Assessing and Mitigating Climate Change Impacts at the Mike Zubko Inuvik Airport

In 2015, Transport Canada, in collaboration with the Northwest Territory (NWT) Government’s Transportation Department, conducted a climate change vulnerability assessment on the Mike Zubko Inuvik Airport to assess the vulnerability of the airport to permafrost thaw and degradation, increasing temperatures, variable precipitation, and climate extremes. Understanding the potential impacts of climate change is important to support maintenance and decision-making for the airport, which is also a key location for the Royal Canadian Air Force and North American Aerospace Defence Command operations. Historical climate data was compared to future projections for 32 climate parameters for relevant airport infrastructure and operations. A risk classification was assigned to 465 climate-infrastructure interactions based on the probability of an infrastructure component being adversely affected if exposed to a certain climate parameter and the severity of the consequences of loss in performance or functionality. Out of the 465 climate-infrastructure interactions assessed, no interactions were identified as high risk, and 65 were identified as medium/medium-high risk. Recommendations focused on continuing to collect baseline information for components that were predicted to be most vulnerable to climate change and planning adaptation interventions accordingly. Since the assessment, federal and territorial funding has been awarded to the airport to widen taxiway embankments, implement a new airport terminal, improve drainage, and widen and extend runways. The improvements to the Inuvik Mike Zubko Airport infrastructure and operations serve to mitigate climate hazards like permafrost thaw while also promoting Canadian Arctic security and sovereignty.

Understanding and Assessing Impacts

The Inuvik Mike Zubko Airport is located on continuous permafrost and has already experienced structural issues due to sudden subsidence, sloughing, and poor drainage. To assess the vulnerability of the Inuvik Airport to the impacts of climate change, the Public Infrastructure Engineering Vulnerability Committee (PIEVC) protocol of Engineers Canada was used. Thirty-two (32) climate parameters were identified under the following categories: air temperature, rainfall, snowfall, ground thawing and freezing, wind, storms, wildfires, cloud coverage, and fog. Historical climate data (1958-2014) for temperature and precipitation were obtained from a meteorological station in Inuvik. Future projections for temperature, precipitation, and climate extremes were obtained from several global climate models and the IDF-CC tool for the Representative Concentration Pathway (RCP) 4.5 and RCP 8.5 for 2045. Subsurface and permafrost data was obtained from several sources, including site-specific surveys. Inuvik will experience an increase in temperature of about 3°C by 2045, as well as a decrease in freeze/thaw cycles and an increase in mean precipitation, despite historical data showing a decrease in rain and snow in the last decade.

To assess the vulnerability of the infrastructure and operations, relevant components of the physical airport infrastructure, supporting systems, and others were identified and assessed against the 32 climate parameters. A risk classification was assigned to each interaction based on the probability of an infrastructure component losing functionality or being adversely affected if exposed to a certain climate parameter and the severity of the consequences of loss in performance or functionality of a component. In total, 465 climate-infrastructure interactions were assessed, with no interactions identified as high risk and 65 identified as medium/medium-high risk. The components most vulnerable to climate change were the drainage system and winter/summer flight operations. The main climate hazards predicted to pose safety challenges to the airport in the future were frost on runways, taxiways, and aprons and poor visibility.

Identifying Actions

The assessment recommended an engineering analysis for medium risks to determine whether immediate action is needed. However, there was insufficient environmental and maintenance data available for the engineering analysis; thus, professional judgement was used, and no immediate engineering actions were recommended. The lack of data was identified as another potential risk, as it may result in inappropriate decisions on future adaptation and mitigation strategies. Therefore, recommendations focused on collecting baseline information for the components thought to be most vulnerable to climate change so that the components could be reassessed, and adaptation and mitigation measures could be designed.
Specific recommendations in order of decreasing importance:

  1. Collect data on frost formation
  2. Evaluate the capacity of drainage systems
  3. Systematically collect information on visibility (fog and cloud ceiling)
  4. Monitor local snow accumulation, including spatial (re-)distribution
  5. Carry out procedural reviews of current operation and maintenance practices
  6. Document maintenance and repair efforts in a systematic manner
  7. Reassess climate change vulnerability every five years



The Inuvik Airport has been continuously upgrading infrastructure in response to structural issues, including drainage upgrades and runway embankments to mitigate permafrost thaw. The results from this PIEVC assessment will be used to further develop engineering and planning recommendations that prioritize components of the airport infrastructure that are vulnerable to current and future climate change.


Outcomes and Monitoring Progress

From 2019 to 2021, the federal and NWT government awarded funding to the Inuvik airport for upgrades, including widening taxiway embankments, a new airport terminal, improved drainage, and an extended runway. During the planning and design of the airport upgrades, climate parameters and future climate change projections were considered.

Next Steps

To ensure Arctic security and sovereignty, airport upgrades that incorporate current and future climate change continue to be a priority for Canada.