Resilience and adaptation of First Nations Communities in Canada to Disappearing Winter Road Infrastructure in a Changing Climate

The Arctic has experienced warming two to three times greater than the long-term global mean trend of 0.87oC since preindustrial times, resulting in widespread shrinking of the cryosphere. This arctic amplification is projected to continue throughout the 21st century, with a 2oC global mean temperature increase (GMTI) projected to result in up to a 6oC warming in the Arctic (IPCC, 2018). While impacts on ice sheets and glaciers tend to capture the headlines, there are also important consequences for infrastructure in Arctic and sub-Arctic communities, where warming temperatures threaten the physical integrity of overland transport routes and the societies they sustain.

Specifically, winter roads – comprising seasonally frozen sea, land, lakes, rivers and creeks – are under considerable threat from climate change. These seasonal roads are vital for the affordable transport of heavy equipment, cargo and fuel, but also provide physical connections that foster social and cultural interactions among remote communities (Chiotti and Lavender 2008). In recent decades, climate change has shortened the operational season of winter roads in the northern hemisphere, with the issue particularly acute across the Canadian arctic and sub-arctic (e.g. Mullan et al, 2017). Previous studies have tended to focus on the economic impacts of a shortened winter road season on transporting essential supplies to mines, with much less attention paid to the impacts for social and cultural mobility among communities living in remote locations without all-season infrastructure. In Canada, many such communities are First Nations People, who live across over 630 settlements mostly in northern areas of Ontario and Manitoba. The socio-economic gap between First Nations People and non-indigenous groups in Canada is vast, with almost half of First Nations children living in poverty. Winter roads represent vital seasonal transport routes that provide access to essential supplies needed to build and sustain the livelihoods of First Nations People. With climate change shortening the length of the winter road season, the impacts will be disproportionately felt by First Nations communities. Using a combination of quantitative, qualitative and geospatial methods, this project aims to examine how climate change will impact winter roads that link these remote communities and how First Nations People could adapt to enhance their resilience in a warming world.

Grant reference
Natural Environment Research Council
Total awarded
£0 GBP
Start date
30 Sep 2021
3 years 6 months
End date
30 Mar 2025