Network research focuses on the big questions: Where and when is permafrost thaw occurring in Canada and what are the hazards arising from such change?

The research is organized in five interwoven themes requiring a critical mass and diversity of expertise that no single research group or government agency has.

Background and objectives

The geotechnical and hydrologic characteristics of permafrost change during thaw. The progressive melt of ground ice causes effects that include loss of soil strength, increasing permeability for water, contaminants and gas, and subsidence of the ground surface or infrastructure. For risk-reduction, we must understand what areas will be most affected and when these effects will materialise.

To achieve this, we need to characterise permafrost materials, understand the processes governing their thaw and finally, geo-integrate this knowledge in the Canadian context so that the behavior at locations without observations can be estimated. Even though permafrost is commonly defined by its thermal regime, the geologic setting dictates much of the distribution of ground ice as well as that of solutes and organic content which impart its geotechnical properties. These properties determine behavior during thaw and impacts such as water-quality problems, contaminant release, ecological change, and emission of greenhouse gasses.

The objective of Theme 1 is to improve the understanding of ground-ice loss and its consequences though characterisation of permafrost in Canada so that prediction can represent processes during thaw and have relevant subsurface input such as ground-ice content.

Predicting permafrost thaw and providing tools and services about these changes will require knowledge of ground-ice content, as well as other subsurface characteristics and temperature observations. Theme 1 will create the Permafrost Information Network of Ground Observations (PINGO) to house this data. Drawing on the location and distribution data in PINGO will enable Theme 3 to generate the new GRound Ice Potential and geotechnical permafrost base map of Canada (GRIP). Combining estimates of ground ice and simulated ground temperatures with numerical models will yield the best estimate of present-day or future ground ice distribution. This is because thermal simulations will help to predict where potential ground ice must have melted and can no longer be present. 

Daniel Fortier

Daniel Fortier

Theme 1 is jointly led by Daniel Fortier (Université de Montréal) and Duane Froese (University of Alberta). They have worked extensively at various field sites and are contributing their expertise in the generation of data and knowledge to GRIP and the coordination of work in the distributed permafrost thaw laboratory. Eleven researchers will be trained under Theme 1, consisting of 2 MSc, 6 PhD, 3 Post-Doctoral Fellows.

Duane Froese

Duane Froese

Jocelyn Hayley is developing novel methods to characterise the geomechanical properties of permafrost upon thawing.

Antoni Lewkowicz and Stephan Gruber are contributing their geophysical expertise.

Sub-theme research

Three sub-themes structure the research in Theme 1. The first aims at combining, integrating, and sharing existing knowledge and data via interoperable databases. The second aims to innovate methods to better capture, understand and describe the conditions of under which permafrost thaws. The third integrates geocryological and geological data in PINGO and generates a conceptual framework to support the production of GRIP.

This research will improve the management of permafrost data to support statistical analyses and synthesis products. PINGO will hold and make available information such as geotechnical and geochemical data, temperature data and information from field sites including vegetation characteristics, microtopography, geophysics or photographs. The objective of this sub-theme is to develop and implement a prototype system for handling permafrost data that can support permafrost prediction, the evaluation of prediction results and the analysis of permafrost change, and that allows for interoperability with other permafrost and arctic data. Because PINGO shares the ecosystem of permafrost data handling with many other initiatives, in Canada and globally, it must be interoperable and based on community consensus where possible. Interoperability implies that concepts and databases will be generated that can interact rather than working with the unrealistic expectation that everyone will contribute to one single database. For example, this will allow territorial or federal agencies, industry and academia to operate their own databases and also to access some or all of the data that others hold. Three post-doctoral fellows will coordinate and integrate input from network participants, organise data entry and quality control with the help of partners and network graduate students of all themes. This sub-theme will interact with the network data scientist and liaise with other permafrost data initiatives such as GTN-P, PIN at NRCan and efforts at Northwest Territories Geological Survey, Yukon Geological Survey and CCADI.

Samuel Gagnon (T1-PDF1) 

Title: PINGO: Permafrost Information Network of Ground Observations

Supervisors: Daniel Fortier with Duane Froese, Trevor Lantz and Peter Pulsifer

Samuel’s role within NSERC PermafrostNet was to establish a culture of data sharing within the geocryology specialists in Theme 1, aiding in creating the Permafrost Information Network of Ground Observations (PINGO) and guiding its use within the academic permafrost community. He also worked on the expert evaluation of the Ground Ice Map of Canada (GIMC).

Mahya Roustaei (T1-PDF2)

Title: Standardization of permafrost characteristics.

Supervisors:  Duane Froese with Fabrice Calmels, Daniel Fortier and Jocelyn Hayley.

Mahya’s project will assess the use of CT scanning for characterizing detailed physical properties of permafrost samples. CT scanning allows non-destructive imaging of ice, gas and sediment properties of permafrost cores and cuttings. This project will also build on the PINGO database by using CT scan standardization to improve interpretation of existing data in the database.

Mahya Roustaei

Teddi Herring (T1-PDF3)  

Title: Canadian permafrost electrical resistivity survey next practices and database (CPERS).

Supervisors: Antoni Lewkowicz with Fabrice Calmels and Anne-Marie LeBlanc.

The goal of Teddi’s project is to integrate existing and future Electrical Resistivity Tomography (ERT) surveys in a Canadian Permafrost Electrical Resistivity Survey database (CPERS). The data in CPERS is being used to infer the presence, continuity, and depth of permafrost over a range of spatial scales and detect changes over time.

Teddi Herring

This research is improving how we measure, understand and predict the characteristics of frozen soils. It has the objective to innovate, evaluate and apply methods to predict and measure thermal, hydrologic, geochemical and mechanical behavior of frozen soil during thaw so that they can support improved simulation. Permafrost develops either as sediments are being deposited (syngenetic) or following deposition/formation of earth materials from the surface down (epigenetic). The application of emerging methods for the detection and the quantification of ice and water content in frozen soils allow us to better understand when and how subsurface ice loss occurs, and what soil characteristics can be used as inexpensive predictors. We make use of CT-scanning and dielectric spectroscopy, two innovative and complementary methods to quantify and characterise ice and ice loss in soil. CT-scanning permits us to obtain three-dimensional representations of the macroscopic (i.e. at resolutions larger than several micron) arrangement of mineral or organic solids, liquids, ice and gas in a soil based on density contrasts. This is important for understanding how cryostructure affects soil characteristics and to investigate fluid movement during near-isothermal thaw when temperature gradients are minimal. Dielectric spectroscopy can differentiate the amounts of ice and liquid water in frozen soil and reveal additional information on particle characteristics and solutes. It can be used to track the thaw of reconstituted and natural soil samples in the laboratory and, as a geophysical method called Spectral Induced Polarisation (SIP), has been shown to reveal subsurface ice content in the field. Geomechanical testing reveals how mechanically relevant characteristics of thawing soils change. The innovation sub-theme is developing novel avenues in which the improved characterisation of permafrost can be used to predict thaw and its impacts on the performance and design of engineered structures.

Hosein Fereydooni (T1-PhD2)  

Title: Characterising the ice and water content of permafrost with dielectric methods.

Supervisors: Stephan Gruber with David Stillman, Jocelyn Hayley and Daniel Fortier.

Hosein’s project will utilize laboratory and field-deployed dielectric spectroscopy to estimate ice and water content of soils under changing temperature conditions. Laboratory spectra will yield freezing characteristic curves for simulating permafrost change, supporting several projects in Themes 3 and 5, and help to reduce limitations of single-frequency methods such as time-domain reflectometry. Results will be compared with differential scanning calorimetry on small samples (U. Montreal) and the work by T1-PhD1 (ct-scanning) obtained from cores, where solute contents and macroscopic ice content will provide further evidence to support the interpretation of dielectric spectra.

The improved detection of ground ice beneath natural surfaces and engineered structures resulting from this project is important because ground-ice loss drives the impacts of permafrost change. Field work will be planned to maximise the benefits from co-location with other projects and partner activities.

Hosein Fereydooni

Zakieh Mohammadi (PhD formerly project T1-MSc1)  

Title: Strength and consolidation behaviour of permafrost sediments.

Supervisors:  Jocelyn Hayley with Brian Moorman, Pascale Roy-Léveillée and Stephan Gruber.

Zakieh’s project is working on a number of interrelated conditions that govern the overall settlement of degrading permafrost such as strength, consolidation behaviour and excess pore pressure dissipation.

Khatereh Rgh (T1-PhD3)  

Title: Geomechanical properties of thawing permafrost.

Supervisors:  Jocelyn Hayley with Brian Moorman, Shawn Kenny and Duane Froese.

Khatereh’s project is focused on Geomechanical properties of thawing permafrost including a geotechnical database in PINGO and a geotechnical layer for GRIP with indicators of sediment strength and sensitivity to thaw.

Khatereh Roghangar

This sub-theme research makes results from the data-handling and innovation sub-themes available to permafrost prediction (Theme 3). This is important because geological, geocryological and geotechnical information cannot be obtained from climate data or remotely sensed information alone. The objective of the sub-theme is to develop a framework for the spatial and stratigraphic synthesis of geotechnical and geological data to support the Ground ice potential and geotechnical base map for Canada and to provide corresponding data based on existing collections and new field work. The first step in this is an expert review of the recently published Ground Ice Map of Canada(GIMC) to identify key areas for improvement, conceptually and geographically. This informs the first version of GRIPv1 a successor product to GIMC. Informed by the expert review and existing data incorporated into PINGO, it is possible to design targeted sampling with a focus on three terrain types, across permafrost and vegetation zones, that we think are the most crucial, (i) glaciolacustrine and glaciomarine plains, (ii) colluvial hillslopes and (iii) till covered terrain. This is important because past data collection has not been undertaken with spatial prediction in mind and targeted sampling will fill important conceptual gaps in understanding. These terrain types are in the western Arctic (Yukon and Mackenzie valley, including Inuvik-Tuktoyaktuk Highway), central Arctic (Hudson Bay Lowlands and CHARS) and Eastern Arctic (polar desert). The results incorporated into PINGO enable GRIPv2 and GRIPv3.

Tabatha Rahman (T1-PhD4)  

Title: Permafrost and ground ice conditions in the Hudson Bay Lowlands.

Supervisors:  Pascale Roy-Léveillée with Maara Packalen, Stephen Wolfe and Bernhard Rabus.

The goal of Tabatha’s study is to improve understanding of ground-ice dynamics in the Manitoba portion of the Hudson Bay Lowlands. The research focuses on assessing the volume and tri-dimensional distribution of ground ice, elucidating the environmental conditions that favored ice-wedge aggradation, and predicting terrain evolution pathways as climate warms and permafrost degrades in the region.

Alexandre Chiasson (T1- PhD5) 

Title: Past environmental change and permafrost characterization along the proposed Mackenzie valley Highway corridor, Northwest Territories, Canada.

Supervisors:  Duane Froese with Sharon Smith, Steve Kokelj and Stephen Wolfe.

Alexandre’s project is developing better understanding of the ground-ice conditions along the proposed Mackenzie valley Highway (MVH) right-of-way in the Northwest Territories. The project is integrating borehole data into the PINGO database, analysing physical properties of cores and classifying thermokarst types.

Joe Young (T1-MSc2 now a PhD)

Title: Characterizing the setting and mechanisms of recent permafrost mass-wasting in the central Mackenzie Valley, NWT.

Supervisors:  Duane Froese and Fabrice Calmels; potential internship at YGS. 

Joe’s project is providing field-based characterization of ground ice distribution and the assessment of mass-wasting thaw potential in sloped discontinuous permafrost terrains.


Title: Ground ice of the eastern Canadian Arctic polar deserts.

Supervisors:  Daniel Fortier with Bernhard Rabus, Tommy Tremblay and Stéphanie Coulombe 

This project investigates the use of physical and numerical modelling along with remote sensing in simulating the response of permafrost to global warming. The results of this research project are being used to improve the representation of ice in permafrost in simulations of the pan-Canadian model.

Collaborators and partners

  • D. Stillman
  • A-M. Leblanc
  • F. Calmels
  • S. Coulombe
  • P. Lipovsky
  • C. Stevens
  • S.V. Kokelj
  • M. Packalen
  • J. McLaughlin
  • S. Wolfe
  • S.L. Smith
  • A. Bevington 
  • V. Foord
  • T. Tremblay

Peer-reviewed research findings are listed on our Publications page.