Arctic ice roads threatened by global warming

A few kilometers from the Gahcho Kué diamond mine, 300 kilometers north of the capital of the NWT, this relay welcomed…

A few kilometers from the Gahcho Kue diamond mine, 300 kilometers north of the NWT capital Yellowknife, this thirty-year-old woman earns $10,000 (about €9,400) a month, five times the minimum wage. . These axes are giant tracks in the ice that are a little more than a meter thick. Thus, depending on the sources, there will be between 8,000 and 10,000 kilometers of icy roads. They cross frozen rivers and lakes during the long winter months, usually between December and early April. In this part of the Arctic, transporters supply mines. In other regions, it is isolated Inuit or Amerindian communities.

Kyle, one of the extreme trucks in Ice Roads

Ludovic Hirtzmann

“We leave in convoys of six trucks twenty minutes apart. Become Beware. We lose very quickly”

Stop to refuel at the truck stop.

Stop to refuel at the truck stop.

Ludovic Hirtzmann

A constant threat

63e parallel is another world. Driver, a real colossus is approaching. “Journalist, what is it? Is it some kind of media? – he asks curiously. Even if these trucks travel in convoy, the temperature is always at least -30°C, sometimes less, without the slightest margin of error, otherwise death is almost certain. Due to the isolation, inhumane temperatures and hostile animal environment of polar bears and wolves.

Engineering teams check daily with radars to see if the ice is still solid

So, for safety reasons, it is forbidden to drive more than 25 km/h. Above all, remember the fragility of the Ice Roads as spring approaches. Engineering teams check daily with radars to see if the ice is still solid. Technicians repair areas that are considered too weak. Just water the weakened paths. Freezing happens immediately. However, Arctic freight remains a major threat this winter.

Towards the disappearance of Icy Roads

If local communities have been warning the federal government about the ramifications of global warming on the Ice Road for years, it’s thanks to a recent study by researchers at Nanjing University in China that we can measure the consequences of that glaciation. arteries.

According to this report, between 1976 and 2017, the life of Ice Roads decreased by eleven days due to melting ice. “These changes have a great impact on the economy. Between 1943 and 2012, the NWT experienced a $74 million increase in the cost of air freight due to ice road usage limitations.

Transportation by semi-trailer or tank is infinitely cheaper than air transportation.

Transportation by semi-trailer or tank is infinitely cheaper than air transportation.

Ludovic Hirtzmann

Shipping by semi-trailer is infinitely cheaper than shipping by air. Chinese researchers point out that the economic value of rapid ice melt also applies to Arctic ports, as the latter can be accessed for a shorter period of the year via ice roads. The latter are an important and often the only way to supply Far North communities with gasoline and food. Several experts estimate that the tens of thousands of trucks that use these cold highways each winter supply about 150,000 people scattered across a northern area larger than Europe.

Very expensive alternatives

“The iceway serves as a link between our communities across James Bay. It is because of him that we reconnect with our family and friends. People from the south (Editor’s note: Montreal or Toronto) talk a lot about climate change, but here in the North we are already experiencing the consequences, “said Patricia Faries, chief of Radio Canada Moose Cree First Nation, an American community living in northern Ontario.

Alternatives to icy slopes are slim. Construction of asphalt roads will cost a fortune. The omnipresence of huge lakes and rivers would make operations technically difficult, not to mention the need to negotiate with the local population for the right to build asphalt roads on their land. The only permanent route established in recent years was called the Arctic Highway, requiring many years of work. It connects the 138 kilometer stretch that separates the NWT town of Inuvik, population 3,000, from the Arctic Ocean. This gravel road cost 300 million dollars (about 283 million euros). Due to the harshness of the polar climate, its maintenance is permanent.

Patricia Faries concludes: “Why can’t we plan for the long term? Are we stupid? It doesn’t mean anything. Our governments must also think about future generations. »

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