How to evaluate climate change adaptation in a permafrost environment: A pilot study in Arviat, Nunavut

Why was this project important?

In Nunavut, rising temperatures are causing permafrost (ground that stays at 0°C or lower for two years or more) to thaw. This thawing, called permafrost degradation, means the ground can shift and become less stable for building on, in Nunavut there are ongoing projects to adapt to permafrost degradation. Evaluating these projects can help us to learn from and improve projects. But because evaluating adaptation is difficult and expensive, it does not always happen. This research created a community-based evaluation framework to monitor and evaluate adaptation projects. The framework was tested in Arviat on the ‘Terrain Analysis in Nunavut’ project, a Government of Nunavut project using satellite radar images to see if the ground is moving to detect permafrost degradation. By looking at where the ground moves most, researchers made a map for use by community planners to show ground suitability for future development.


What were the project results?

The project brought together researchers working on permafrost in Arviat, who spoke to the community about permafrost and how thawing impacts buildings. Researchers also presented the permafrost research being done in Arviat and community members gave feedback on their results. Local people and Elders discussed permafrost degradation observed in their lifetime, which provided additional information on ground stability in Arviat. Although this information was not incorporated directly into the map, it helped provide historical context to modern day technical observations. It was not clear though to interviewees how this information would be included in the project’s outputs, and this should have been more obvious.

Some interviewees felt that there should be a technical guide for the map, to help developers understand how to use the information. Although the maps provided new information on where ground movement was happening, which is useful for community planning, there are other important factors to consider when building housing. For example, closeness to community infrastructure, including the schools and health centre. These factors greatly influence development decisions. This suitability map should be included as another piece of the picture in development decisions, to make sure that Arviat is adapting to potential permafrost degradation.


Project dates: 2014-2015

Study site locations: Arviat, Nunavut

Local Collaborators: Nunavut Climate Change Centre and Arviat Wellness Centre

Project contact: Melanie Flynn, McGill University,

For more information, see the attached PowerPoint presentations, or contact Melanie. The researcher is also working on academic publications.