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Beaufort Delta
Environment

As permafrost changes, Inuvik's airport gets $22M upgrade


Inuvik's airport, vulnerable to thawing Arctic permafrost, is to receive $22 million in work designed to mitigate the effects of climate change.

In a news release on Friday, the federal government said the money would pay for runway widening and taxiway embankments, alongside surface repairs and drainage improvements.

Ottawa is contributing $16.5 million, with the NWT government paying the remaining $5.5 million.

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The melting of permafrost, accelerating as the climate changes, can cause significant and abrupt changes in the landscape – particularly if, as in the Inuvik region, the permafrost itself contains large quantities of ice.

This is particularly troublesome for the territory's infrastructure, ranging from its roads to buildings.

A 2013 photo, taken on Inuvik's runway after a permafrost-related ground slip, shows the back wheels of an SUV several feet above the front wheels as it rests in the depression.

Widening the runway and creating taxiway embankments is designed to help preserve the permafrost beneath, while better drainage will move water away from the most vulnerable areas. Water build-up can hasten permafrost melt.

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"This project is expected to reduce the rate and extent of ground settlements throughout the airfield," said the federal government.

"Northern communities need support to adapt to climate change. This important work will help safeguard the Inuvik airport to ensure more dependable transportation for residents and travellers for decades to come," said Michael McLeod, the NWT's Liberal MP, in prepared remarks.

Inuvik's runway was built in the late 1950s and paved in 1969. What the NWT government calls "settlement issues" – in which permafrost, and the ice within, melts, triggering ground movement – began in the region in the 1980s.

While climate change is considered responsible for broader permafrost change, Inuvik's airport also has some drainage issues that are specific to the location.

The federal share of the $22 million comes from the same disaster mitigation and adaptation fund used by Yellowknife to help pay for its new drinking water pipe.

In Yellowknife's case, the proximity of Giant Mine's toxic remains was the potential disaster cited by Ottawa. In this instance, permafrost and climate change are considered the key concerns.

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