The Trail Valley Creek Research Station is located 50 km north of Inuvik, Northwest Territories. Research started at this site in 1991 and operates from April to September. Trail Valley Creek drains 58 km2 of tundra, with patches of shrubs and boreal forest, and is underlain by ice-rich continuous permafrost. This area is one of the most rapidly warming regions on Earth, with melting of ground ice, expansion of shrubs, thinner snow covers that are melting earlier in the spring, and changes in runoff. Research at Trail Valley Creek is complemented by observations at the Havikpak Creek research watershed, which is located 50 km to the south and is primarily forested.
Due to the rapid changes in this environment, there is an urgent need on the part of territorial and federal government agencies, NGOs, Indigenous communities and industry to understand how the changing climate is impacting their shared water resources and ecosystems now and in the future, and to transfer this knowledge to all Canadians.
The Trail Valley Creek Research Station is headed by Professor Philip Marsh of Geography and Environment Studies, Canada Research Chair in Cold Regions Water Science.
The Northwest Territories is experiencing unprecedented rates of climate change and industrial expansion. In response, Trail Valley Creek/Havikpak Creek researchers are working to:
Trail Valley Creek (TVC) and Havikpak Creek (HPC) represent the transition from boreal forest to tundra at one of its most northerly locations in Canada. Shrub cover is expanding and rapidly transforming the tundra. Monitoring of this environment is documenting the nature of this patchy transition zone and its changes over the coming years.
The upper 10 metres of permafrost is extremely ice rich and very sensitive to warming, with ice wedges showing signs of melting and permafrost-controlled lakes rapidly draining as ice-rich permafrost melts. Changes are being monitored from historical aerial photographs and satellite images and from measurements on the ground.
Snow is a keystone feature of the Arctic and is very sensitive to changes in winter precipitation, increasingly frequent winter melt and rain events, warming winters and earlier spring melt events. We are monitoring changes in snow across the transect from HPC to TVC.
The permafrost of the western Canadian Arctic, including TVC and HPC, contain large amounts of carbon. It is not clear how this carbon will be released from the permafrost as the climate warms. To help answer this question, we are measuring the flow of carbon dioxide and methane between the permafrost and atmosphere.
Permafrost thaw is beginning to cause the ground surface to subside, with resulting changes in stream channels. It is likely that this will cause dramatic ecosystem changes in the coming decades. We are monitoring this change so we can better understand the impacts of warming and disturbance on ecosystems and water resources.
The vast number of lakes in this region are sensitive to changes in snow and rainfall, evaporation, permafrost thaw and melting of ground ice. It is expected that these changes will result in many shallow lakes drying up. With melting permafrost, catastrophic drainage of these lakes might increase and the very high discharge may present a hazard to people and infrastructure. We are monitoring lakes across the study region.
Changing permafrost, vegetation and snow is impacting stream flow across the region in poorly understood ways, with decreasing total flow and decreasing extreme flows. However, although snowmelt is occurring earlier, stream flow is not occurring earlier, again for poorly understood reasons. We will use knowledge for TVC and HPC, in order to better understand changes in stream flows along the northern Mackenzie River valley.
The ITH is under construction and will provide transportation from Inuvik to the Beaufort Sea coast, crossing through the TVC watershed. Our long-term research and monitoring program at TVC will provide exceptional knowledge to better understand any impacts of the ITH on this environment and impacts of changing stream flow or catastrophic lake drainage on the ITH.
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