Planning for Melting Permafrost in Salluit
Salluit is a coastal village located on the shore of Sugluk Inlet in Nunavik, Quebec. The village is situated in a narrow, steep valley, and homes and municipal infrastructure are built on permafrost. Climate warming over the past two decades has led to permafrost degradation, which is predicted to continue into the 21st century. Permafrost degradation has damaged buildings, roads, homes, and embankments in Salluit. This study examined permafrost conditions and future patterns of warming to create a map of stable and unstable areas, which managers and planners can use to help make long-term decisions regarding areas for future growth.
In 2004, the Earth Sciences Sector of Natural Resources Canada and the Canadian Institute of Planners co-sponsored five case study communities to help build capacity at the local government level for planning for climate change. One of these communities, Salluit, is already experiencing the effects of accelerated climate change impacts in the form of melting permafrost.
Salluit is a coastal community located in Northern Quebec on the shore of Sugluk Inlet. Approximately 1,100 people live in the community, which is characterized by a narrow, steeply-sloped valley with homes and infrastructure built on permafrost. The community population is projected to increase, requiring more infrastructure and housing to be built and more land area to accommodate growth. Unfortunately, the permafrost in and around Salluit is rich in ice, making it vulnerable to thawing and degradation.
Climate warming is already occurring in Salluit; the annual temperature increased 2.6°C over 13 years (1990-2003). Rising temperatures have led to permafrost degradation including damage to public buildings, roads and embankments, as well as landslides. Climate warming is likely to continue in the future, highlighting the need for Salluit to determine the sensitivity of permafrost to increasing temperatures and the degree of permafrost instability under these new conditions. To address this need, a multi-agency team of scientists undertook a study examining permafrost conditions and future patterns of warming and stability to provide knowledge about permafrost instability to the local government for future land use planning decisions.
In 2002, scientists from the Université Laval and the Geological Survey of Canada began a two-year research program to study the impacts of climate warming on permafrost in Salluit, and identify threats to the community. The goals of the project included: (1) map permafrost conditions; (2) assess the impacts of climate warming on permafrost; (3) model future patterns of permafrost warming and instability; (4) institute a monitoring and early warning system for landslides; and (5) produce a zoning map of stable and unstable areas.
Scientists measured a variety of parameters across the valley in order to develop a map showing permafrost conditions. In addition, the study team used a model to simulate the thermal regime of permafrost soils in Salluit over the next 20 years. Using these findings, scientists created a map of areas deemed safe and unsafe for construction. Modeled future permafrost conditions under warming temperatures revealed a number of areas in Salluit unsuitable for development. The team then compared safe land with land required for community needs.
As a result of this study, three possible adaptation strategies were identified:
- Improve public understanding of the risks associated with climate change.
- Avoid risk (i.e., do not build on unsafe areas) and accept loss. Alternatives include:
- Create new land near the village by filling in the coastline
- Expand on other sites with adequate soil condition
- Use legislative or policy change to limit future growth to safe areas or regulate behaviors (e.g., practices that are destructive to the permafrost).
Outcomes and Conclusions
This study produced a map identifying safe and unsafe areas for development, which was shared with the community and led to a revised zoning map for Salluit. The map will also help guide municipal staff in making longer-term decisions regarding safe locations for future growth. In addition, the scientific team has instituted an ongoing monitoring program, where data will feed into an advanced warning system evaluating the potential risk of an active landslide.
Kershner, J. (2010). Planning for Melting Permafrost in Salluit [Case study on a project of the Canadian Institute of Planners]. Product of EcoAdapt's State of Adaptation Program. Retrieved from CAKE: http://www.cakex.org/case-studies/planning-melting-permafrost-salluit (Last updated December 2010)