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Research Grants

2010 Research Grant Recipient


Tyler W. Veness, MSc.
Wilfrid Laurier University
Runoff Prediction and Permafrost: Distribution and Degradation in the Hay River Basin of Canada’s Northwest Territories

Progress Report

Sarah Panofsky photo

Updated List of Awards:
Since applying to the Royal Canadian Geographical Society Research Grants program, I have once again been awarded the Jeremy Kendall Environmental and Social Responsibility Award, making 2010 the second consecutive year that I have upheld the award.
I have recently completed applications to the Ontario Graduate Scholarship (OGS) and to the Northern Scientific Training Program (NSTP) to gain further supplementary funding for the coming 2011 spring research field campaign.

Updated Employment Experience:
My employment has continued into my graduate studies, as my supervisor, Dr. Quinton, has hired me as a research assistant for the fall and winter terms, replacing teaching assistantships I would have otherwise held. Dr. Quinton has continued my employment as I have proven to be a very capable field technician and analyst of a number of data sets. I have become proficient in the use of many data analysis tools and software programs, such as YSI coding, Surfer software, CRHM hydrological modelling, etc. Understanding these analysis tools and using my acquired skill and knowledge sets provided through this continued employment opportunity have proven to be extremely beneficial for the future of my MSc. research work as well. I have gained an analytical skill set and knowledge of data tools that are highly topical to my own work, and have had a great deal of first hand research experience, along with planning and logistical training.

Sarah Panofsky photo
As well, my current employment has given me the chance to meet with and discuss my research and develop a deeper understanding of cold regions hydrology with leading Canadian hydrologists such as Dr. John Pomeroy, director of the IP3 network at University of Saskatchewan, Dr. Al Pietroniro, director of the Water Survey of Canada, and Dr. Phil Marsh, Environment Canada. I have also had the great fortune to work with and learn from Dr. Masaki Hayashi, a geoscientist and Canadian Research Chair in Physical Hydrology at the University of Calgary.

Updated Focus of Research:
To further define my MSc. research project based on previous knowledge and research of the variables affecting the hydrological cycle within the Hay River Basin, the project will examine the increase in permafrost thaw evident to this region with relation to the changing canopy structure, and sub-surface flow regimes. Since developments such as oil and gas pipelines in the Mackenzie Valley seem to be on the horizon, this research will focus itself on the uncertainties over future availability of freshwater resources, as sub-surface flow and deep infiltration of water into the active layer stand to be affected by changes to the landscape, whether through climate warming or anthropogenic developmental forcing.

Updated Conceptual Framework:

Sarah Panofsky photo
In order to meet the challenges of predicting runoff dynamically in the context of widely occurring permafrost degradation, the use of both remotely sensed and in situ data must be considered to give proper representation of the large scale degradation of permafrost, as well as measurements taken over a specified period (i.e. a 90 day research field season) to quantify and model present and predicted changes for the future. The objective of this study is to document the change in permafrost distribution over the last 60 years; and to characterize the hydrological interaction among the major peatland types within this region. To fully examine this change, the research conducted will involve consistent measurement of frost table change, ground heat exchange through long and shortwave radiation, and sub-surface flow patterns (relating to frost table topography and preferential outflow of groundwater) which will be carried out from mid-March 2011 to June 2011. The proposed research questions specific to this study are: 1) In what ways do frost table topography and sub-surface flow patterns interact to increase permafrost thaw? 2) Does canopy coverage change alter the sensitivity of ground thaw within the Scotty Creek Basin?

Updated Methods of Research and Data Sources:
As previously stated in my application to the RCGS Grants program, remotely sensed imagery will be used to obtain detailed ground surface elevation and canopy variation for Scotty Creek. Such imagery techniques as LiDAR, SPOT5, and recently acquired World View 2 imagery will be coupled with aerial photography dating as far back as 1947, along with IKONOS satellite imagery collected in 2000, to show changes in the spatial distribution of permafrost over the Scotty Creek Basin, as well as changes to overall peat plateau coverage and canopy variation. This will allow for further analysis of the affects of canopy change affecting ground thaw within the Scotty Creek Basin.

Sarah Panofsky photo
Through In Situ data collection for frost table development trends, ground heat transfer, and water-level variation over the field campaign, a hydrological model will be built through the IP3 network CRHM modelling program. The model will function as a quantified schematic for sensitivity of ground thaw to canopy change, and provide a linkage between ground thaw and sub-surface flow patterns, using seasonal thaw as a surrogate for permafrost thaw. Further, there is a large existing data archive for water level variation, snow depth, snow water equivalent, radiation properties, and frost table depth, which is currently under analysis to validate the data collected during the coming field campaign.
By utilising remotely sensed data along with the developed hydrological model within the CRHM module, this project will give greater understanding to the linkage between permafrost thaw and the volume and flow regimes of basin runoff production within Scotty Creek, providing a spatially significant representation of permafrost degradation within the Hay River Basin.

Updated Research Budget:
Thanks to funding by the Royal Canadian Geographical Society, I am able to commence the planning of the logistics of my research trip which will commence tentatively March 15, 2011. The budget set for my research is based on the following:

  • Return airfare to Fort Simpson, NT from Waterloo, ON: $2700
  • Helicopter transport to study site: $2300
  • Return freight charges from Waterloo to Fort Simpson: $1000
  • Air-lift of freight to study site: $800-1200
  • Purchase of research equipment: $1000
  • Total cost: $7800-8200

Courses Taken: Current and Future:
Currently, as part of the Master’s of Science program at Wilfrid Laurier University, I am required to undertake a selection of graduate level courses to provide me with an in depth examination of practical and theoretical approaches to conducting research. My course schedule will be completed as follows:
Fall 2010:

  • Geog. 691 – Research Seminar
  • Geog. 640 – Physical Geography Seminar
  • Geog. 603 – Remote Sensing in Environmental Systems Science

Winter 2011:

  • Geog. 641 – Physical Climate Change

Fall 2011:

  • Geog. 649 – Cold Regions Hydrology

Sarah Panofsky photo
Each course has been chosen to be beneficial to my research programme, with regards to understanding the practices of remote sensing and how remote sensing techniques can be implemented within my research, as well as developing an increased understanding of hydrological functions in cold regions and climatic variability in the context of the Canadian subarctic.

Closing Remarks:
I would like to take the opportunity to thank the Royal Canadian Geographical Society for their generous support of this important research that will help to determine the future development of gas pipeline construction and conservation of a resource that is all important to the future of this nation, freshwater. The funding supplied by the RCGS will go directly to the purchase of field instrumentation crucial to the success of the field campaign, as well as providing considerable travel expense alleviation.

— Tyler W. Veness


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