The Scotty Creek Research Station is located in the Northwest Territories, approximately 50 km south of Fort Simpson. The station was founded in 1999 and operates each year between mid-March and early September.
Scotty Creek drains a 152 km2 area of high boreal forest containing discontinuous permafrost and a high concentration of wetlands. Scotty Creek is situated in one of the most rapidly warming regions on Earth, and because its permafrost is relatively warm, thin and patchy, permafrost thaw is widespread and often leads to the transformation of forested permafrost terrains to permafrost-free, treeless wetlands. There is an urgent need on the part of provincial, territorial and federal government agencies, NGOs, Indigenous communities and industry to understand how this land-cover change affects their shared water resources and ecosystems now and in the future.
Take a virtual tour of the Scotty Creek Research Station:
The Northwest Territories is experiencing unprecedented rates of climate change and industrial expansion. In response, Scotty Creek researchers are working to:
Researchers at Scotty Creek are monitoring the physical processes that govern runoff at both hill slope and landscape scales. These processes are changing in response to permafrost thaw and make it difficult to predict the future availability of water resources. Work is being completed to integrate field measurements into numerical models in hopes of using these as predictive tools to forecast how the hydrology of the basin may change.
Scotty Creek contains the Smithsonian Institute’s most northern forest monitoring plot. A forest inventory was completed in 2014 and will be repeated every five years to monitor the impact of climate warming on the forest ecosystem.
Climate warming is known to increase the number of extreme events, including forest fires. There was a forest fire at Scotty Creek in June 2014. Since that time, we have monitored the impact of this fire on vegetation communities, ground temperatures, snow depth, snowmelt and the quality of the water draining from the burn into adjacent lakes.
Areas of muskeg such as Scotty Creek (and much of the southern Northwest Territories) contain vast amounts of carbon in the form of peat. It is not clear how this amount of carbon will interact with the atmosphere as the climate warms. To help answer this question, the flow of carbon dioxide, methane and water vapour between muskeg and the atmosphere has been monitored at Scotty Creek since 2012.
The rate and pattern of permafrost thaw is being monitored from historical aerial photographs, satellite images and from measurements on the ground.
Permafrost thaw often causes the ground surface to subside and become flooded, causing a dramatic ecosystem change from forest to wetland. We are monitoring this change so we can better understand the impacts of warming and disturbance on ecosystems and water resources.
Seismic lines were introduced to Scotty Creek between 1969 and 1985, and are also ubiquitous across Canada’s northern landscape. Our monitoring has found that the ground below the lines does not completely freeze during winter, and that the underlying permafrost has degraded. This allows seismic lines to conduct water below the ground throughout the year. We are monitoring the impact of this drainage process on the ecology and water resources of Scotty Creek.
We work in the headwaters of Scotty Creek so we can better understand how stream flow is generated. By removing permafrost barriers, permafrost thaw is allowing more of the land to drain into river systems. We have shown that in recent years this has caused stream flows to rise in the lower Liard River valley.
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