Canada’s North is highly vulnerable to the impacts of climate change. Northern infrastructure can be affected by issues such as permafrost degradation and coastal erosion, as well as changing temperatures and precipitation patterns that affect communities in the region.
In the Northwest Territories alone, estimates suggest it could cost as much as $230 million to adapt existing buildings to a changing climate. This amounts to more than $5,000 for every resident. Inuvik, a town with a population of approximately 3,500, is facing $140 million in repairs to buildings affected by the degradation of permafrost . The North needs mechanisms to help adapt and reduce the vulnerability of its infrastructure to the impacts of climate change.
From 2011-2016, the Standards Council of Canada (SCC) led Phase l of the Northern Infrastructure Standardization Initiative (NISI) with support from Indigenous and Northern Affairs Canada (which was known as Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development at the beginning of the project). NISI aims to address the unique circumstances found in Canada’s North through the effective use of standards.
The establishment of the Northern Advisory Committee (NAC) has been key to the success of NISI. SCC leveraged the expertise of this committee in order to establish roadmaps and identify solutions for reducing the North’s financial vulnerability and ensure the continued health and safety of Canadians.
SCC is now moving forward with NISI Phase ll (2016-2020) to develop additional standards for northern infrastructure. By continuing to engage the NAC and bring together infrastructure experts, SCC will focus on critical issues for Canada’s North in a changing climate. Areas of focus for NISI Phase II include:
- Planning, design, operation and maintenance of wastewater treatment in Northern communities using lagoon and wetland systems;
- Selection of foundation types for buildings in permafrost;
- Fire resilient building design and materials;
- Techniques for dealing with high winds as it pertains to Northern infrastructure; and
- Erosion protection in permafrost.
NISI Standards and Training Videos
Under NISI Phase l, five new National Standards of Canada (NSCs) were developed for northern infrastructure:
CAN/CSA-S500-14 Thermosyphon foundations for buildings in permafrost regions
Thermosyphons keep the ground frozen and stable in cold climates by transferring the heat from the ground to the air when appropriate temperature differentials prevail. Heated structures built on permafrost without mitigative systems, such as thermosyphons, can degrade the permafrost and thereby destabilize a structure’s foundation. This standard helps to ensure the ongoing stability of thermosyphon-supported foundations of new buildings constructed on permafrost in Canada’s North.
CAN/CSA-S501-14 Moderating the effects of permafrost degradation on existing building foundations
Permafrost is soil and sediment that remains at or below 0°C for at least two consecutive years. The active layer is the upper part of the soil environment that thaws every summer. Building on permafrost can be difficult because degradation to the permafrost can destabilize the structure. Many existing northern buildings were designed without consideration of climate change or were not adequately designed to account for the rate and extent of permafrost degradation currently projected. This standard outlines the steps to maintain, assess and mitigate permafrost loss beneath and adjacent to existing buildings.
CAN/CSA-S502-14 Managing changing snow load risks for buildings in Canada's North
Arctic regions have seen an increase in snowfall and extreme snow events. This can be exacerbated when rain occurs after a snowfall, resulting in ice and increasing the weight or load of snow on buildings and housing. Increased weight can lead to structural damage, such as a collapsed roof. This standard informs communities about safe snow removal methods for rooftops of existing northern buildings and aims to reduce the risk of snow accumulations to buildings and occupants.
CAN/CSA-S503-15 Community drainage system planning, design, and maintenance in northern communities.
Community drainage planning in the North is unique for several reasons: long periods of extremely low temperatures; exceptionally large and remote drainage basins; permafrost; small, isolated communities with low population density; and consideration for the social and cultural context of land use. The new standard takes these issues into consideration and provides guidance on planning, design, construction, rehabilitation and maintenance of drainage systems in Canada’s North.
CAN/BNQ 2501-500 Geotechnical Site Investigations for Building Foundations in Permafrost
This standard establishes a consistent methodology for performing geotechnical site investigations so that the results can be used to design building foundations with due consideration - in a risk management framework - of the conditions prevailing at the building site, including the distinctive characteristics of permafrost, the seasonal and interannual climate conditions, and the projected climate conditions over the service life of the building foundations. It is a foundational reference which is an important complement to the existing NISI standards.
Additional Information About NISI Standards
- SCC forms Northern Advisory Committee on Adaptation Codes and Standards
- Work begins on new Canadian standards for infrastructure in Canada’s North
- Standards Council of Canada approves new national standard to help address the effects of climate change on Canada’s North
- View webinar on thermosyphon foundations for buildings in permafrost regions
- Standards Council of Canada approves two new national standards to help address the effects of climate change on Canada’s North
- Building resilient infrastructure in a changing climate
- Standards Council of Canada approves national standard to address impact of climate change on Northern community drainage systems
Last updated: July 2018