Minister Richard Mostyn, right, and Yukon MP Larry Bagnell shake hands after a funding announcement in Whitehorse on Oct. 10. The territorial and federal governments are contributing to research projects that will study the effect climate change has on infrastructure. (Julien Gignac/Yukon News)

YG and Ottawa invest in climate change research projects

The objective is to work towards addressing damage caused by a warming climate

Two research projects are to be jointly funded by the federal and territorial governments, both of which seek to mitigate the effects climate change has on northern infrastructure.

“Climate change threatens the safety, efficiency and resiliency of northern transportation,” said MP Larry Bagnell at an announcement on Oct. 10. “We need strategies to deal with increasing risk to Canada’s northern transportation corridors.”

One of those strategies involves designing and installing thermosyphons – devices that would prevent permafrost from melting by insulating it with cold air form the surface – at Dry Creek on the Alaska Highway, the hope being the road will be kept in better shape, reducing repair costs.

Bagnell, filling in for Transportation Canada Minister Marc Garneau, characterized the process as a reverse heat exchange.

“There will also be sensors put in place to see if they’re working, if they need to be adjusted,” he said.

Transport Canada is to contribute about $1 million over three years for the initiative. The Department of Highways and Public Works will chip in $1.3 million.

Richard Mostyn, minister for the Department of Highways and Public Works, also at the announcement, said the Alaska Highway is need of some “tender loving care,” noting it’s over 75-years-old.

He said the North must adapt because the cost of continuously repairing infrastructure isn’t sustainable.

“I don’t need to tell Yukoners about the challenges permafrost poses to people here in the North,” he said, adding that it lies beneath more than 50 per cent of the territory. “It is that feeling of driving down the highway and suddenly (hitting) one of those invisible heaves that launches you into the air.

“When that permafrost thaws, the ground shifts, compromising roads, airports, public buildings,” Mostyn said. “We’re seeing this more and more in the Yukon, and it’s a major concern.”

The other project, slated for completion in 2021, entails researching the impact climate change has on parts of the Dempster Highway that cuts through the Yukon and N.W.T.

The highway connecting Inuvik to Tuktoyaktuk will also be studied.

This component is in collaboration with N.W.T., Yukon College and Carleton University.

“So basically on the Dempster Highway, how is climate change damaging it? What’s the cost to us? There’s a lot more cost in the North to maintaining highways like this. How is it creating dangerous situations for our lives,” Bagnell said, noting that training manuals will be developed to compensate for a changing environment.

The Yukon government is to contribute about $327,000, while Ottawa is providing roughly $981,000 over four years.

Federal funding for these projects fall under the Northern Transportation Adaptation Initiative, which seeks to address the impacts of climate change in northern latitudes.

“There are a few people in the south who don’t believe in climate change, but we believe the scientists overwhelming(ly),” Bagnell said. “We’re investing heavily in record amounts of scientific research.”

Contact Julien Gignac at julien.gignac@yukon-news.com

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