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Author Topic: Alaskan Highway Literally Melting  (Read 3534 times)

vdeane

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Alaskan Highway Literally Melting
« on: August 12, 2016, 07:59:34 PM »

Looks like climate change could have some interesting consequences for the roads in the far north.  The permafrost under the roads is melting, causing the roads to buckle.

http://www.bloomberg.com/news/features/2016-08-02/the-alaskan-highway-is-literally-melting
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oscar

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Re: Alaskan Highway Literally Melting
« Reply #1 on: August 12, 2016, 08:50:40 PM »

This is old news, not warranting the alarmist headlines. Shifting and melting permafrost has long been an maintenance issue for the northernmost parts of the Alaska Highway, but not to the point of threatening prolonged road closures. My last trip up there in 2012, I saw in several places experiments (like those described in the article) on keeping the permafrost from melting.

The article notes that the highway's pavement contributes to the melting problem. One long-range solution might be to rip out the pavement, which would not only help protect the permafrost, but also be easier to maintain since a grader can quickly fix any sags or heaves.

The Northwest Territories have it much worse, with shorter operating seasons for its extensive winter road network. (Not much of that in Alaska, with its major Arctic highway all-season, much as "Ice Road Truckers" tried to pretend otherwise.) That's a major reason for replacing the ice road from NT 8 in Inuvik north to Tuktoyaktuk, with an all-season road scheduled to open next year. Also planned is a replacement for the winter road from NT 1 in Wrigley to Tulita and Norman Wells (ultimately connecting to NT 8 south of Inuvik). That project is not as far along, but in the meantime all-season bridges have replaced ice bridges, so the winter road can open as soon as the ground freezes without waiting for the waterways to freeze too. All but one of the permanent bridges will be incorporated into the new all-season road (the exception is because a village asked that the new road be rerouted downstream from its drinking water supply).
« Last Edit: August 12, 2016, 10:54:51 PM by oscar »
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SignGeek101

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Re: Alaskan Highway Literally Melting
« Reply #2 on: August 12, 2016, 09:42:14 PM »

Surprised the deniers aren't here yet to claim that global warming is some kind of conspiracy theory and the melting of the permafrost (as well as the other already-seen consequences) are part of a plot by someone to cause global panic.  :-D

The issue with winter roads is also happening in northern Manitoba. Last winter was pretty warm with the super El Nino and combine that with the global temperatures rising means that shipments to northern communities will increasingly become more expensive (will have to be done by air).

oscar

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Re: Alaskan Highway Literally Melting
« Reply #3 on: August 12, 2016, 10:10:06 PM »

The issue with winter roads is also happening in northern Manitoba. Last winter was pretty warm with the super El Nino and combine that with the global temperatures rising means that shipments to northern communities will increasingly become more expensive (will have to be done by air).

Yeah, the current season of Ice Road Truckers is all about that issue. But it is taking care to emphasize "super El Niño" as the cause of this season's problems, rather than something less temporary that might force IRT to leave Manitoba for future seasons.
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kphoger

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Re: Alaskan Highway Literally Melting
« Reply #4 on: August 13, 2016, 10:37:30 AM »

What seems undeniable, however, is that the polar regions have seen warming temperatures, and I can see how that means the usual permafrost issues there are becoming more important to deal with.  I agree with oscar, that returning highways to a gravel surface is a worthwhile consideration.  I remember reading a National Geographic article from decades ago about the Yukon, and the author mentioned the people's preference for gravel over asphalt because (1) it's easier to maintain and (2) it doesn't matter for much of the year because it's covered with snow anyway.
« Last Edit: August 13, 2016, 11:01:24 AM by Alps »
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Stephane Dumas

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Re: Alaskan Highway Literally Melting
« Reply #5 on: August 13, 2016, 10:55:14 AM »

I wonder if some others roads like MB-6 and MB-390 as well as the James Bay highway and Trans-Taiga highway in Northern Quebec althought they don't go as far north faced the same problems? And we could talk of some railroads like the CN line going to Hay River and the future railroad project for Baffinland iron mine on Baffin Island who'll face the same music as well. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Baffinland_Iron_Mine#Railway_route_to_Steensby_Inlet

But I think back at the era of the Wisconsin glaciation and Laurentian glaciation, the permafrost did once goes even further south.
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Alps

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Re: Alaskan Highway Literally Melting
« Reply #6 on: August 13, 2016, 11:03:45 AM »

Surprised the deniers aren't here yet to claim that global warming is some kind of conspiracy theory and the melting of the permafrost (as well as the other already-seen consequences) are part of a plot by someone to cause global panic.  :-D

I'll add a note as the new mod of this board: let's please keep discussion to the roads, and not to climate change itself. Thanks!

oscar

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Re: Alaskan Highway Literally Melting
« Reply #7 on: August 13, 2016, 04:18:48 PM »

I wonder if some others roads like MB-6 and MB-390 as well as the James Bay highway and Trans-Taiga highway in Northern Quebec althought they don't go as far north faced the same problems? And we could talk of some railroads like the CN line going to Hay River and the future railroad project for Baffinland iron mine on Baffin Island who'll face the same music as well. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Baffinland_Iron_Mine#Railway_route_to_Steensby_Inlet

AFAIK, permafrost doesn't go far enough south to affect any of those roads, except perhaps the Baffin Island proposed project.

The problem with the Manitoba and other winter roads isn't that they're being undermined by melting permafrost, but rather that the soft land surfaces and liquid water crossings can't be traveled unless they're frozen solid enough to support vehicles, which isn't happening or at least doesn't last long enough for a full season of winter road travel. South of permafrost country, paved roads like MB 6 and the James Bay, and all-season gravel roads like MB 280 and MB 391, are unaffected except a frozen subsurface can support heavier loads, and snow cover helps fill in any potholes.
« Last Edit: August 13, 2016, 04:42:06 PM by oscar »
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Stephane Dumas

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Re: Alaskan Highway Literally Melting
« Reply #8 on: August 13, 2016, 06:14:31 PM »

I wonder if some others roads like MB-6 and MB-390 as well as the James Bay highway and Trans-Taiga highway in Northern Quebec althought they don't go as far north faced the same problems? And we could talk of some railroads like the CN line going to Hay River and the future railroad project for Baffinland iron mine on Baffin Island who'll face the same music as well. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Baffinland_Iron_Mine#Railway_route_to_Steensby_Inlet

AFAIK, permafrost doesn't go far enough south to affect any of those roads, except perhaps the Baffin Island proposed project.

The problem with the Manitoba and other winter roads isn't that they're being undermined by melting permafrost, but rather that the soft land surfaces and liquid water crossings can't be traveled unless they're frozen solid enough to support vehicles, which isn't happening or at least doesn't last long enough for a full season of winter road travel. South of permafrost country, paved roads like MB 6 and the James Bay, and all-season gravel roads like MB 280 and MB 391, are unaffected except a frozen subsurface can support heavier loads, and snow cover helps fill in any potholes.

Depends of the kind of permafrost, if it's continious or sporadic. I saw some maps showing various datas and coverage of permafrost in Canada. There's also some permafrost in high-altitude mountains like the Rockies.
https://ccin.ca/home/ccw/permafrost/current
https://nsidc.org/fgdc/maps/canada_browse.html
http://www.enr.gov.nt.ca/state-environment/13-permafrost
http://www.sfu.ca/geog351fall02/gp2/geography/arctic%20e-atlas%20folder/climate.html

Major part of Northern Manitoba and James Bay, where MB-391 and James Bay road are, are in sporadic permafrost zone.
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Duke87

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Re: Alaskan Highway Literally Melting
« Reply #9 on: August 22, 2016, 12:51:30 AM »

Major part of Northern Manitoba and James Bay, where MB-391 and James Bay road are, are in sporadic permafrost zone.

As is almost all of the Alaska highway route within Canada, which concurs with the prior statement of this being a perpetual problem.

Short of depaving the road there's not much that can be done about it beyond fixing it as it breaks.

I'm certainly curious if any of the more novel ideas being tried end up holding long term, though. I feel like some of them might if it's a localized problem created primarily by the dark pavement, but if climate change is making the permafrost a moving target, then it's tough to chase that.
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Alps

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Re: Alaskan Highway Literally Melting
« Reply #10 on: August 22, 2016, 08:45:51 PM »

Major part of Northern Manitoba and James Bay, where MB-391 and James Bay road are, are in sporadic permafrost zone.

As is almost all of the Alaska highway route within Canada, which concurs with the prior statement of this being a perpetual problem.

Short of depaving the road there's not much that can be done about it beyond fixing it as it breaks.

I'm certainly curious if any of the more novel ideas being tried end up holding long term, though. I feel like some of them might if it's a localized problem created primarily by the dark pavement, but if climate change is making the permafrost a moving target, then it's tough to chase that.
If it's the darkness of the pavement that's a problem, use admixtures or different binders to pave with white asphalt.

oscar

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Re: Alaskan Highway Literally Melting
« Reply #11 on: August 24, 2016, 01:54:32 PM »

Major part of Northern Manitoba and James Bay, where MB-391 and James Bay road are, are in sporadic permafrost zone.

As is almost all of the Alaska highway route within Canada, which concurs with the prior statement of this being a perpetual problem.

Only permafrost gets less sporadic north of the 60th parallel (all of the AK and YT parts of the Alaska Highway), so it's a bigger issue up there.
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jeffandnicole

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Re: Alaskan Highway Literally Melting
« Reply #12 on: August 24, 2016, 02:07:06 PM »

“The Romans built roads 2,000 years ago that people are still using. On the other hand, we have built roads that within a year or two, without any maintenance, look like a roller coaster because they are built over thaw-unstable permafrost.”

I kinda stopped reading at this point, because I'm sure those highways aren't in the same condition they were built in 2,000 years ago either.
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cpzilliacus

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Re: Alaskan Highway Literally Melting
« Reply #13 on: October 03, 2016, 11:53:02 AM »

“The Romans built roads 2,000 years ago that people are still using. On the other hand, we have built roads that within a year or two, without any maintenance, look like a roller coaster because they are built over thaw-unstable permafrost.”

I kinda stopped reading at this point, because I'm sure those highways aren't in the same condition they were built in 2,000 years ago either.

I don't believe any of the highways built by the Romans were far enough north in Europe (present-day Sweden and Finland?) to be in permafrost territory.
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