Arctic archaeological sites are not only important for Inuit cultural heritage, but they also provide evidence of Inuit land occupation, which is valuable in land claim and treaty negotiations. Unfortunately, because Arctic archaeological sites are in permafrost terrain, many sites are at risk of disturbance and loss as the climate warms and permafrost thaws. Coastlines and riverbanks are particularly vulnerable. Understanding the stability of the terrain helps us to prioritize which archaeological sites should be salvaged.
Natural Resources Canada (NRCan) has been helping us map the terrain stability in areas of archaeological interest around Bathurst Inlet, using radar data from the Canadian satellite RADARSAT-2 and a method called radar interferometry. Interferometry measures the distance from the satellite to the ground very precisely (mm to cm) and over time the differences in these measurements form a detailed picture of where and how much the ground is moving.
NRCan developed a new approach to combine radar measurements and create terrain at risk maps for us. These satellite derived maps are easy for archaeologists and community members to interpret and quickly identify which sites are most at risk and where to prioritize excavation or salvage efforts. Future work will try to model impacts from storm surges and high water events as well, so these risks can be included in the overall assessment.