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Permafrost and climate in Europe: monitoring and modelling thermal, geomorphological and geotechnical responses


We present a review of the changing state of European permafrost within a spatial zone that includes the continuous high latitude arctic permafrost of Svalbard and the discontinuous high altitude mountain permafrost of Iceland, Fennoscandia and the Alps. The paper focuses on methodological developments and data collection over the last decade or so, including research associated with the continent-scale network of instrumented permafrost boreholes established between 1998 and 2001 under the European Union PACE project. Data indicate recent warming trends, with greatest warming at higher latitudes. Equally important are the impacts of shorter-term extreme climatic events, most immediately reflected in changes in active layer thickness. A large number of complex variables, including altitude, topography, insolation and snow distribution, determine permafrost temperatures. The development of regionally calibrated empirical-statistical models, and physically based process-oriented models, is described, and it is shown that, though more complex and data dependent, process-oriented approaches are better suited to estimating transient effects of climate change in complex mountain topography. Mapping and characterisation of permafrost depth and distribution requires integrated multiple geophysical approaches and recent advances are discussed. We report on recent research into ground ice formation, including ice segregation within bedrock and vein ice formation within ice wedge systems. The potential impacts of climate change on rock weathering, permafrost creep, landslides, rock falls, debris flows and slow mass movements are also discussed. Recent engineering responses to the potentially damaging effects of climate warming are outlined, and risk assessment strategies to minimise geological hazards are described. We conclude that forecasting changes in hazard occurrence, magnitude and frequency is likely to depend on process-based modelling, demanding improved understanding of geomorphological process-response systems and their impacts on human activity.


Harris, Charles and Arenson, Lukas and Christiansen, Hanne H. and Etzelmüller, Bernd and Frauenfelder, Regula and Gruber, Stephan and Haeberli, Wilfried and Hauck, Christian and Hölzle, Martin and Humlum, O. and Isaksen, Ketil and Käab, A. and Kern-Lütschg, Martina A. and Lehning, Michael and Matsuoka, N. and Murton, Julian B. and Nötzli, Jeanette and Phillips, Marcia and Ross, Neil and Seppälä, Matti and Springman, Sarah M. and Vonder Mühll, D.

Index Terms:

SoilGroup; Permafrost; climate change; monitoring; modelling; geomorphological response; Soil; slope stability; geophysics; permafrost hazards; Arenson, Lukas; Christiansen, Hanne H.; Etzelmuller, Bernd; Frauenfelder, Regula; Gruber, Stephan; Haeberli, Wilfried; Harris, Charles; Hauck, Christian; Holzle, Martin; Humlum, O.; Isaksen, Ketil; Kaab, A.; Kern-Lutschg, Martina A.; Lehning, Michael; Matsuoka, N.; Murton, Julian B.; Notzli, Jeanette; Phillips, Marcia; Ross, Neil; Seppala, Matti; Springman, Sarah M.; Vonder Muhll, D.


The original paper is stored at ScienceDirect.

Further Information:

Date published: 2009