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Science Geography

Permafrost in Canada

Its Influence on Northern Development

by (author) Roger Brown

University of Toronto Press
Initial publish date
Dec 1970
Geography, Regional Studies, Ecology
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    Publish Date
    Dec 1970
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Permafrost is the thermal condition of the earth’s crust when
its temperature has been below 32°F continuously for a number of years. Half of
Canada’s land surface lies in the permafrost region—either in the
continuous zone where the ground is frozen to a depth of hundreds of feet, or in the
discontinuous zone where permafrost is thinner, and there are areas of unfrozen

The existence of permafrost causes problems for the development of the
northern regions of all countries extending into the Arctic. Mining operations are
hindered by frozen ore which resists blasting and is difficult to thaw. Agriculture
is restricted by the presence of permafrost near the ground surface which limits the
soil available for plant growth. 

Engineering structures are also
affected by the low temperatures. Ice layers give soil a rock-like structure with
high strength. However heat transmitted by buildings often causes the ice to melt,
and the resulting slurry is unable to support the structure. Many settlements in
northern Canada have examples of structural damage or failure caused by permafrost.
In the construction and maintenance of railways, buildings, water and sewage lines,
dams, roads, bridges, and airfields, normal techniques must often be modified at
additional cost because of permafrost.

For the last twenty-five years
scientific investigations and engineering projects have increased steadily in
Canada’s permafrost region, and it is now technically possible to build any
structure or conduct any activity on the worst soils and under permafrost

This comprehensive analysis of permafrost—its origin,
definition, and occurrence, and the effect it has on industry and
agriculture—will be invaluable to the growing number of people working in the
north and to those interested in its development.   

About the author

Roger J.E. Brown (1931-1980) studied geography at the University of Toronto and Clark University, receiving a PH.D. from the latter in 1961. Starting in 1953 he worked with the National Research Council of Canada in the Northern Research Group, Soil Mechanics Section, Division of Building Research. As an associate research officer, he studied the distribution of permafrost and the physical factors affecting this distribution. He was research advisor to the permafrost subcommittee of the associate committee on geotechnical research and a member of the associate committee on quaternary research, both of the NRC, and a fellow of the Arctic Institute of North America. He visited many parts of Northern Canada.

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