that
permafrost has thawed in many areas in response to surface warming, causing significant local damage to transport and
other infrastructure. This project aims to develop novel, integrated methodologies to examine the character, timing and
impacts of permafrost degradation in the Canadian subarctic (central Northwest Territories) over the last few hundred
years, through the combined analysis of fossil remains of plants and other hydrologically sensitive micro-organisms
preserved in sediment cores, and geotechnical, hydro-geological and geophysical analysis of sediments and the
underlying geological substrata. A second stand of the project will assess the vulnerability of regional road networks to
future permafrost collapse via GIS.
Methods: The project will focus on dated sediments cores from the Great Slave region of the central Northwest
Territories, including sites that lie within the zone of continuous permafrost, sites in the zone of discontinuous
permafrost and controls. The sampling set will further include sites located along a major regional highway that has been
impacted by permafrost collapse in the last 15-20 yrs. Biological proxy analysis will consider evidence for successional
changes that attest to permafrost collapse (e.g., changes in Sphagnum community structure), whilst geophysical
approaches will explore the changing hydrology and surface elevational changes to the peatlands associated with icecollapse.
State-of-the-art age-modelling and radiometric dating techniques will be applied to the cores.
Interdisciplinarity: the project will be strongly interdisciplinary in focus, integrating techniques from palaeoecology, soil
ecology, geophysics as well as GIS/geomatics, and will be carried out in close liaison with the Canadian Geological Survey
and other regional stakeholders.