The Trail Valley Creek Research Station is located 50 km north of Inuvik, Northwest Territories. Research started at this site in 1991 and operates year-round. Located in the tundra near the northern edge of the boreal forest, the 58 km2 site around its namesake creek is underlain by ice-rich continuous permafrost and has patches of shrubs and forest as well as the shorter vegetation of the tundra.
This area is one of the most rapidly warming regions on Earth, with melting of ground ice, expansion of shrubs, thinner snow covers that are melting earlier in the spring, and changes in runoff. Research at Trail Valley Creek is complemented by observations at the Havikpak Creek research watershed, which is located 50 km to the south and is also underlain by continuous permafrost but is primarily forested.
Due to the rapidly changing climate in this region, there is an urgent need on the part of territorial and federal government agencies, NGOs and Indigenous communities to understand how the changing climate is impacting their shared water resources and ecosystems, now and in the future, and to transfer this knowledge to all Canadians.
The Trail Valley Creek Research Station is headed by Professor Philip Marsh of Geography and Environment Studies, Tier 1 Canada Research Chair in Cold Regions Water Science.
The Northwest Territories is experiencing unprecedented rates of climate change. In response, Trail Valley Creek/Havikpak Creek researchers are working to:
Trail Valley Creek (TVC) and Havikpak Creek (HPC) represent the transition from boreal forest to tundra at one of its most northerly locations in Canada. Shrub cover is expanding and rapidly transforming the tundra. Monitoring of this environment is documenting the nature of this patchy transition zone and its changes over the coming years.
The upper 10 metres of permafrost are extremely ice rich and very sensitive to warming, with ice wedges showing signs of melting and permafrost-controlled lakes rapidly draining as ice-rich permafrost melts. Changes are being monitored from historical aerial photographs and satellite images, and from measurements on the ground.
Snow is a keystone feature of the Arctic and is very sensitive to changes in winter precipitation, increasingly frequent winter melt and rain events, warming winters and earlier spring melt events. We are monitoring changes in snow across the transect from HPC to TVC.
The permafrost of the western Canadian Arctic, including at TVC and HPC, contains large amounts of carbon. It is not clear how this carbon will be released from the permafrost as the climate warms. To help answer this question, we are measuring the flow of carbon dioxide and methane between the permafrost and atmosphere.
Permafrost thaw is beginning to cause the ground surface to subside, with resulting changes in stream channels. It is likely that this will cause dramatic ecosystem changes in the coming decades. We are monitoring these changes so we can better understand the impacts of warming and disturbance on ecosystems and water resources.
The vast number of lakes in this region are sensitive to changes in precipitation, evaporation, permafrost thaw and melting of ground ice. These changes may result in many shallow lakes drying up. With melting permafrost, catastrophic drainage of these lakes might increase and the very high discharge may present a hazard to people and infrastructure. We are monitoring lakes across the study region.
Changes to permafrost, vegetation and snow are impacting stream flow across the region in poorly understood ways, with decreasing total flow and decreasing extreme flows. However, although snowmelt is occurring earlier, stream flow is not occurring earlier, again for poorly understood reasons. We will use knowledge gained at TVC and HPC to better understand changes in stream flows along the northern Mackenzie River valley.
The Inuvik-Tuktoyaktuk Highway (ITH), which opened in 2017, stretches from Inuvik to the Beaufort Sea and is Canada’s first all-season road to the Arctic coast. It also crosses the TVC watershed. Our long-term research and monitoring program at TVC will provide exceptional knowledge to better understand any impacts of the ITH on this environment and impacts of changing stream flow or catastrophic lake drainage on the ITH.