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RADARSAT-2 helps create permanent road link to Arctic Ocean

Cars travel on the Inuvik-Tuktoyaktuk highway, which officially opened November 15, 2017. (Credit: ITH, Government of Northwest Territories.)

From its orbit roughly 800km above the Earth, RADARSAT-2 has an incredible vantage point. Its radar technology gathers high-resolution imagery day or night, regardless of weather, snow, or ice cover, and monitors geographical changes over huge areas with millimeter accuracy.

The satellite's powerful gaze is an important tool for monitoring and protecting Arctic infrastructure, like the Iqaluit airport and the recently completed Inuvik Tuktoyaktuk Highway (ITH) in the Northwest Territories.

The 138km gravel road is the first highway in Canada to connect to the Arctic Ocean. It creates a reliable, year round link to the remote community of Tuktoyaktuk, previously accessible only by airplane.

The NWT government estimates that year-round transportation of goods could reduce the cost of living in Tuktoyaktuk by as much as 1.5 million dollars per year. Locals at both ends of the highway also believe the road will stimulate economic growth through tourism, a main source of income for residents.

The irregular terrain of Canada's northern regions is one of many challenges facing infrastructure projects. Climate change has already begun to drastically affect the tundra environment. (Credit: David Michael Lamb/CBC.)

RADARSAT-2 images of the expanse of tundra and ice between the two hamlets were crucial in the planning of ITH construction. In order to protect the delicate permafrost beneath the highway, construction crews worked over four winter seasons.

Monitoring permafrost and ground movement keeps communities safe

Because climate change affects the Arctic at twice the rate of other areas, the seasonal freeze and thaw of the region's permafrost layer has altered over the last decade.

"Buildings and infrastructure are prone to uneven settlement or tilt, and should be monitored for safety," says Adrian McCardle, President of 3vGeomatics, a company that monitors geohazards with satellites, contracted to keep an eye on geographical changes in the area.

With support from the Canadian Space Agency, the company has developed imaging expertise it now applies in many communities in Canada's North.

When combined with local know-how, space-gathered images from RADARSAT-2 help Canada's northern communities better maintain existing infrastructure and identify risks when planning future development projects.

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