Over the past decades, from 1961-2010, the North warmed more than any other region in Canada and more than most regions on Earth. Recent studies show that much of the warming has occurred since the 1970s with the most recent climate change models projecting ongoing or accelerating climate changes into the future. This warming climate is modifying the ground thermal regime and changing the properties of permafrost. Permafrost in many areas is beginning to thaw and the active layer of the ground, which freezes and unfreezes every year, is deepening as ground and air temperatures warm. This results in unreliable soil conditions and failures in construction. Although there wasn’t one specific event that led to the development of the standard, there have been a series of infrastructure issues in the North that have occurred over the years. For instance, there was a school in Yukon that experienced issues with major pieces of infrastructure failing soon after it was established due to an inadequate characterization of permafrost. This established the need to be systematic when assessing permafrost risk throughout all stages of infrastructure lifecycle from planning to design and construction. Although there wasn’t any specific climate data sets or projections used in developing the standard, the World Federation of Engineering Organization (WFEO)’s Model Code of Practice: Principles of Climate Change Adaptation for Engineers as used to inform and provide guidance in considering the impacts of a changing climate on infrastructure and buildings. This guideline was derived from a guidance prepared by Engineers Canada and both documents recognize that access to appropriate information on weather, climate and climate change is key and that engineers should work collaboratively with and climate/weather specialist to identify the types of climate design data needed for the issue.
In 2017, the Standards Council of Canada (SCC) and the Bureau de normalisation du Québec (BNQ) announced the publication of a new National Standard of Canada (NSC) that will help ensure that infrastructure built in Canada’s North is adequately prepared for the uncertainties of a changing climate. CAN/BNQ 2501-500, Geotechnical Site Investigations for Building Foundations in Permafrost Zones, is the fifth standard developed through the Northern Infrastructure Standardization Initiative (NISI). It 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 and the seasonal and interannual climate conditions as well as the projected climate conditions over the service life of the building foundations. In the long term, it is expected that this standard will help reduce maintenance issues which, as a result of climate change or improper site evaluation, can cause permanent damage to structures. NISI standards address the unique circumstances found in Canada’s North, providing mechanisms to help adapt and reduce the vulnerability of northern infrastructure to the impacts of climate change. Building on the success of Phase I of NISI, SCC has embarked on a second phase that will continue to address critical issues relevant to Canada’s North amidst a changing climate. Taken together, these standards will help building owners and operators and those responsible for public and community infrastructure build and maintain resilient infrastructure in a changing climate. By engaging communities and experts from across the North, SCC is providing standardization solutions that are effective in addressing climate change impacts to northern infrastructure, planning and management. In the process, we are helping to protect the health and well-being of Canadians, communities and the economy.