(ongoing project)

Tuktoyaktuk, an Inuvialuit community of about 950 people, may become the first community in Canada to face the possibility of relocation due to the impact of global warming. According to a report from W.F. Baird & Associates Coastal Engineers, over half of the north end of Tuktoyaktuk Peninsula, locally known as the Point, is expected to be gone by the end of the century. Despite several attempts to protect the shore from erosion over the last few decades, the ocean keeps advancing inland due to climate change driven factors like shorter ice season, rising sea level, and permafrost thaw. One of the biggest contributing factors to the accelerated rate of erosion is the increasingly shorter sea ice season. It leaves the shore exposed to wind and waves for a longer period of time. The open water season on the Beaufort Sea around Tuktoyaktuk increased since 1975 from approximately 95 days to 110 days. It is projected that it will further increase by another 2 months by 2060, and by 3 to 4 months by 2100. Loss of sea ice opens more water surface for the prevailing winds to create bigger waves. That, combined with rising sea level, is expected to bring increasingly higher storm surge, devastating to the shoreline and man-made infrastructure.

According to a report published by Geological Survey of Canada, the Beaufort Sea coastal region features the largest projected relative sea level rise of Canada’s North coast. Locally, the amount of water level change is affected by the global sea level, as well as vertical land motion. In the Canadian Arctic this land motion is primarily caused by a process called glacial isostatic adjustment - a delayed response to the surface decompressing after retreat of the continental ice sheets at the end of the last ice age. As a result of that process, the areas that were compressed by the ice cover tend lift up, while the areas formerly located along the edge of the ice subside. Because of this process, not only is Tuktoyaktuk facing a threat from the rising water level, but the Beaufort Sea coast around Tuktoyaktuk is sinking by about 2.5mm a year. These estimates refer to the movement of bedrock deep below the surface and do no account for additional land subsidence caused by factors like permafrost thaw.

The extent of the impact of thawing permafrost on the surrounding environment isn’t yet fully known. Concerns include ocean acidification and its effect on marine life, and elevated concentrations of mercury, which can accumulate in fish and wildlife. In a region where many residents depend on harvesting from the land for their traditional food supply, these concerns cannot be underestimated. In a lot of ways, Tuktoyaktuk is a micro-scale example of the threat that we are all facing: wherever we live, we depend on our environment to sustain us, and climate change may alter that environment and jeopardize our way of life as we know it.

This project, commenced in 2017, documents the effect of coastal erosion on the landscape and the communities along the Canadian Beaufort coast.

Using Format