Yukon University researchers examine the resilience of the road network

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Yukon University Researchers Investigate Road Network Resilience

In September 2022, heavy rains in the Klondike region caused several landslides and forced the closure of the North Klondike Highway .

A team of researchers from Yukon University is looking at the impact of climate change on the territory's roads. It wants to find concrete solutions to improve the resilience of the commercial transportation network affected in particular by the melting of the permafrost.

Ottawa on Tuesday announced $3.4 million in funding to support this five-year research project.

Researchers will set up monitoring stations at strategic locations along major highways, including the Alaska Highway, Klondike Highway, and Dempster Highway.

With his team, the senior research professional on climate change, Benoit Turcotte, will decline his research in three parts. The first will study the water flow that can increase due to increased rainfall and snowmelt and the impact it can have on roads.

“[In the Yukon] as soon as we made roads, we realized that these roads did not behave not like the roads in the south, here we really have problems with the circulation of water during the winter period.

—Benoit Turcotte, Yukon University

This aerial photo taken in 2021 shows the collapse of a section of permafrost that resulted in landslide of land in the Yukon River near Whitehorse. This happened very close to the Alaska Highway, clearly visible in the bottom of the photo.

Building a road on permafrost has always been problematic, adds the holder of the research chair in permafrost and earth sciences at the University of Yukon, Fabrice Calmels, whose team will also participate in the project.

The second part aims to monitor soil erosion using a series of cameras and detectors. The researchers also want to study in the third part the thickness of the ice, because this can, for example, block culverts in winter and prevent the flow of water when it melts.

“Our goal is to make this less expensive, but also a little more environmentally friendly. Rather than leaving diesel generators running for several days to melt the ice, we are trying to find techniques that are a little more focused, for example, on solar energy or simply on mechanical ice breaking. which is much more efficient.

—Benoit Turcotte, Yukon University

We are in contact with various government authorities so that when there are bridge and culvert replacement projects, we can sit down at the table with them and assess what is can be done to ensure that these replacements are truly adapted to climate change, adds the researcher.

The hydrological aspect will not be the only one considered during this project since the Research Chair in Permafrost and Earth Sciences will also focus on the impacts of melting permafrost and its consequences on the transformation of the earth.

Fabrice Calmels of Yukon University studies melting permafrost along the Dempster Highway which goes all the way to the Northwest Territories.

In concrete terms, in the field, we are going to study sites that cause problems for transport infrastructure in the Yukon, explains Fabrice Calmels, which includes sites that have already experienced landslides or pavement collapses, but also sites where these are at risk of occurring.

We will strengthen our permafrost monitoring stations to be able to see how the permafrost is changing under a climate that is currently changing and to be able to possibly anticipate future problems that could occur around roads, he said.

The two researchers point out that the funding from Ottawa will allow them to use state-of-the-art tools while allowing them to deploy their research on twenty sites in through the territory.

The teams plan to return to the field to continue their search starting in June.

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