Northern Roads in Danger



A threat to Arctic roads! Climate change exacerbates the thawing of permafrost—soil that is permanently frozen—causing significant water accumulation around transportation infrastructures. This surface and sub-surface runoff transfers heat by convection to the underlying permafrost, resulting in the deterioration of embankments, ground collapse and buckling of roads and airstrips. Concerned by this problem, Julie Malenfant-Lepage, a PhD student in civil engineering at Université Laval, sought to quantify the heat transferred by water flows, in order to improve engineering practices and drainage systems design.

This surface and sub-surface runoff transfers heat by convection to the underlying permafrost, resulting in the deterioration of embankments, ground collapse and buckling of roads and airstrips.

Thanks to a Fonds de recherche du Québec – Nature et technologies internship scholarship, the student flew to Greenland in 2014 to carry out field work in Ilulissat, an Inuit fishing village whose airport access road is affected by water flow.

With her internship supervisor, Thomas Ingeman-Nielsen from the Technical University of Denmark, she installed her geophysical equipment in a small watershed in the permafrost zone, where water is channelled under the road by a single culvert. For two weeks, she recorded electrical resistivity, topography, water temperature, thermal conductivity and water flow, and took permafrost drill samples.

On her return to Québec, the engineer analyzed her field data using specialized geophysics software provided by the Technical University of Denmark. She will soon be applying the experience acquired in Denmark at two Canadian study sites in the Yukon and Nunavik.