Climate warming and human disturbance in the Dehcho region of the Northwest Territories (NWT), Canada, has led to widespread permafrost thaw and land cover change that has disrupted the hydrological cycle and the ecosystems and human activities that depend on it.
There is a growing awareness in the Dehcho that permafrost thaw is negatively affecting the region's economy, and the health, well-being and livelihoods of its residents.
There is lack of information on permafrost distribution, evolution, and resultant landscape change trajectory in this region.
There is an urgent need to develop and mobilise knowledge on permafrost thaw in the Dehcho and elsewhere in the subarctic, develop new, practical and customised predictive tools and strategies to adapt to permafrost thaw, and to provide interactive training to decision makers and other users.
In direct response to this need, the Scotty Creek Research Station (SCRS) and the Dehcho First Nations (DFN), co-propose the Dehcho Collaborative on Permafrost (DCoP), a Dehcho-wide initiative whose overall objective is to generate a fusion of leading-edge scientific and Indigenous knowledge on permafrost, and to use it as a basis to co-develop new predictive decision support tools and innovative risk management strategies to inventory and manage permafrost and adapt to permafrost thaw.
Close consultations with Indigenous communities throughout the Dehcho, identified the urgent need for sustained community engagement based on two-way knowledge exchange to guide specific needs for improved permafrost thaw monitoring, adaptation, process understanding, and prediction. These needs collectively form DCoP's “five themes”, each with specific objectives.
The ~150,000 km2 Dehcho region in the southern NWT is one of the most rapidly warming on Earth. It is also experiencing an increase in direct human disturbance due to expanding industrial activity. Permafrost thaw in the Dehcho is widespread and occurring at unprecedented rates, evidence that this region is particularly sensitive to climate warming and disturbance due to thaw.
Permafrost thaw is disrupting the Dehcho’s land, water and therefore human activities, the patterns, rates, controls and mechanisms of permafrost thaw, and associated feedbacks and land cover transformations across the region remain poorly understood. As a result, there is an urgent need to investigate thaw-induced changes to the Dehcho’s land and water, develop and mobilise knowledge on these changes, develop predictive modelling tools, and provide interactive training to decision makers and other stakeholders.
Although there is a growing awareness throughout the Dehcho that permafrost thaw is negatively affecting the region, regulatory authorities, resource management boards, and communities are ill-equipped to respond effectively to this new and growing challenge because there exists little or no permafrost thaw monitoring, adaptation or predictive capacity in the region, and therefore no appropriate basis for decision support.
In direct response, the Dehcho First Nations (DFN) and the Scotty Creek Research Station (SCRS) co-propose the Dehcho Collaborative on Permafrost (DCoP) to improve the understanding of and ability to predict and adapt to permafrost thaw. Because livelihoods in the Dehcho are so tightly connected to “the land”, DCoP’s close collaborative approach that places Indigenous communities in leadership positions, is required to generate the new knowledge, predictive capacity and decision-support tools needed to manage the land and water resources that support Dene ways of life.
Close consultation with Indigenous communities throughout the Dehcho identified six broad research questions:
Q1: Where is permafrost located within the Dehcho and where is it thawing?
Q2: What is the rate and pattern of permafrost thaw?
Q3: How is permafrost thaw changing land?
Q4: What adaptation and mitigation measures can or should be taken?
Q5: How is permafrost thaw changing the flow and storage of water on the land?
Q6: What is the long-term trajectory of thaw-induced change to the land and water?
It is clear from these consultations that the concerns over permafrost thaw and its effect on the land, water and livelihoods are shared throughout the Dehcho.
Co-develop with Indigenous communities, new initiatives for improving the monitoring (Theme 2), adaptation (Theme 3), understanding (Theme 4), and prediction (Theme 5) of permafrost thaw and its impacts in the Dehcho.
Gather and synthesise the Indigenous Knowledge pertaining to permafrost and permafrost thaw in the Dehcho, and compile this information into the Permafrost Resources.
Gather and synthesise all new knowledge arising from Themes 2-5, and add it to the Permafrost Resources.
Mobilise throughout the Dehcho the Permafrost Resources assembled in O1 and O2 through community engagement in support of themes 2-5.
DCoP will produce permafrost probability maps as a first step toward defining the current distribution of permafrost in the Dehcho, and establish an Indigenous community-led network to monitor changes to permafrost using both conventional temperature-based and new (DCoP-developed) ice-content monitoring probes.
DCoP will use 2018 imagery to map the current spatial distribution of permafrost, and archived photos (1970) to assess the change in permafrost distribution over the intervening 48 year period.
DCoP will develop and test new knowledge-based permafrost thaw adaptation strategies designed to lessen the impacts of such thaw, improve safety on the land and in communities, and safeguard infrastructure.
Improved Process Understanding.
Develop new knowledge on the permafrost thaw processes, rates and patterns causing the changes observed in Theme 2 with a focus on critical lateral thaw of discontinuous permafrost.
Share, apply and interpret new methods for predicting the rate, pattern and impact of permafrost thaw customised for specific conditions within the Dehcho.
Field season begins (15 March) starting with annual late-winter snow surveys.
DCoP researchers participate in the annual Dehcho K’ehodi Gathering (18-19 Feb.). DCoP collaborated with the NWT Geological Survey to host the Permafrost Mapping Workshop in Fort Simpson (20 Feb.). DCoP organised and facilitated media coverage (CBC North) of on-the-land activities of Dehcho Guardians participating in DCoP (21 Feb.). DCoP hosts annual Scotty Creek field course on winter hydrology (23-29 Feb.) for Dehcho high school students.
DCoP meeting in Yellowknife (21 Jan.) with researchers and members of the Dehcho First Nations. DCoP members take part in meetings in Yellowknife (22 Jan.) to plan the annual conference of the Canadian Society for Remote Sensing to be held in Yellowknife in July, 2020. DCoP team members collaborate with NASA/ABoVE to secure remote sensing missions over Dehcho in 2020.
DCoP members provide update on DCoP initiatives at the annual meeting of ArcticNet in Halifax, 2-5 Dec., 2019. DCoP and the Office of Indigenous Initiatives, co-host the Indigenous Research Symposium (5 December). DCoP also hosts researcher from National Research Council (I. Egorov), who gave a presentation on recent advances to ground freezing systems.
DCoP members host Cold Regions Research Centre Days (21-22 November), and co-host with Office of Indigenous Initiatives the Indigenous Day of Learning (29 November).
Scotty Creek field course and on-the-land camp announced for 23-29 February, 2020.
Extensive field investigation conducted across the Dehcho in support of DCoP’s permafrost mapping initiative. NASA/ABoVE airborne remote sensing mission over Scotty Creek and over the transect north-to-south DCoP transect extending from Scotty Creek to the BC border. DCoP researchers provide ground-based measurement surveys in support of the NASA/ABoVE mission. Collaboration initiated with NWT GeoScience on permafrost mapping in the Dehcho.
Airborne Lidar missions and supporting ground-based surveys were conducted over selected areas of the Dehcho, led by DCoP collaborators (U. Lethbridge) with support of Dehcho Guardians and in collaboration with local Dehcho communities. DCoP hosts international Northern Research Basins Symposium and Workshop (https://conferences.wlu.ca/22ndnrb/) in Yellowknife, NWT. DCoP hosts a meeting and social event at the Scotty Creek Research Station that brought together scientists from across the circumpolar region and Indigenous community members from the Dehcho.
DCoP researchers go to Fort Providence (DGGFN), Wrigley (PKFN), Sambaa K’e (SKFN), Jean-Marie River (JMRFN) and Fort Simpson (LKFN) to visit local areas of permafrost thaw with community members.
DCoP researcher James Craig hosts training course on the Raven hydrological model. DCoP researchers take part in climate discussions at Annual Dehcho Assembly.
DCoP researchers take part in Dehcho Annual Assembly (Fort Simpson) to discuss climate change in the Dehcho.
DCoP researchers and DGGFN community members visit extensive flooded areas north of Fort Providence, discuss monitoring and research plans.
Meetings in Fort Simpson with DFN and Dehcho Divisional Education Council to plan the inclusion of Scotty Creek field courses into high school environmental science curriculum. DCoP site visit with Dehcho Guardians to the flooded forest north of Fort Providence.
DCoP researchers partner with Natural Resources Canada, Canadian Forest Service, University of Waterloo and Laurentian University on new NSERC-ACCS study entitled "Modeling of the winter carbon losses in cold region wetland ecosystems under current and future climates"
DCoP links up with new project exploring winter carbon losses in wetlands, funded by NSERC’s Advancing Climate Change Science in Canada. Infrastructure upgrades to the Scotty Creek Research Station.
DCoP researchers host field course and on-the-land camp at the Scotty Creek Research Station for Dehcho-based senior high school students and undergraduate university students from southern Canada. Field research season begins at the Scotty Creek Research Station.
Wilfrid Laurier University, Waterloo, ON, N2L 3C5, 519-884-0710.
Quinton is responsible for coordinating all aspects of the project. He will represent DCoP at the monthly meetings of the Laurier-GNWT Partnership Agreement.
Dehcho First Nations, Fort Simpson, NT, X0E 0N0, 867-695-2355.
D. Tsetso is the DCoP Co-PI and Indigenous Community Lead. As such she plays a crucial role in helping to coordinate the participation of Dehcho communities in DCoP, including the coordination of Dehcho Guardian groups from each Dehcho community.
Environment and Natural Resources (GNWT), Yellowknife, NT, X1A 2P8, 867-688-9354.
Dr. Connon is a Yellowknife-based cold regions hydrologist with expertise in permafrost. His graduate and post-doctoral training was in the Dehcho where he has developed extensive and very positive linkages with Indigenous communities there, and has a deep knowledge of the peatland-dominated land covers with thawing, discontinuous permafrost that predominate much of the Dehcho.
University of Waterloo, Waterloo, ON, N2L 3G1, 519-888-4567.
Dr. Craig, Canada Research Chair in Hydrologic Modelling and Analysis, is an expert in numerical and analytical modelling of environmental systems, with a focus on surface water hydrology. He brings to DCoP a well-developed toolkit of hydrological predictive software that is both scientifically-rigorous and practical, and is used internationally for flood forecasting, source zone protection, and climate change analysis. Dr. Craig will lead all aspects of modelling and prediction in DCoP.
Wilfrid Laurier University, Waterloo, ON, N2L 3C5, 519-884-0710.
Dr. Sioui is an Indigenous scholar with an expertise in Indigenous land-use knowledges (IK) and practices, as well as cultural translation between Western and Indigenous knowledges that have historically struggled to meaningfully communicate. Dr. Sioui will increase DCoP’s understanding of Indigenous ways of knowing, doing, and being, and will work to incorporate IK concepts into all DCoP activities.
Research Associate, Cold regions Research Centre, Wilfrid Laurier University.
he contributes expertise in hydrology and biogeochemistry, plays a key role in coordination and integration of DCoP's activities, and administers the SCRS data archive.
Superintendent of Education, Dehcho Region, Fort Simpson, NT, X0E 0N0, 867-695-7308.
P. Brulot meets regularly with the school Principals of the Dehcho, and plays an important role in coordinating the participation of schools in the DCoP field courses, including student recruitment and advertisement. The DCoP PI is also working with Mr. Brulot and the Office of the VP Academic (Dr. R. Gordon), Wilfrid Laurier University to develop an articulation agreement so that Dehcho students enrolled in DCoP field courses will also receive a university credit, as a means of encouraging Dehcho students to pursue post-secondary education.
Chief, DGGFN1, Box 200, Fort Providence, NT, X0E 0L0, 867-699-7000.
Mr. Canadien is the DCoP Community Lead for the Deh Gah Gotie First Nation (Fort Providence). His office will help to coordinate organise map exercises with local Elders and Harvesters that identify areas traditionally used by DGGFN members that have undergone rapid change and describe the nature of the change.
Resource Coordinator, LKFN2, Fort Simpson, NT, X0E 0N0, 867-695-3131.
Mr. Cazon is the DCoP Community Lead for the Liidlii Kue First Nation (Fort Simpson). He will help to organise map exercises with local Elders and Harvesters that identify areas traditionally used by LKFN members which have undergone rapid change and describe the nature of the change. This exercise will be assisted by Dr. Sioui to ensure that such knowledge is gathered according to Tri-council protocols.
Elder, Educator, SKFN3, Trout Lake, NT, X0E 1Z0, 867-695-2812.
Mr. Cazon will assist in delivering the Indigenous knowledge components of the DCoP field courses and on the land camps co-hosted by DCoP and the DFN. He also plays a key role in the interpretation and translation of Dene languages and traditions so that DCoP researchers and HQP gain a deeper understanding of the connection between Indigenous communities and the land.
University of Lethbridge, Lethbridge, AB, T1K 3M4, 403-332-4586.
Dr. Chasmer is the remote sensing lead for the SCRS, and has compiled and georeferenced all historical aerial photography and satellite imagery for the Scotty Creek, Trainer Lake and Calendar Creek basins, and the 12 AOIs (see map) into a single data base. As a remote sensing expert, she will serve as a member of HQP supervisory committees.
Regional Technical Coordinator, DFN4, Fort Simpson, NT, X0E 0N0, 867-695-2355.
Ms. Hardisty will assist with the planning and preparation of the January and June workshops co-hosted by DFN and DCoP. She will also assist with knowledge and data mobilization to/from communities prior to and following the January and June workshops.
University of Lethbridge, Lethbridge, AB, T1K 3M4, 403-332-4586.
Dr. Hopkinson is a professor and Research Chair at the University of Lethbridge where heads a state-of-the-art remote sensing research facility and has a long-standing research programme focussed on environmental change detection, which includes acquisition, processing and analyses of air-borne data. Dr. Hopkinson will also work with other DCoP members to coordinate all remote sensing initiatives, and will provide leadership on the development of the remote sensing data layers of the Permafrost Resources.
Land & Resources Coordinator, WPFN5, Hay River, NT, X0E 0R9, 867-874-6677.
Ms. Ireland is the DCoP Community Lead for the West Point First Nation (Hay River). Her office will help to coordinate participation of community members so that areas traditionally used by the WPFN which have undergone rapid change can be properly identified and the change described.
Environmental Coordinator, SKFN, Sambaa K’e, NT, X0E 1Z0, 867-206-2800.
Ms. J. Jumbo is the DCoP Community Lead for the Sambaa K'e First Nation (Sambaa K’e). She will help to organise map exercises with local Elders and Harvesters that identify areas traditionally used by SKFN members which have undergone rapid change and describe the nature of the change.
Band Manager, SKFN, Sambaa K’e, NT, X0E 1Z0, 867-206-2800.
Ms. R. Jumbo helps to plan and execute the DCoP field course at Sambaa K’e. She also organises on the land activities and collaborates on delivery of Indigenous knowledge content to the course, and assists with site selection of monitoring and research sites at the Trainer Lake study basin, and will manage the community monitoring and data gathering at these sites.
NWT Geological Survey, Yellowknife, NT, Canada, X1A 2L9, 867-767-9211.
Dr. Kokelj is a permafrost scientist with great experience in permafrost mapping and in geomorphic processes associated with permafrost thaw, including thaw slumping, retrogressive slope failures and active layer detachment.
Dehcho AAROM Coordinator, DFN, Hay River, NT, X0E 0R7, 867 876 0441.
Mr. Low works closely with the DFN on water quality monitoring and as such is an important linkage to environmental consequences of permafrost thaw not directly examined by DCoP. Maintaining a strong connection with Mr. Low’s monitoring activities connects DCoP to other research projects that focus on other aspects of permafrost thaw, and keeps DCoP connected to a broader range of permafrost thaw related community concerns.
Executive Director, LKFN, Fort Simpson, NT, X0E 0N0, 867-695-3131.
Ms. McPherson will help with the planning and organisation of the GG499 field course at the SCRS in March of each year. Specifically, her office will help with recruiting students, and will provide students with outdoor gear and transportation, where needed.
Forest Management Div., ENR, Hay River, NT, X0E 1G3, 867-874-8227.
Mr. Olesinski is an Ecosystem Forester with the ENR/GNWT, and will provide to DCoP extensive archives of aerial and satellite imagery for the Dehcho as well as ground-based data from forest management plots that will help to detect land cover change. Mr. Olesinski’s office will provide helicopter time needed to access remote areas for verification of permafrost presence in support of permafrost mapping.
Lands Director, PKFN7, Wrigley, NT, X0E 1E0, 867-581-3321.
Ms. Pellissey is the DCoP Community Lead for the Pehdzeh Ki First Nation (Wrigley). She will organise map exercises with local Elders and Harvesters that identify areas traditionally used by PKFN members which have undergone rapid change and describe the nature of the change.
Chief, JMRFN8, Jean Marie River, NT, X0E 0N0, 867-809-2000.
Mr. Sanguez is the DCoP Community Lead for the Jean-Marie River First Nation (Jean-Marie River). He will organise map exercises with local Elders and Harvesters that identify areas traditionally used by JMRFN members which have undergone rapid change and describe the nature of the change.
NWT Centre for Geomatics, Yellowknife, NT, X1A 2L9, 867-767-9186.
Mr. van der Sluijs is the Unmanned Aircraft Systems Coordinator for the GNWT and will provide expertise and equipment for mapping using unmanned aerial vehicles equipped with state of the art sensors. This will be a critical component of Monitoring (Theme 2) and to the mapping of riverbank slope failures (Theme 4).
Resource Management Coordinator, DFN, Fort Simpson, NT, X0E 0N0, 867-695-2355.
Ms. Tanche plays a key role in the planning and organisation for the DFN-DCoP co-hosted on the land camps, and will assist with the planning and organisation of the June and January workshops
York University, Toronto, ON, M3J 1P3, 416-736-2100
Dr. Thienpont is an aquatic geochemist with extensive field research and community engagement experience in the Dehcho and surrounding regions. His interests include the study of intense localized impacts such as geomorphic changes, and human land-use, in the context of the regional impacts of climate change.
York University, Toronto, ON, M3J 1P3, 416-736-2100
Her research examines how human activities drive ecological and biogeochemical change in aquatic ecosystems, including the use of lake sediment cores to study recent aquatic ecosystem change over the context of the last several hundred years, with a focus on the Dehcho region.
1DGGFN: Deh Gah Gotie First Nation;
2LKFN: Liidlii Kue First Nation;
3SKFN: Sambaa K'e First Nation;
4DFN: Dehcho First Nations;
5WPFN: West Point First Nation;
6AAROM: Aboriginal Aquatic Resources & Ocean Management;
7PKFN: Pehdzeh Ki First Nation;
8JMRFN: Jean-Marie River First Nation.