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NSERC PermafrostNet: Permafrost Partnership Network for Canada

Challenge

Permafrost underlies 35–50% of the Canadian land surface and its reaction to climate change—already clearly visible today—will persistently and pervasively reshape the Canadian North throughout the 21st century. Most of this area will experience persistent loss of subsurface ice, leading to irreversible landscape transformations, profound challenges for the design and maintenance of infrastructure and threats to the health of northerners. The dominating influence of permafrost thaw on the safety, reliability and cost of infrastructure and on the lives of northerners has been clearly recognized.

Thawing permafrost and related risk are insufficiently understood by permafrost science and engineering that largely originated before significant anthropogenic climate change. Additionally, academic efforts predominantly take a ‘southern’ perspective, for example, most scenario modeling supports global assessments but does not address the needs of agencies or individuals living or working in the North. NSERC PermafrostNet aims to understand and predict permafrost thaw and its consequences, to connect scales from field sites to national-scale prediction and to prototype knowledge products and practices with stakeholders.

Network structure 

NSERC PermafrostNet supports the work of 16 professors at 11 universities and has 31 collaborators, 28 supporting organisations and 13 other partners nationally and internationally. The Scientific Director chairs the Scientific Committee (SC), reports to the Board of Directors (BOD) and is responsible for providing scientific leadership and direction to the network. The BOD has overall responsibility for the management, direction and fiduciary accountability of the network. With input from the SC, the BOD will monitor progress of co-applicants on project milestones and of themes toward network-level outputs, emerging trends in the permafrost and climate change field as a whole as well as changing needs and priorities of network partners. The SC will assist the Scientific Director in providing scientific leadership, in managing and ensuring the execution of the scientific research program of the network and in overseeing the production of network outputs. Every co-applicant is responsible for the research in their Highly Qualified Personnel (HQP) projects, for adhering to the milestones and linkages described in this proposal and for submitting semi-annual reports to the director of operations. Each theme will be led by two experienced academics to ensure uninterrupted coordination and to reduce the impacts of retirement or sabbaticals occurring during the network period. Theme leaders will support the integration of HQP projects and connection of research teams towards the accomplishment of common objectives. Administration for the NSERC PermafrostNet is located at Carleton University. The Director of Operations provides direction for all network operations and ensures good communication, control and accountability on a day-to-day basis. The Knowledge Mobilization and Communications Coordinator will ensure adequate two-way communication between network participants and partners at all stages of research design and implementation, and communication of results in a format well suited to the audience needs. The network is also supported by a Data Scientist who will build the network’s data infrastructure, keep it operational and safe, implement and maintain the Permafrost Data Science Platform, liaise with other permafrost data initiatives and support HQP with needs for specialized software development.

Research objectives 

The NSERC PermafrostNet research program comprises five interwoven themes:

  1. Characterisation of permafrost. This theme will improve the understanding of ground-ice loss and its consequences though better characterisation of permafrost in the field and in laboratories so that prediction can better represent processes during thaw and have relevant subsurface input such as ground-ice content.
  2. Monitoring of permafrost change. This theme will reveal and quantify permafrost change in Canada and contribute to understanding its varying rates and expressions at the land surface.
  3. Prediction of permafrost change. This theme will improve the accuracy and delivery of transient permafrost simulation based on climate data, remote sensing and novel subsurface data so that the model results can support stakeholder needs at local and national scales.
  4. Hazards and impacts associated with permafrost thaw. This theme will elucidate the relevance and the controls of permafrost hazards and thaw-induced impacts. Furthermore, it will improve their prediction to support adaptation decisions based on avoiding exposure and reducing vulnerability.
  5. Adaptation to permafrost thaw. This theme will assist northern communities, governments and industry to plan for and manage the changing permafrost environment by providing specific strategies to minimise permafrost thaw and to reduce exposure and vulnerability of infrastructure.

Outcomes

The benefits of new knowledge and ways of working produced by NSERC PermafrostNet can be summarized in four expected outcomes:

  1. Understanding. The network will produce new insight into the behavior of frozen soil during thaw, the distribution of ground ice and the relationships connecting climate, infrastructure, permafrost thaw and observable impacts. This has value because it provides an improved foundation for permafrost research and engineering in a warming world, where permafrost can no longer be considered to be stable. Benefits for participants arise from early access to new knowledge that will allow to better address permafrost thaw, for example, through improved engineering design and land-use planning. Because more than one-third of Canada’s landmass is underlain by permafrost, there is significant intrinsic value in understanding the pervasive and persistent transformations of its Arctic landmass.
  2. Methods. The network will produce novel methods and techniques for measuring and simulating thawing permafrost and for inferring or predicting permafrost characteristics for the present day and for future climate scenarios. This has value because methods and tools are important for translating knowledge into action in response to different environmental configurations and contexts. The exploitation of new capabilities will be accelerated by next practices that will evolve in the network. Benefits for participants arise from early access to novel methods that open up new possibilities for research and for addressing challenges of importance to stakeholders.
  3. Experts. Network participants will face new challenges and innovate pathways to their solutions. In addition to discipline-specific education, network HQP will have familiarity with multiple scientific disciplines, understand applied problems related to permafrost and have novel skills in data science and computer simulation. Many will gain awareness of the complementarity of Indigenous ways of knowing and the importance of reciprocity in guiding how research is planned, conducted and delivered. This has value because stakeholders need new and multi-talented permafrost experts who can investigate, assess and design for permafrost thaw. This is mostly a new field of research and the network will produce and elevate a new cohort of early and mid-career scholars at a time when many preeminent permafrost scholars in Canada are nearing retirement. Expertise is also generated in partner organisations though the differentiated involvement of strategic management, permafrost scientists and experts in Indigenous communities and agencies.
  4. Community. The network will add cohesion and reduce fragmentation in the Canadian permafrost community through shared understanding of challenges and the contributions that individual researchers, organisation or disciplines can make towards their solution. The strengthened interactions connecting individuals and organisations involved in research, engineering and practice have value because they empower northern communities and agencies, or those focused on northern issues, to better manage future development and climate adaptation. It also improves academic research and discovery through new research questions and hypotheses developed based on stakeholder needs. The benefits for network participants derive from a broadened research and training environment.

Contacts

Stephan Gruber
Scientific Director
Carleton University
Email: stephan.gruber@carleton.ca
Tel.: 613-520-2600, ext. 2562

Shirley McKey
Director of Operations
Carleton University
Email: shirley.mckey@carleton.ca
Tel.: 613-520-2600, ext. 2510
Tristan MacLean
Knowledge Mobilization and Communications Coordinator
Carleton University
Email: tristan.maclean@carleton.ca
Tel.: 613-520-2600, ext. 2502

Mailing Address:

Shirley McKey
NSERC PermafrostNet
c/o Carleton University
B349 Loeb Building
1125 Colonel By Drive
Ottawa, ON
K1S 5B6


Contact us at 1-877-767-1767