Dr. Sharon Smith

Permafrost Research Scientist

Conducts research on thermal and physical properties of permafrost terrain; interaction between permafrost, climate and northern infrastructure

Current research and/or projects

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.

Research and/or project statements

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.

Professional activities / interests

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.

Education and awards

Ph.D. Earth Science, Carleton University, 1992

M.Sc. Physical Geography. McMaster University. 1984

B.Sc. (Hons.) Physical Geography, University of Toronto, 1982

Key publications

James, M., Lewkowicz, A.G., Smith, S.L. and Miceli, C.M., 2013. Multi-decadal degradation and persistence of permafrost in the Alaska Highway corridor, northwest Canada. Environmental Research Letters, 8 (045013), doi: 10.1088/1748-9326/8/4/045013.

Derksen, C., Smith, S.L., Sharp, M., Brown, L., Howell, S., Copland, L., Mueller, D.R., Gauthier, Y., Fletcher, C., Tivy, A., Bernier, M., Bourgeois, J., Brown, R., Burn, C.R., Duguay, C., Kushner, P., Langlois, A., Lewkowicz, A.G., Royer, A., and Walker, A. 2012. Variability and change in the Canadian cryosphere.  Special Issue (Science Results from Canadian IPY Program) Climatic Change, 115: 59-88.

Lewkowicz, A.G., Bonnaventure, P.P., Smith, S.L., and Kuntz, Z. 2012. Spatial and thermal characteristics of mountain permafrost, northwest Canada. Geografiska Annaler: Series A Physical Geography, 94: 195-215.

Smith, S.L., Throop, J., and Lewkowicz, A.G. 2012. Recent changes in climate and permafrost temperatures at forested and polar desert sites in northern Canada. Special Issue, Canadian Journal of Earth Sciences, 49: 914-924.

Throop, J., Lewkowicz, A.G., and Smith, S.L. 2012. Climate and ground temperature relations at sites across the continuous and discontinuous permafrost zones, northern Canada. Canadian Journal of Earth Sciences, 49: 865-876.

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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Adjunct University of Ottawa

Secretary Canadian National Committee for the International Permafrost Association

Member Executive Committee of Global Terrestrial Network for Permafrost