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New study predicts more flooding in Inuvik area as climate warms

A warming climate may mean more snowstorms and rainstorms with droughts in between in the Inuvik region, according to John Pomeroy, co-author of a new research article on the subject.

“There’s more snow but it’s warming, so you get a deeper snowpack and it will melt much faster and much earlier than it does now,” said Pomeroy.

Pictured is a meteorological tower at Havikpak Creek. A new study predicts increasing flooding at that creek, which would result in repeated damage to the Dempster Highway. Philip Marsh photo
Pictured is a meteorological tower at Havikpak Creek. A new study predicts increasing flooding at that creek, which would result in repeated damage to the Dempster Highway. Philip Marsh photo

This would lead to flooding as stream flows, according to the research team’s models, will double as the snow melts.

Pomeroy said this threatens infrastructure in the area, such as roads like the Dempster Highway.

Havikpak Creek crosses the Dempster Highway, (which has) already been subject to many wash-outs and this could be worse,” he said.

The study also predicted more rain, which will come to the region first.

The storms are more intense unfortunately,” he said. “Then the periods between the storms are longer so we can expect droughts that are more intense, forest fire seasons that are worse, longer summers, but then deeper, snowier winters with more rapid melts.”

The research paper, published in the American Meteorological Society’s Journal of Hydrometeorology and co-authored by Pomeroy and Sebastian A. Krogh, looks at the impacts of climate change and increased vegetation where the tundra meets the treeline in the Beaufort Delta.

Pomeroy said the technology used in the study to model weather over the rest of the current century is groundbreaking.

We used the weather model grid, which is ... able to pick up thunderstorms and actually predict future weather as opposed to future climate – with high resolution,” said Pomeroy.

His team ran the model on Inuvik over the years 2000 to 2015—based on data previous to those years—as a test run and found it to have reasonably accurate predictions, lining up with the town’s actual weather in ways that “weren’t far off.”

This has given him confidence in the system’s predictions of weather for the region.

It will be a very, very different place and we have to prepare for that and make sure that the communities and the highways have the budgets to keep defending their infrastructure as these changes occur,” said Pomeroy, because they will occur, with extreme events.

Some of the stream flows we predicted showed streams going dry in August in certain years, which is not the case right now, but then also much higher floods in peak flows in the spring.”

In addition to weather modelling, the study considers snow accumulation and melt, the effects of forest and shrubbery in dispersing snow, evaporation of the precipitation, water melting from the surface on sunny days, and the effects of water seeping into frozen and unfrozen soils, and the routes of groundwater and streams.

Another aspect of the survey looks at permafrost. With all this new water, permafrost will lessen as the layer of ground that thaws and freezes each year grows deeper.

This has a large effect on infrastructure as well, said Pomeroy – effects that have already been seen in Inuvik, he said.

The Town of Inuvik has had to demolish buildings because the shifting ground has made them hazardous.

News/North did not hear back from senior administrative officer Grant Hood by press time for an update on that situation.

Pomeroy said that, in addition to being prepared for infrastructure problems, he hopes people come away from his study’s results with a renewed vigour to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and fend off the worst of climate change.

This is what happens if we carry on as is,” he said. “It's not necessarily what's going to happen, but we have to ensure that we make those changes.”