11. Trail Valley Creek, NWT

Meteorological station at Trail Valley Creek (photo: Phil Marsh)

Location and Physical Characteristics

  • Located at roughly 68°45'N, 133°30'W, Trail Valley Creek is 50 km north-northeast of Innuvik, NWT, and 80 km south of the Beaufort Sea, Arctic Ocean;
  • The basin is 63 km2 in area and is dominated by gently rolling hills and some deeply incised river valleys;
  • Elevations range 50 m to 180 m above seal level and the terrain has a mean slope of 3° (maximum slope 30°);
  • Located at the northern edge of the boreal forest - tundra ecotone, vegetation of dominant upland tundra areas consists mostly of grasses, lichens, and mosses. Moister hillslopes and valley bottoms support shrub tundra with vegetation ranging from 0.5 m to 3 m in height. There are sparse pockets of black spruce forest throughout the basin;
  • Climate is characterized by short summers and long cold winters, with an 8-month snow-cover period.  Mean annual air temperature is about -10 °C and annual precipitation is about 266 mm (66% of which is snow);  
  • Trail Valley Creek is in the continuous permafrost zone and active layer thickness ranges from 0.3 m to 0.8 m.     


  • Trail Valley Creek has been a focal hydrological research basin since 1992, where the National Water Research Institute (NWRI) has operated a meteorological station since that time;
  • The Water Survey of Canada (WSC) has operated a gauging station at the outlet of the basin since 1979;
  • Trail Valley Creek represented an important research basin contributing to the objectives of the Mackenzie GEWEX Study (MAGS) and the IP3 Network.  

Current Science Focus and Instrumentation

  • Long-term hydrological research in the Sub-Arctic to Arctic transition region (Taiga to Tundra ecoregions);
  • Research is currently focused on the integrated dynamics and variability of vegetation, snow, energy balance, active layer depth, thermokarst, soil water storage, and runoff;
  • Important insights are being developed on the expansion of shrub Tundra and its associated effects;
  • Instrumentation consists of:
    • Meteorological stations in 3 main Tundra and tall shrub sites measuring soil temperature, soil moisture, air temperature, wind speed and direction, incoming/outgoing short- and long-wave radiation, precipitation, and eddy covariance flux measurement for key periods;
    • WSC streamflow measurement at the outlet of Trail Valley Creek;
    • Other more recent stations set up (e.g. flux station near lake in upper part of basin, WMO SPICE (Solid Precipitation Intercomparison Experiment) site in lower part of basin);
  • Field observations including:
    • Distributed end-of-winter snow surveys, detailed snowpack monitoring (GEONOR snowfall measurement, snow pillow, Cosmic ray SWE measurement), ground-based and remote sensing (Lidar, Radar) methods for spatial variability of soil moisture, soil temperature, and SWE;   
  • All meteorological towers to be upgraded for flux observations of water, energy, carbon, and to include 15 m deep well casings to allow installation of thermistors for monitoring of permafrost conditions.       

Other Resources and Further Information

For further information contact:

Philip Marsh, Ph.D.
Professor and Canada Research Chair in Cold Regions Water Science
Dept. of Geography
Wilfrid Laurier University
75 University Ave West
Waterloo, Ontario N2L 3C5

Isolated stand of sparse black spruce forest within Trail Valley Creek (photo: Phil Marsh)