Where are we coming from?

The need for better access to permafrost data is well established. The 2020 Permafrost Data Workshop builds on a series of previous workshops and meetings, including the 2013 Pan-Territorial Permafrost Workshop, the 2017 Towards a Canadian Permafrost Network workshop and the 2018 Pan-northern meeting on permafrost hazard mapping.

At the 2013 Pan-Territorial Permafrost Workshop [1], participants suggested:

  • mandating developers … make their data and information available.
  • supporting central points for knowledge/data gathering.
  • improving access to privately held data from climate and other monitoring (e.g. mining and other resource companies).
  • making information more available and accessible to the public through on-line sources, single centralized data portals.

In 2017, Carleton hosted a workshop titled Towards a Canadian Permafrost Network [2]. Participants were asked to identify which gaps a permafrost network could fill and what the identified priorities would be. One of the five key pieces of advice was that the network should Support access to data, data sharing and storage. The importance of data is stressed in the final report which notes that

“… much of the advice and discussion was related to organizational structure and capacity. The exception was the persistent call for a data center or way to manage data for increased access.”

In describing the what they wanted out of a permafrost network in the long-term (5+ years), the implementation of a permafrost data center was included for both the ideal, ‘dream network’ as well as the minimalistic ‘bare-bones’ network.

When asked ‘what should a network do to demonstrate its value?’, the 2013 and 2017 workshop participants identified the following::

  • Develop infrastructure for data handling, (i.e. ingestion, quality control, access, publishing, referencing, archiving, and interoperability.)
  • Provide assistance in data handling for those generating or using data.
  • Develop and establish standards for data and metadata in collaboration with users and suppliers of data.
  • Foster data sharing so that all sectors (industry, government, communities, academia) benefit and contribute. Include relevant non-permafrost data on e.g., climate, water, snow.
  • Develop and establish policies for referencing and use of data to ensure fairness and reproducibility.

The report from the 2018 Pan-northern meeting on permafrost hazard mapping [3] made further recommendations to “ensure data is compatible and standardized with extensive meta-data… through the [creation of] a Pan-Northern standardization working group [that] develop[s] a best practices manual to ensure meta-data is:  compatible;  standardized; and detailed.”

Secondary recommendations from the workshop were to:

  • Store data centrally and provide wide access
  • Require that data be put into a repository if public funding is provided

Internationally, several major permafrost data initiatives have been developed including the GTN-P [4]. A final report from an International Permafrost Association action group described the need for suitable governance mechanisms to sustain any new data initiative:

“Long-term initiatives like … a system for collecting and disseminating data … will likely grow organically in response to researcher needs and funding. To be successful, they require the co-evolution of suitable governance mechanism as well as financial resources for their longer-term operation.” [5]

Now, in 2020, territorial and federal agencies have developed, or are in the process of developing, databases and web interfaces to make their data available. These include PIN at the GSC [6], the NWT permafrost database [7]–[9] and the Yukon Permafrost database. The NSERC Permafrost Partnership Network for Canada has been funded for 5 years and has been awarded a 3-year cyber-infrastructure grant from Compute Canada.

What is the purpose of the 2020 Permafrost Data Workshop?

With a mandate to improve data handling and access to data, this workshop picks up where the previous ones left off by narrowing in on permafrost data and adding specificity to the calls for data access, support, and tools.

This workshop aims to:

  • Discuss:
    • the network data policy to get further suggestions on friction points in advance of the release of the first version.
    • what capabilities and services are needed for permafrost data in the mid- to long-term in Canada, and what governance mechanisms are needed.
  • Identify:
    • How data activities this summer can make up for the loss of a fieldwork season by dedicating resources to making legacy data available.
    • What is needed to support data handling.
    • What standards or specifications should be adopted for network data.
  • Connect with others in the broader permafrost data community to learn from what is being done elsewhere and promote interoperability.
  • Communicate what is learned as a workshop report, and as a collaboratively written white paper to set a direction for the future.

What’s next?

A permafrost data workshop has been proposed as a session for the 2021 Regional Conference on Permafrost (RCOP). If accepted, this will be another opportunity to learn from the permafrost community in the North American context. The outputs from this workshop will inform and feed into the discussion next summer.

Within NSERC PermafrostNet, data will be essential for several HQP projects and will be needed to produce promised network outputs. Continued engagement on data policy, management and strategy will be needed along the way.


[1]        Government of the Northwest Territories, Government of Nunavut, and The Government of Yukon, “Pan-Territorial Permafrost Workshop Summary Report,” 2014.

[2]        M. Laurie, “Workshop Report: Toward a Canadian Permafrost Network,” 2017. [Online]. Available: https://carleton.ca/permafrost/wp-content/uploads/WorkshopPermafrostNetworkOttawa2017_-Report.pdf

[3]        Pan-Territorial Adaption Partnership, “Summary Report: Pan-Northern Meeting on Permafrost Hazard Mapping,” 2019.

[4]        D. Streletskiy, B. Biskaborn, S. L. Smith, J. Noetzli, G. Viera, and P. Schoeneich, “GTN-P – Strategy and Implementation Plan 2016-2020,” 2017.

[5]        S. Gruber, “Specification of a Permafrost Reference Product in Succession of the IPA Map,” 2016.

[6]        S. Smith et al., “A pilot project to increase public accessibility of permafrost information,” in Yellowknife Geoscience Forum 2017 abstracts, 2018.

[7]        Northwest Territories Geological Survey, “Building a Northwest Territories Permafrost Database.” [Online]. Available: https://www.nwtgeoscience.ca/services/building-northwest-territories-permafrost-database.

[8]        K. C. Karunaratne, S. V. Kokelj, M. Palmer, S. A. Wolfe, and S. Gruber, “Metadata protocol for ground temperature records in the Northwest Territories,” Proc. GeoQuebec 2015 Conf. Sept. 20-23, Quebec, Canada, no. October, 2015.

[9]        K. C. Karunaratne, S. V. Kokelj, and T. P. Ensom, “Compilation of Northwest Territories Permafrost Data,” in Proceedings of the Northwest Territories Geoscience Forum, 2018.