by Brendan O’Neill, PhD student
Department of Geography & Environmental Studies
In February, Marcus Phillips and I travelled to Inuvik and Fort McPherson, NWT to examine how the accumulation of snow along arctic roadways influences ground surface temperatures and the freeze back of the active layer in permafrost terrain. From Inuvik, we travelled south to Fort McPherson on the Dempster Highway without mishap, although we did change the tire of a fellow traveller on the way! For the next two days, we visited several study sites along the Dempster on the Peel Plateau, just southwest of the town, and got to hone our snowshoeing skills. We had excellent help from Steven Charlie, our guide from Fort McPherson.
To examine the snow distribution in the area, we ran transects perpendicular to the road. We measured snow depths from undisturbed terrain further from the road to the roadside, where blown and ploughed snow accumulates. Thermistor probes were pushed down into the snow to measure the temperature at the ground surface. From this data, we can determine how the road operation and the resulting snow accumulation are influencing the thermal conditions of the ground.
We then travelled back to Inuvik and were joined by our supervisor, Dr. Chris Burn. We visited a few more road sites around Inuvik, and then took off by helicopter north to Tuktoyaktuk on the coast of the Beaufort Sea. We landed along a new road that runs south from Tuktoyaktuk, and collected more snow depth and temperature data. We also collected permafrost temperature data and snow depths at the Illisarvik Drained Lake basin on Richards Island – Canada’s longest-running northern field experiment. We came out of the trip with all our fingers and toes fully operational, and an appreciation of arctic field work without insects!