Geological Investigations for the Dalton Highway Innovation Project as a Case Study of Ice-rich Syngenetic Permafrost

AIDC project number: 207122


Yuri Shur (UAF)

  • US Department of Transportation (RITA)
  • Alaska Department of Transportation & Public Facilities
  • Start Date: Apr 7, 2008
  • End Date: Mar 15, 2010

Project Summary

ADOT&PF plans to construct a new section of the James W. Dalton Highway in northern Alaska. The new three-mile-long section of road will avoid a steep climb, making the road safer to drive. Preliminary work shows that this new section of highway will cross an area of extremely complex permafrost conditions. The area is characterized by ice-rich, syngenetic Pleistocene permafrost, which can be up to 100 feet thick and contain huge ice wedges. ("Syngenetic" describes frozen ground that slowly grows upwards in size as sediments are deposited on the surface.) Any human activity in this sensitive area can trigger thaw settlement of soils and permafrost degradation. The durability of roads crossing such complex conditions depends on a design based on the best geotechnical information available, continuous monitoring, and timely maintenance. The better the design, the less maintenance work required. AUTC permafrost experts Yuri Shur and Mikhail Kanevskiy helped prepare for this construction project by performing a geotechnical investigation of the area, training ADOT&PF engineers in the nature of permafrost behavior, and providing guidance in developing a methodology for describing, sampling, and testing the ice-rich syngenetic Pleistocene permafrost. In addition to supporting the best design possible for the Dalton Highway, project results will be useful for construction projects throughout the circumpolar North and will contribute to educating a new generation of engineers at the University of Alaska.