The momentum to tackle climate change is gaining steam. The recent Paris Agreement saw 155 nations agree to reduce emissions as to help keep the rise in global average temperature below 2 degrees Celsius. However, even if the agreement is a success, a significant amount of climate change is already inevitable. While much attention has been paid to the melting of glaciers and the dramatic images of ice shelves collapsing into the ocean, what if the ice you’re trying to save is a major transportation corridor with economic impacts in the hundreds of millions?

The Tibbitt to Contwoyto Winter Road (TCWR) is a mine access road built mainly over frozen lakes in the southeastern region of the Northwest Territories. The TCWR is currently the main access road for three active diamond mines, with more economic development pending, and is the busiest heavy-haul ice road in the world. Featured on the TV show Ice Road Truckers, the TCWR is operated by a joint venture between three mining companies, and is used to transport goods during a relatively short operating season to supply year-round operations.

Risk Sciences International was part of a group that worked with the Northern Climate ExChange to study the potential impacts that climate change could have on the operations of the TCWR. Climate change poses a major threat to infrastructure in Canada’s north, and the mining industry is particularly vulnerable, posing a risk to economic activity in the region.

CCHIP was used to project the future climate impacts on the interaction between freezing-degree days and melting-degree days; the incidence of temperature swings in excess of 18 ̊C; the incidence of consecutive days above 0 ̊C during the operational season; the amount of snow on the ground January 1; and the number of extreme cold events during the operational season. All of these factors were identified as having important links to ice road reliability.

Although the ice road has historically been quite resilient, the analytics behind CCHIP helped identify some key vulnerabilities that would impact the length of the operating season. These impacts included the possibility of the operating season dropping to below 45 days, which would trigger significant additional costs to either maintain the road or bypass it using more expensive methods (helicopter or plane).

With risks such as these in mind, several scenarios for ensuring the long-term survival of the road are currently being studied.

Outcomes such this represent the power of CCHIP to help identify risks and put decision makers in the best possible position to adapt to changing climate conditions. CCHIP makes this data, and these insights, more accessible than ever to communities that may previously have been left out.

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