Performance of Climate Projections for Yukon and Adjacent Northwest Territories, 1991 – 2020
Keywords:climate change; Yukon; Mackenzie Valley; climate scenarios; temperature; precipitation; engineering design; infrastructure foundations
Permafrost foundation design recognizes the impact of climate change on soil bearing capacity, as described in Canadian guideline CSA PLUS 4011:19. There is, however, no guidance as to the climate scenarios most prudent to adopt for such design. We have compared climate change scenarios outlined in 2003 for the design of the proposed Mackenzie Gas Project (MGP) with climate data for 1991 – 2020 to determine the projections most representative of what did, in fact, occur. In Canada, the greatest change in climate during the last 50 years has been measured in the western Arctic, where fluctuations in annual air temperatures are regionally consistent. In this region, the rate of change in annual mean air temperature for 1971 – 2020 has ranged from 0.77 °C decade-1 at Inuvik, NT, to 0.30 °C decade-1 at Komakuk Beach, YT, with warming concentrated in winter. No statistically significant trends in total annual precipitation have been observed and these records are poorly correlated within the region. In 2003, 29 climate projections from seven global climate models were examined for the MGP and, in 2005, for research regarding forest fires in Yukon. The observed climate warming in Yukon and adjacent Northwest Territories during 1991 – 2020 was close to the upper projections for mean annual and winter air temperature. For example, at Inuvik the 2.3 °C increase observed in mean annual air temperature between 1961 – 90 and 1991 – 2020, exceeds the median projection for change by 2010 – 39 of +1.6 °C and approaches the upper value of +2.4 °C. No consistency between observed and projected precipitation has been determined. These results indicate that, when required, future projections of temperature in northwest Canada may prudently adopt higher or more extreme scenarios because they have been the most realistic to date. They imply that near-surface permafrost may soon become unsustainable in southern parts of the region and so site investi gations to locate thaw-stable soils will likely be cost effective for new projects.
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