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How to make ice roads last longer in warming climate

Across Canada, there are at least 10,000 kilometres of roads that depend on freezing temperatures. Most are in Ontario, but they exist in four provinces and two territories For dozens of isolated communities, they are the only way in and out that doesn't depend on a boat or plane. They are a lifeline for many resource projects. Improved construction methods have slightly lengthened openings for most winter and ice roads. But the number of days with freezing temperatures is shrinking across the North Yukon and the Northwest Territories have already warmed 1.5 degrees Celsius, nearly three times the global average. A study of the winter road that leads from Yellowknife to the diamond mines of the Central Arctic predicts it will be unable to carry any heavy loads by the end of the century. That's what Paul Barrette — using everything from steel cables to wood pulp — is working to prevent. Barrette and his colleagues are looking for ways to stiffen the ice and stop the creep. Mixing wood pulp into ice hardens it. Laying steel cables into the ice is another possibility. Most recently, Barrette has experimented with what are called "geotextiles" — in this case, a sheet of polypropylene mesh frozen into the road. Barrette says none of the methods have yet been tested in the field but he expects to have something he can field-test within a year.

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