Northern Marine and Coastal Processes

The majority of Canada’s coastlines and submerged lands lie in the North. Evaluating the resource potential and assessing the natural hazards of its submerged lands, and understanding the geological composition and environmental sensitivity of its coastlines, are integral parts of NRCan’s scientific research. Compared to its Atlantic and Pacific coasts and offshore regions, the North presents additional challenges and opportunities in studying, understanding, and managing marine and coastal environments.

In the northern marine environment, the extent and duration of sea ice is a key factor that limits offshore resource exploration activities and marine transportation serving communities and resource industry developments. In recent years, however, sea-ice has diminished and is projected to continue to diminish. This presents opportunities for increased northern marine activities, but the increased activity will increase exposure to the northern environment and may increase the risk to people and vessels. Decreased sea ice is also expected to lead to increased wave action on northern coastlines, causing increased erosion and wave run-up.

Permafrost (perennially frozen ground) is an important component of the northern Canadian landscape, including its coastlines and submarine lands. In a warming climate, permafrost can thaw, leading to unstable regions of the sea floor and increased erosion of coastlines.

NRCan’s scientists study the deep structure of Canada’s northern passive continental margin to identify prospective areas for oil and gas exploration. They study the seafloor to understand earthquakes and other marine geohazards. NRCan studies of northern coastlines include mapping of the geological materials that comprise coastlines and an assessment of the stability and sensitivity of coastlines to present and projected future conditions of temperature, waves, and sea-level. NRCan actively conducts research in these areas to facilitate responsible resource development and reduce the risks to people and infrastructure.

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