Nuna: Effective mitigation and adaptation to changing ground conditions for resilient coastal futures

Across Inuit Nunangat, critical infrastructure, navigation routes, homes, and food and water security in coastal communities are threatened by erosion, subsidence and related flooding. Amongst the most dramatic example of the challenges faced by Arctic communities is Tuktoyaktuk (also Tuktuyaaqtuuq), Northwest Territories, where the northwest portion of the Hamlet will potentially be lost due to coastal erosion within the next 20 years while additional areas will suffer increased flooding. The critical issues faced are varied and complex and their impacts both direct and indirect.

Through close working relationships, recent research advances, and continued community discussions it became evident that many of the core problems center on changing ground conditions. For example, the loss of land through coastal erosion damages infrastructure, forces relocation, and releases hazardous material in the form of floating obstructions, sediment that blocks channels, and pollutants or chemicals from waste sites harmful to marine life. A warming climate has also resulted in accelerated degradation of permafrost and in particular ice within the ground. The resulting subsidence damages infrastructure and access routes, increases the likelihood of flooding, and turns a vegetated landscape into sprawling mud slump complexes that remove habitats and produce very dusty environments. The potential physical impacts of these changes on people are clear but the extent, timing, and future trends remain uncertain due to limited targeted and appropriate data. Additionally, the wider effects on mental health and on social, economic, and cultural wellbeing within the community are poorly understood. Therefore, strategic decision-making and effective mitigation and adaptation urgently require new sustainable (community-driven) solutions to changing ground conditions. The Nuna (Inuvialuktun for ‘land’, ‘country’ and ‘soil’) project draws together a diverse and interdisciplinary team that will provide new appropriate tools and solutions to mitigate and adapt to ground instability impacts. The dramatic and variable effects of changing ground conditions will be addressed through state-of-the-art solutions, transformative and transferrable approaches, and sustained, respectful and productive working relationships. Nuna will equip and train community climate monitors to develop new, significantly more accurate predictions of future erosion rates using 3D processing techniques, which we have already successfully piloted during the pandemic. Advanced ground survey approaches will produce the first subsidence vulnerability maps for current and planned settlement sites. New low-cost monitoring technologies will provide an early warning system for preventative action before damaging levels of change occur and assess the success of nature-based solutions to ground instability. Nuna will also provide new information on the real-time threats to health from air quality changes from new dust sources in the changing landscape and water-based threats such as driftwood or contaminants released during storm events. Running across these practical solutions to changing ground conditions Nuna will also determine which of the many potential cultural social, economic and health impacts need to be prioritized and work with residents to produce effective and culturally appropriate mitigation strategies. Through the meaningful co-production of all stages of the research process, the outcomes and enduring impacts of Nuna impacts will extend well beyond the communities directly involved.

Grant reference
Natural Environment Research Council
Total awarded
£553,587 GBP
Start date
5 May 2022
2 years 11 months 30 days
End date
4 May 2025