The climate-fuelled crisis facing northern and mid-northern Canada’s ice roads earned Quotation of the Day placement in yesterday’s New York Times, as one of the world’s most influential daily newspapers focused on a mounting safety and resupply problem for dozens of small, remote communities.
“It’s taking longer for everything to freeze up, and the ice isn’t as thick,” Northwest Territories Infrastructure Minister Wally Schumann told the paper. “Ice roads are the lifeline of our communities, and now they’re at risk.”
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Unseasonable melting of winter ice roads has been a problem in the north at least since 2001, when participants at a circumpolar climate summit in Whitehorse, Yukon heard about safety concerns in the more northerly town of Old Crow.
But now, “Canada’s ice roads—more than 3,300 miles of them—have been freezing later and melting earlier, drastically reducing the precious window of time that isolated residents rely on to restock a year’s worth of vital supplies, or to simply take a road trip,” the Times reports. “Even in the depths of winter, increasingly frequent storms and thawing have made the roads more dangerous and sometimes too weak to use safely, prompting the authorities to close them for days at a time.”
The Northwest Territories are warming four to five times as fast as the global average, Canadian officials told the paper, and communities are seeing the impact of thawing sea ice and melting permafrost. And from the NWT to northern Ontario, the issue has become a matter of life and death.
“These roads are the only way our people can survive,” said Grand Chief Alvin Fiddler of Nishnawbe Aski Nation, which represents 49 First Nations in northern Ontario, including 32 isolated communities that rely on ice roads for fuel, food, and building materials. “Some of those communities nearly ran out of diesel fuel because an ice road opened several weeks late,” the Times notes, citing Fiddler. “Each community needs about 264,000 gallons of fuel to keep the lights on all year, enough to fill 40 tanker trucks. Flying it in would cost an additional $520,000, a prohibitive amount for a small village.”
Meanwhile, in Inuvik, NWT, permafrost is thawing badly enough to disrupt the foundations of buildings, requiring them to be demolished, CBC News reports. The permafrost loss is also releasing methane, a greenhouse gas that is far more potent than carbon dioxide.
“It scares me,” said permafrost specialist Kumari Karunaratne of the NWT Geological Survey. “This methane that’s being released is being released over huge areas across the north. And it’s continually seeping out.”