CLIMATE ADAPTATION THROUGH TUNDRA REVEGETATION
Local Elders involved in our project have stressed the importance of maintaining our property’s
unique natural landscape. While a naturalized landscape was originally part of our campus' design, a major diesel fuel spill from a neighbouring building in 2022 required that we remediate a significant portion of the property. While a setback to our project, we saw it as a further opportunity to research ways that tundra revegetation can be implemented in our community as a strategy for climate adaption through a mixture of scientific and traditional Inuit practices of landscape management.
Tundra vegetation readily absorbs water, and its selective re-growth and transplantation across the property holds significant promise to drain and channel excess meltwater, while protecting building foundations and providing valuable ground cover to retain permafrost and minimize its degradation. This ultimately adds to the climate resiliency of our building and surrounding property. Revegetation of areas surrounding drainage and the building’s foundation is something seldom done in the North because it takes time to plan and requires extra funding. Common practice in Cambridge Bay is to prepare building lots with crushed gravel, which can be upwards of a meter thick. We see this as a valuable opportunity to test biophilic and climate adaptive landscape design in the Canadian Arctic, and showcase the work as a viable solution for other buildings and communities.
Our project considers climate adaptive solutions surrounding the construction of our building. It is in direct response to three areas of climate change, which were the focus of our earlier geotechnical studies:
Permafrost degradation: Cambridge Bay is in a permafrost zone, whose active layer is less than one meter below the surface. With climate change, permafrost thawing is a significant concern because it causes damage to building foundations. The saline permafrost has different properties than normal permafrost, and can be more susceptible to change and less stable. Over the anticipated 50 year lifespan of our new building, our risk assessment plan anticipates a -45% change in the extent of near-surface permafrost for the site. The addition of vegetation cover serves to insulate permafrost. We will revegetate all disturbed areas, so as to promote a continuous tundra cover over the property.
Drainage of meltwater is an escalating issue in many northern communities. Changes in snow loads and precipitation, contracting snow seasons, warmer temperatures, and rapid snow melt will worsen already challenging drainage conditions. The Kuugalak campus abuts a municipal drainage area, and there is potential for surface water flooding. Water pooling under the building could further accelerate permafrost degradation, render the building unusable and damage the foundations. Tundra vegetation readily absorbs water, and its selective re-growth and transplantation across the property holds significant promise to drain and channel excess meltwater.
Snow cover and wind direction have become more unpredictable in the North through climate change. Changes in snow loads and precipitation result in different impacts on the landscape. We have included a snow monitoring element to our work in order to create benchmark data for snow conditions on the property to assess against future change.
Another goal of our project is to cultivate plants for cultural use. With climate change, the tundra environment is beginning to alter. Vegetation is gaining and losing species. By using our campus as a testing ground for the growth of local, and culturally important plants, we can begin addressing concerns around scarcity of future access. We will look to traditional strategies of plant management and harvesting as a way to maintain a sustainable, productive landscape.
This research program was generously supported by: