Sharon Smith - Permafrost

Sharon Smith

Name: Sharon Smith
Field of expertise: Permafrost (including impacts of climate change and northern development)
Education: Ph.D. in Earth Science, Carleton University
Works at: Natural Resources Canada, Geological Survey of Canada in Ottawa, Ontario

What she studies

Dr. Smith’s research focuses on understanding the current permafrost conditions and how they may change in response to a changing climate or environmental disturbance such as that associated with human activity. Permafrost is soil or rock that remains frozen from one year to the next and is an important component of the northern Canadian landscape. Dr. Smith conducts field studies to measure the temperature in the ground and to characterize the properties of the frozen ground.

What is the importance of her research?

Permafrost and the ice it contains influences northern ecosystems and hydrological systems and presents challenges to northern development. Warming and thawing of permafrost in response to climate change or environmental disturbance can cause ground instability and alter drainage which has implications for natural systems and infrastructure integrity. Knowledge of current permafrost conditions and sensitivity to warming is essential for informed decisions regarding resource development, land management, infrastructure design and climate change adaptation strategies.

Interesting fact

Dr. Smith was a lead investigator on an International Polar Year Project that produced a snapshot of the current thermal state of permafrost for the circumpolar permafrost regions, providing a baseline against which future changes can be measured. Another key finding of the project was that permafrost temperatures measured over the last 20 to 30 years indicate permafrost is warming throughout the polar region.

Current research project

Dr. Smith currently leads a project to validate current ground thermal conditions and characterize terrain stability in the proposed Alaska Highway Pipeline Corridor in the southern Yukon, which will inform environmental impact management decisions. This project builds on the expertise acquired through extensive work in the Mackenzie Valley including work along the Norman Wells pipeline corridor. She also coordinates the national permafrost monitoring network.

Key publications

Lewkowicz, A.G., Etzelmuller, B., and Smith, S.L., (2011). Characteristics of discontinuous permafrost from ground temperature measurements and electrical resistivity tomography, southern Yukon, Canada. Permafrost and Periglacial Processes, 22(4), 320-342.

Smith, S.L., Romanovsky, V.E., Lewkowicz, A.G., Burn, C.R., Allard, M., Clow, G.D., Yoshikawa, K., and Throop, J., (2010). Thermal state of permafrost in North America - A contribution to the International Polar Year. Permafrost and Periglacial Processes, 21, 117-135.

Smith, S.L., and Riseborough, D.W., (2010). Modelling the thermal response of permafrost terrain to right-of-way disturbance and climate warming. Cold Regions Science and Technology, 60, 92-103.

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