Research Area 3 - Environmental Risk Assessment and Adaptation Strategies


Research Area 3 - Environmental Risk Assessment and Adaptation Strategies

Natural systems, communities and infrastructure in cold environments are exposed to risks associated with environmental changes that affect the integrity and stability of geo-ecosystems, civil security and, for northern peoples, safe access to the land and their traditional food resources. The CEN researchers are assessing the vulnerability of geo-ecosystems, communities and infrastructure (e. g., roads, mines) to permafrost changes, coastal erosion, slope processes and wildfires in order to develop tools and practices for the North. The modes of occurrence of natural and anthropogenic hazards in cold environments are documented and forecasting tools are developed and shared with the aim to directly supply information for decision-making. The work of the CEN contributes to the conservation of natural resources and the development of methods for mitigating and restoring the impacts of resource exploitation in order to minimize their effects and to maintain the integrity of ecosystems and the services they provide. The analysis of the historical practices of Indigenous peoples allows to assess the resilience and adaptation of northern communities to environmental changes and helps in the preservation of their cultural heritage. This research focus includes four themes.

Project leaders: Najat Bhiry and Line Rochefort

Theme 3.1: Modeling of permafrost environments and sustainable infrastructure design

Northern civil infrastructure is increasingly exposed to natural hazards such as thaw subsidence and landslides caused by permafrost degradation. The CEN researchers are documenting the processes at the origin of these natural risks, their rate of progression and recurrence and their impact on the functional capacity of infrastructure. The integrated approach includes numerical simulations of coupled physical phenomena such as heat transfer, groundwater flow and permafrost thaw. These simulations are based on a detailed knowledge of the permafrost physical environment obtained by geomorphological, geotechnical and geophysical surveys and instrumental monitoring in the field. These models help to understand current issues, to make predictive analyses of future impacts and to develop adaptation methods. The aim is to develop effective adaptation strategies that reduce risks to communities and their infrastructure. These studies have already contributed to prevent road and airport deterioration in Nunavik and Nunavut (Iqaluit). They have also enabled Nunavik communities to benefit from development plans that were established according to the specific permafrost conditions, climate predictions and aspirations of each community. This ground-breaking work is now inspiring and guiding the definition of Canadian and Quebec standards for the maintenance of northern transportation infrastructure, for the design of building foundations on permafrost and for the urban planning of communities.

Project leader: Guy Doré

Team: Allard, Michel; Bernier, Monique; Doyon, Bernard; Fortier, Daniel; Fortier, Richard; Langlois, Alexandre; Lemieux, Jean-Michel; Mercier, Guy; Molson, John; Raymond, Jasmin; Royer, Alain; Therrien, René.

Theme 3.2: Natural and anthropogenic hazards and risk management

Climate change and human activities are increasing the intensity and frequency of several types of natural hazards in cold and northern environments, such as ice jams and floods, shoreline erosion, landslides, coastal storms, avalanches and forest fires. These hazards impact communities and industry and raise concerns of vulnerability and civil security. To address these issues, the CEN researchers are working to identify the factors at the origin of these hazards in order to adequately assess the vulnerability of populations, land-based activities and infrastructure as well as the associated risks. They propose pragmatic solutions based on innovative technologies to secure populations and structure work and also provide decision support tools for land use planning, risk management and forecasting. This research is based on airborne surveys, field observations, the compilation of historical events reported in the media or by traditional knowledge as well as networks of environmental monitoring devices established by CEN members, such as the SILA network. The knowledge of the northern peoples is an essential contribution for this research and redistributed for the benefit of all. At this point, the CEN is working closely with communities, industry and governments.

Project leader: Pascal Bernatchez

Team: Allard, Michel; Arsenault, Dominique; Bernier, Monique; Bhiry, Najat; Buffin-Bélanger, Thomas; Chokmani, Karem; Doré, Guy; Fortier, Richard; Gauthier, Francis; Grenon, Martin; Hétu, Bernard; Lajeunesse, Patrick; Langlois, Alexandre; Lemieux, Jean-Michel; Marie, Guillaume; Mercier, Guy; Molson, John; Therrien, René.

Theme 3.3: Responsible management, conservation and restoration of natural resources

Decisions for management, conservation and restoration of natural or degraded environments and wildlife related to the use of natural resource must rely on sound scientific bases to propose sustainable solutions. Through their fieldwork, the CEN researchers improve the knowledge of the ecological richness of the North and thus contribute to better choices for the establishment of protected areas or the management of the environmental impacts of human activities. In addition to maintaining the ecological integrity of the land, protected areas are vital to ensuring the sustainability of ecological services such as the availability and quality of drinking water, traditional food for northern peoples and carbon sequestration in peatlands and forest soils. The research of the CEN also contributes to improving management methods for exploited natural resources (e.g., caribou) and to testing mitigation measures related to their exploitation (e.g., peat, ore). The science of restoration ecology allows the development of new practices adapted to northern climatic conditions in order to rehabilitate sites disturbed or contaminated by human action (e.g., mining and petroleum prospection and exploitation, construction in communities), a practice that generates significant economic benefits.

Project leader: Line Rochefort

Team: Antoniades, Dermot; Bernier, Monique; Berteaux, Dominique; Bêty, Joël; Boudreau, Stéphane; Côté, Steeve; Doré, Guy; Festa-Bianchet, Marco; Galvez, Rosa; Garneau, Michelle; Gauthier, Gilles; Grenon, Martin; Khasa, Damase; Lasserre, Frédéric; Legagneux, Pierre; Lévesque, Esther; Mercier, Guy; Moore, Jean-Sébastien; Pienitz, Reinhard; Rautio, Milla; Raymond, Jasmin; St-Laurent, Martin-Hugues; Tremblay, Jean-Pierre; Vincent, Warwick F.

Theme 3.4: Human-environment relations and cultural heritage at risk

The long history of land use by northern peoples provides a range of inspiring examples of resilience to environmental change and from which lessons can be learned. The research of the CEN aims to identify periods of major transformations and to understand the interaction of environmental, economic and historical factors associated with these transformations. The historical impact of the human presence on the development of landscape and resources is assessed through intersectoral research activities (natural sciences, archaeology and cultural geography) involving several disciplines (including geomorphology, paleoecology, sedimentology, zooarchaeology and archaeobotany). In this context, scientific data are combined with the traditional knowledge of northern communities through a participatory approach. These results support the efforts of the communities to develop concrete practices and tools for the establishment of culturally highly significant sites, which helps to appropriate their history and to strengthen their cultural identity and resilience. Furthermore, the results contribute to the understanding of environmental processes (e.g., coastal erosion, permafrost thawing and shrubification) which provoke the degradation of cultural heritage (archaeological sites) and allow to document the loss of these natural archives. The CEN members are thus involved in the development of methods and programs for the preservation of this collective memory and remediation measures.

Project leader: James Woollett

Team: Bernier, Monique; Bhiry, Najat; Lavoie, Martin; Lévesque, Esther; Pienitz, Reinhard; Rodon, Thierry; Simard, Martin.

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