Project Overview

Background and Objectives

Northeastern British Columbia (NEBC) and the adjacent southern Northwest Territories (NWT) are among the most rapidly warming regions on Earth, and are experiencing major industrial expansion. Climate warming and industrial disturbance in the NEBC-NWT border region 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.

In response to the need for improved understanding of, and ability to predict, permafrost thaw impacts, CPET was formed in 2015 to (i) investigate hydrological and ecological changes resulting from permafrost thaw in the NEBC/NWT border region, (ii) develop and mobilise knowledge of these changes, and (iii) improve predictive modelling tools of interest to industry, government and community stakeholders in the region.

CPET is funded through a NSERC Collaborative Research and Development (CRD) grant with funding and in-kind support from many partners, including; Nexen, Geoscience BC, BC oil and gas research and innovation society (BCOGRIS), Petroleum Technology Alliance of Canada (PTAC), Government of Northwest Territories and local First Nations groups.

The core science objectives of CPET are as follows:

  1. Map the changing spatial distribution of permafrost, wetland and forest coverage over the past 60 years;
  2. For different ground thaw and moisture conditions, conduct field studies to improve the understanding of the volume and timing of runoff;
  3. Simulate the major water flux and storage processes controlling runoff;
  4. Improve our ability to characterize permafrost impacts at larger scales through field investigation and subsequent adaptation of the a regional-scale permafrost model;
  5. Estimate future quantities of runoff and surface water storage within Boreal and subarctic landscapes with discontinuous permafrost under possible scenarios of climate warming and human disturbance.

Study Sites

CPET research activities are conducted over an approximately 175 km north-south oriented study transect traversing the zone of discontinuous permafrost in southwestern NWT and northeastern BC. Field-studies are concentrated at two research basins, which form latitudinal end-members of the study region. Scotty Creek research basin (north) was established in 1999 and Suhm Creek research basin (south) was established by CPET as a research site in 2015 to act as a paired basin to Scotty Creek. The on-going development of Suhm Creek research basin is anticipated as a key legacy of CPET. From a hydrological modelling perspective, the development of a paired research basin to the south of Scotty Creek is a major advantage for developing and evaluating models at sites representing different latitudinal positions along the southern margin of discontinuous permafrost. It is noted that a significant difference between Scotty Creek and Suhm Creek basins is that Scotty Creek has no industrial presence, other than linear disturbances from prior to 1985, whereas Suhm Creek is representative of current industrial activity in NEBC (e.g. shale gas exploration and extraction). This allows for comparing the impacts of industrial activities on basins in the zone of discontinuous permafrost. For example, Suhm Creek basin has a much higher density of linear disturbances (e.g. seismic line, pipelines and winter roads), compared to Scotty Creek basin.


Scotty Creek basin is estimated to be approximately 140 km2 and drains into the Laird River. Discharge from the basin has been measured continuously since 1996 by the Water Survey of Canada. The topography is relatively flat (~250 m relief) and land cover is dominated by upland forest, treed plateaus, flat bogs and channel fens. Research involving data from field-studies, automated instruments and remote sensing has been conducted continuously since 1999 and a growing body of scientific literature regarding hydrology of the discontinuous permafrost zone has been produced from this site. A significant amount of infrastructure is currently in place at Scotty Creek including a basic field camp for researchers and an array of automated instrumentation measuring climatological, hydrological, and ecological variables across different land cover types (e.g. bogs, fens, and peat plateaus). These instruments measure variables such as precipitation, air temperature, relative humidity, wind speed, incoming and outgoing radiation, snow height, soil moisture, and soil temperature at sites across the basin. In addition to automated instruments, a large volume of field sampling data has been, and continues to be, collected including measurements of depth to permafrost and talik formation (e.g. using ground penetrating radar), snow depth and water equivalent, soil moisture, and vegetation properties. Remote sensing archives have also been developed over the basin consisting of airborne LiDAR data and historical aerial photography (dating back to 1940’s), as well as satellite RADAR and optical remote sensing imagery.

Suhm basin is estimated to be 365 km2 and there is approximately 200 m of topographic relief over the basin. On-going work is being done at Suhm Creek to address data gaps for hydrological modelling by installing automated instruments, conducting field-sampling and obtaining remote sensing datasets. Two climate monitoring stations were installed in late 2015 with analogous measurement capabilities to those at Scotty Creek basin. One climate station is located in a forested peat-plateau and the other is in an open wetland site. Pressure transducers have also been deployed at 6 nodes of Suhm Creek basin to measure water level and to assist in understanding the flow routing of streams over the basin and parameterize routing in distributed hydrological models. Installation of an automated stream discharge gauge near the outlet of Suhm Creek with Petitot River is also planned for the future to monitor total basin discharge. In terms of field sampling, distributed measurements are being done along transects of peat plateaus during site visits to Suhm Creek basin to determine distributions of permafrost presence relative to treed land cover and characterize active layer depths relative to distances from plateau edges. CPET researchers have obtained remote sensing datasets over Suhm Creek basin and work is being completed to map both vegetation and wetland land covers at high resolutions. A LiDAR derived digital elevation model has also been obtained.

Remote sensing areas of interest

In addition to field-studies and data development of Suhm Creek and Scotty Creek basins, remote sensing areas of interest (AOIs) have been established along a north-south configuration in the NWT/NEBC border region. These AOIs connect the two research basins and enable sampling of land cover distributions along a latitudinal distribution over the discontinuous permafrost zone. Each of the 12 AOIs has a footprint of 36 km2 (432 km2 total area). Imagery stacking over these sites includes recent Landsat (30 m resolution) and World View 1/2 (50 cm resolution) datasets and historical aerial photographs acquired in 1970/71 (1.2 m resolution). Detailed statistical characterization of the land covers within these AOIs is being developed at high resolutions, providing information on proportions of major land cover types and changes to the land cover types over a 40-year period.

Impact and deliverables

Improved knowledge and predictive capacity of permafrost thaw patterns, rates, impacts and feedbacks developed by CPET will (i) improve water planning, management and security by reducing the uncertainty of future availability, and (ii) reduce construction and maintenance costs arising from thaw- induced damage to infrastructure and property.

On-going communication is done in meetings among CPET researchers, and representatives from industry, community groups, and government, to share emerging knowledge and align scientific activities with local community interests. CPET science is also reported to researcher audiences at conferences and in the form of peer-reviewed publications.

News & Events

What's new at CPET

June 2018

CPET researchers and students host a “Scotty Day” at the Scotty Creek Research Station for local community members. The day included a tour of the station and of the research sites, as well as a picnic lunch.

May 2018

CPET researchers provide training for Dehcho Guardians on permafrost thaw monitoring. CPET and the Dehcho First Nations co-hosted in Fort Simpson, a community gathering on how permafrost thaw is affecting communities in the Dehcho.

March 2018

CPET researchers and students open the Scotty Creek Research Station for the year. Field studies included snow surveys, geophysical surveys and other measurements.

February 2018

CPET researchers deliver a field course on Winter Hydrology for NWT-based high school students and undergraduate students. The course was hosted by the Olesen family at their homestead at the Hoarfrost River, NWT.

December 2017

CPET researchers take part in Dehcho K’Ehodi Regional Gathering in Fort Simpson, NWT.​

October 2017

“CPET East” established. Like the existing ~200 km transect, the CPET East transect is also ~200 km but extends from continuous permafrost (Polar Bear Provincial Park) to sporadic permafrost (Nayshkootayaow River). As such, it represents a much larger gradient of change.

New algorithms for soil thaw and refreeze were developed and tested. We are in the process of incorporating these new algorithms into Raven. A new 2D, finite element permafrost evolution model was developed and benchmarked by HQP Abedian to quantify the impact of horizontal and vertical energy fluxes to permafrost.

September 2017

The Electrical Resistivity Imaging system purchased in early 2017 was used at Scotty Creek in September at a variety of site types and along an instrumented seismic line. ERI data analysis is in progress.

New algorithms were developed for quantifying the total primary and secondary runoff contributing areas, bog area distribution, and bog contributing area distribution for current, historical, and projected land use maps. These are needed for land cover change mapping and projections of hydrological impact.

August 2017

A new Raven model was developed by PhD student Élise Devoie that explicitly represents the cascading bog phenomenon. Plant functional trait measurements were completed for Scotty Creek and Suhm Creek supporting community weighted trait estimates across resource gradients at both sites.

Gas flux collars and chambers were installed at Scotty Creek and Suhm Creek and initial measurements of gas fluxes for different ground vegetation communities were made from manual chamber measurements. These measurements are needed to assess plant function under different conditions.

July 2017

Surveys of ground vegetation community composition were completed at Suhm Creek and Scotty Creek. New infrastructure was installed at the Scotty Creek Research Station.

June 2017

K. Haynes (PDF) joined CPET. She began her work by developing a long-term water level archive from measurements within the Scotty Creek basin since 1999. This is needed for the assessment of basin water balance changes in response to permafrost thaw induced land cover change.

C. Pappas upgraded the sap flux sensor networks at Scotty Creek and Suhm Creek. A new sap flux sensor network was installed in the Smithsonian ForestGEO plot to link forest structure, existing measures of NPP and whole-tree transpiration rates, supporting upscaling to eddy covariance measurements.

May 2017

The first NASA/ABoVE remote data acquisition flights were conducted over Scotty Creek and over the Areas of Interest (AOIs) that lie along the ~200 km north-to- south CPET transect.

April 2017

J. Adams presented an update on CPET at the Water Tech 2017 meeting, an industry oriented water resources conference in Banff Alberta. The presentation was in a session hosted by the Petroleum Technology Alliance of Canada (PTAC), a CPET partner.

March 2017

Bill Quinton and Ryan Connon arrived at Scotty Creek on March 9, 2017 to open the research station for the upcoming field season and to host a high school ecohydrology school course for students in the Dehcho region. The course was instructed by Bill, Ryan, and Alex MacLean, all from Wilfrid Laurier University. Students arrived the morning of March 12th and stayed in camp until March 18th. The students had many hands on-experiences including digging snow pits to measure snow properties, conducting snow surveys, measuring active layer properties such as depth of refreeze, performing chemical analysis on water from different sources, and conducting vegetation plots and measuring tree heights. The students also had time to analyze and discuss their data to understand how different land cover types accumulated snow. This was complemented by using unmanned aerial vehicles (i.e. drones) to map snow cover across the basin. The final day even included a Scotty Creek paddle hockey tournament!
After the students left, Élise Devoie and Michael Braverman joined Bill and Ryan in camp to begin the 2017 field campaign. Michael modified his thermosyphon experiment and was successfully able to re-freeze the soil in a previously disturbed seismic line. He is continuing to work on improving his design. Bill, Élise, and Ryan completed the annual spring snow surveys to determine end of winter snow water equivalent. Other tasks included downloading station data and ensuring that the camp is functional for another field season.

February 2017

CPET has been approved to join NASA’s Arctic Boreal Vulnerability Experiment (ABoVE). As part of ABoVE, various aircraft based remote sensing datasets will be acquired over CPET field sites (Scotty Creek and Suhm Creek) and remote sensing AOI in summer 2017. The remote sensing data include: hyperspectral, LiDAR, and synthetic aperture radar (P-band and L-band). The affiliation with ABoVE will provide significant amounts of complex land cover data that can enhance our researchers' ability to address project objectives. For example, the remote sensing datasets available from ABoVE will considerably improve the characterization of land-cover properties (e.g. vegetation types and attributes) involved in developing and evaluating hydrological models. Further information on the CPET – ABoVE project can be found here:

January 2017

The CPET team published a report in Geoscience BC Summary of Activities 2016, which describes on-going project work throughout the study region. The report can be found here:

+ December 2016

CPET researcher Ryan Connon (PhD Candidate) visited Fort Simpson, NWT for several days where he attended the Dehcho K'ehodi workshop. Here, he met with community members as they work to build a guardianship program to incorporate Traditional Knowledge into a holistic environmental monitoring framework

+ November 2016

Bill Quinton, Jennifer Baltzer and Aaron Berg provided an overview of their research groups’ work at the fourth annual meeting of the Changing Cold Regions Network (held at U of Guelph). Many of their post-docs and students presented posters at the meeting that described on-going work toward CPET objectives.

+ October 2016

Bill Quinton, Justin Adams, Olivia Carpino and Ryan Connon completed a two-week field trip to the CPET study region. The group completed installation of water level recorders throughout Suhm Creek basin, and did maintenance on Suhm Creek climate stations. Aerial reconnaissance of land cover and ground verification of permafrost presence were completed at points in Suhm Creek basin and AOI11.

+ September 2016

Geoff Kershaw joins CPET as a PhD student in hydrology. Welcome to the team Geoff!

+ August 2016

James Craig hosted a CPET hydrological modelling workshop at Wilfrid Laurier University. Many CPET affiliated researchers participated.

Dr. Quinton led a large contingent of researchers at Scotty Creek for two weeks of field work.

CPET ecology researchers completed a very productive field season at Scotty Creek, NWT and Suhm Creek, BC.

+ June 2016

CPET researchers William Quinton, Justin Adams and Ryan Connon presented research findings at the 11th International Conference on Permafrost in Potsdam, Germany.

+ May 2016

The CPET team is growing – Post-doctoral fellow Christoforos Pappas, PhD student Katherine Standen and MSc student Meagan Warkentin begin working with supervisor Jennifer Baltzer. Welcome to CPET Christoforos, Katherine and Meagan!

CPET researchers Ryan Connon, Bhaleka Persaud, and Olivia Carpino presented some of their thesis research at the Canadian Geophysical Union annual meeting in Fredericton, NB.

CPET ecologists Jenn Baltzer, Katherine Standen, and Christoforos Pappas, commenced field-work at CPET sites (Suhm Creek and Scotty Creek) installing Sap Flow sensors. Eva Needlay from Fort Nelson First Nation assisted the team in NEBC.

+ April 2016

CPET research associate Justin Adams travelled to Ottawa and met with Government Scientists at Natural Resources Canada to discuss a strategy for NRCAN-CPET collaboration, knowledge and data transfer going forward.

+ March 2016

A very productive CPET science meeting was held at Wilfrid Laurier University. Research objectives and logistical plans for the upcoming field season were refined.

A field-work trip to the CPET field sites at Scotty Creek, NWT, Suhm Creek, BC and Gote Creek, BC was led by Bill Quinton. Climate stations were maintained and snow surveys were done at all three sites. Eva Needlay from Fort Nelson First Nation assisted with the work in NEBC. Meetings were held with community leaders from Jean-Marie First Nation, Liildlii Kue First Nation, Sambaa K’e First Nation and the town of Fort Simpson. Several students remain posted at Scotty Creek camp for the next couple of months completing their research.

+ January 2016

Elise Devoie joins CPET as a MASc student in Engineering at University of Waterloo (supervisor James Craig). Welcome Elise!

A Geoscience BC article was published by Quinton, Adams, Baltzer, Berg, Craig and Johnson describing CPET in the 2015 Summary of Activities section. This can be found here

+ November 2015

Shawn Williams at Nexen presented a poster describing CPET research and partnerships to the annual KNOWvember symposium at Nexen Centre in Calgary.

Bill Quinton, James Craig and Justin Adams travelled to Nexen head office in downtown Calgary to conduct a knowledge transfer session with Nexen staff about future hydrological modelling work in the NEBC region.

CPET affiliated students Ryan Connon, Bhaleka Persaud and Olivia Carpino presented an update of their research at the annual Scotty Day meeting at Wilfrid Laurier University. Great job!

+ October 2015

Dr. Justin Adams joins CPET as a Research Associate. Welcome Justin!

Bill Quinton and Justin Adams conducted a 10-day field trip to NEBC to launch four new climate monitoring stations at CPET sites in NEBC at Gote Creek and Suhm Creek. Bill and Justin worked with Eva Needlay, a technician from Fort Nelson First Nation. Eva’s local knowledge was very valuable!

+ September 2015

MSc Student Olivia Carpino at U of Guelph (supervisor: Aaron Berg) joins CPET as a student researcher. Welcome Olivia!

+ June 2015

CPET is launched!

Bill Quinton, Jennifer Baltzer, Aaron Berg and Oliver Sonnentag complete a scouting trip to determine CPET sites in NEBC and southern NWT.

James Craig and William Quinton host a Raven hydrological modelling workshop in Yellowknife for the GNWT.

Research Team

Click on a researcher to find out more about them

William Quinton

Dr. Quinton is the CPET principle investigator. He is an Associate Professor in the Department of Geography and Environmental Studies at Wilfrid Laurier University, co-director of the Cold Regions Research Centre at Laurier, and President of the Canadian Geophysical Union-Hydrology Section. He held a Tier II Canada Research Chair in Cold Regions Hydrology from 2005 to 2015. Bill’s area of expertise is in cold regions hydrology and, together with numerous graduate students and post-docs, he has over two decades of research experience at Arctic and sub-Arctic study sites across northern Canada.

Kristine Haynes

Dr. Haynes is a postdoctoral fellow at Wilfrid Laurier University. She is synthesizing the long-term water level data for the Scotty Creek watershed and examining the influence of climate change on long-term water storage across the variations in landscape. Dr. Haynes’ past research included investigation of climate change impacts on mercury cycling in sub-boreal peatlands.

Aaron Berg

Dr. Berg is a CPET co-investigator. He is a Professor at University of Guelph in the Department of Geography. He holds a Tier II Canada Research Chair in Hydrology and Remote Sensing (2013-present). Dr. Berg’s areas of expertise are broadly in hydrology and remote sensing with applications to agriculture, land-atmosphere interactions and hydro-climatology.

Ryan Connon

Ryan is a PhD Candidate in Geography at Wilfrid Laurier University. His thesis is investigating mechanisms of run-off generation and energy dynamics of plateau-bog complexes and links between permafrost thaw and stream flow generation in sub-Arctic basins.

Élise Devoie

Élise is a PhD student in Civil and Environmental Engineering at University of Waterloo.

Joelle Langford

Joelle is a MSc student in Earth Sciences at University of Western Ontario.

Christoforos Pappas

Dr. Pappas is a post-doctoral fellow in Geography at Université de Montréal, co-supervised by Dr. Oliver Sonnentag and Dr. Jennifer Baltzer.

Katherine Standen

Katherine is a PhD student in Biology at Wilfrid Laurier University.

Laura Chasmer

Erfan Abdeian

Erfan is a PhD Candidate in Civil and Environmental Engineering at University of Waterloo. His research is focused on numerical modelling of permafrost based on Finite Element Analysis. The goal is to develop a realistic two-phase model for simulating permafrost, and to study the effect of heterogeneity on permafrost landscape evolution and talik formations.

Jennifer Baltzer

Dr. Baltzer is a CPET co-investigator. She is an Associate Professor at Wilfrid Laurier University, cross appointed to the Department of Geography and Environmental Studies and the Department of Biology. She is a co-director of the Cold Regions Research Centre and holds a Tier II Canada Research Chair in Forests and Global Change (2011-present).

Olivia Carpino

Olivia is a MSc student in Geography at University of Guelph.

James Craig

Dr. Craig is a CPET co-investigator. He is an Associate Professor at University of Waterloo in the Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering and is a Professional Engineer. He holds a Tier II Canada Research Chair in Hydrologic Modelling and Analysis (2016 - present).

Sarah Grass

Sarah is a MSc student in Civil and Environmental Engineering at University of Waterloo. Her research is focused on improving hydrologic modelling methodology in the Boreal Plains.

Juliane Mai

Dr. Mai is a Research Associate in Civil and Environmental Engineering at University of Waterloo.

Bhaleka Persaud

Bhaleka is a PhD candidate in Geography at Wilfrid Laurier University.

Genevieve Brown

Genevieve is a MAsc student in Civil Engineering at the University of Waterloo, supervised by Dr.James Craig. She is investigating the current water and energy balances of Scotty Creek and how they will change given a changing climate.

Mikhail Mack


Kevin Devito

Professor, Faculty of Science, University of Alberta

Masaki Hayashi

Professor and Canada Research Chair in Physical Hydrology, University of Calgary

Tom Lakusta

Manager of Forest Resources, Environment and Natural Resources, Government of Northwest Territories

Liza McPherson

Executive director at Liildlii Kue First Nation, Northwest Territories

Oliver Sonnentag

Associate Professor and Canada Research Chair in Atmospheric Biogeosciences at High Latitudes, Universtité de Montréal

Rob Shincariol

Associate Professor, Department of Earth Sciences, University of Western Ontario

Suzanne Tank

Assistant Professor, Faculty of Science, University of Alberta

Bruce Hanna

Government of the Northwest Territories

Elizabeth Johnson

British Columbia Ministry of Forests, Lands and Natural Resource Operations

Lana Lowe

Director of Lands Department, Fort Nelson First Nation, British Columbia

Gladys Norwegian

Chief of Jean-Marie First Nation, Northwest Territories

Al Pietroniro

Director, National Water Survey of Canada

Shawn Williams

Senior Scientist and lead CPET industry partner contact, Nexen Energy