Melting permafrost: future danger to Nunavik

Another sign of global warming — melting permafrost


Three years ago, much to the alarm of local residents, several houses located in Salluit’s new “suburb” started to slide.

Since then, all 20 houses have been relocated to new places, on more stable land within the community.

Taking the cue from this incident, Quebec has been making plans to move buildings in other Nunavik communities where melting permafrost may cause havoc.

Provincial authorities say nine communities in Nunavik have structures built on a deep layer of permanently frozen clay or mud that is at risk of thawing.

“There is no plan to move any villages to Brossard. We’re just looking at what’s happened and documenting it,” said Georges Beauchemin from Quebec’s public security department. “The idea isn’t to go far, but to see what we can do.”

Beauchemin said Quebec wants to identify alternative sites and put plans in place if it’s necessary to move buildings in the future.

Inuit Child First, Indigenous Services Canada

Beauchemin said the permafrost’s temperature has already increased.

“The temperature has gone up,” Beauchemin said. “It’s still very cold, but it’s gone up by two degrees.”

Beuchemin called this increase “substantial.”

But the impact of warming permafrost won’t be “brutal,” Beauchemin predicted. He said the movement of buildings is hard to calculate when the land under them begins to soften.

“It’s like ice cream. There are lots of flavours and colours.”

When permafrost melts, it’s likely to cause anything built on it to move in a kind of slow motion.

“The life of people doesn’t change, but the structure does,” Beauchemin said. “It could take one or two weeks, so we would have time to react.”

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