A conference entitled Cryospheric Systems: Glaciers and Permafrost was organised by the British Geomorphological Research Group and the Quaternary Research Association at Burlington House, the headquarters of the Geological Society of London, on January 13–14, 2003. The convenors were Charles Harris and Julian Murton.

The meeting was attended by some 60 participants from Belgium, Canada, France, Germany, Iceland, Netherlands, Norway, Switzerland, the U.K., and the U.S.A. The aim of the conference was to explore the interactions between glacial and periglacial geocryological systems. An excellent series of papers was presented, generating a lively and stimulating discussion. A collection of papers presented at the conference is to be published as a Special Publication of the Geological Society of London and edited by Harris and Murton. The publication will include papers discussing a) glacierpermafrost interaction, b) the dynamics of the ice margin and the paraglacial zone, c) permafrost processes, d) cryogenic rock weathering, and e) periglacial slopes.

United Kingdom Nirex Ltd. have continued their involvement in an international project to characterise a continuous permafrost site in northern Canada, to better understand processes of subsurface water-rock interactions under cold climate conditions (as an analogue for conditions in the U.K. far into the future). The work is coordinated by the Geological Survey of Finland and participants include radioactive waste management agencies from Finland, Sweden, Canada and the U.K., as well as the University of Waterloo. The field study area is the Lupin gold mine in the Nunavut Territory. Permafrost extends to approximately 550 m depth. During 2002/03 investigations comprised:

  • A wide-band electromagnetic survey (SAMPO). At Lupin sounding anomalies form a subhorizontal layer at depths between 400 and 700 m, in contrast to the vertical orientation of the geological units in the area.
  • Drilling of boreholes (to 515 m) from adits in the mine to obtain groundwater samples and investigate hydraulically active fractures. The groundwater samples were analysed to investigate signs of freezing out processes that may cause fractionation of saline waters from fresher waters.
  • Sampling of lake waters. The research area is characterised by a large number of smaller and larger lakes and ponds. Surface waters are being analysed to ascertain if there might be present discharge locally of deep groundwaters. This kind of situation might be experienced in a talik structure related to major fault structures, such as at Lupin.

In addition to the field studies, freeze-out experimental work has been carried out by Waterloo University. Key objectives of the study were:

  • To measure changes in elemental compositions and isotopic systematics related to the freezing of Canadian and Fennoscandian Shield groundwaters;
  • To assess the importance of geochemical and isotopic signatures resulting from ‘freezing out’ on the recognition and interpretation of paleofluids; and
  • To conduct a preliminary assessment of solute and mineralogic implications for flow system characterisation and evolution of shield groundwater composition.   

The methods and results of Phase II of the Lupin study will be reported by the Geological Survey of Finland later in 2003.

A U.K. Natural Environment Research Council funded physical modelling experiment on bedrock fracture by ice segregation is being carried out in two cold rooms at the CNRS Centre de Géomorphologie, Caen, France, by Julian Murton, Jean-Claude Ozouf, Gerard Guillemet, and others. Crack development, rock surface heave, temperature and porewater pressure have been monitored in 10 blocks of chalk 45-cm-high during the course of more than 20 freeze-thaw cycles under conditions of simulated permafrost and seasonally frozen ground. As expected, the location cracking by ice segregation is strongly controlled by the thermal regime. In permafrost (2-sided freezing), cracking commenced at a depth determined by the permafrost table, with significant ice segregation occurring during thaw cycles. By contrast, in seasonally frozen rock (1-sided freezing), the location of cracking is more variable and closer to the rock surface.

A new research project at Cardiff University has been initiated in collaboration with the Welsh conservation body, the Countryside Council for Wales (CCW), concerned with the nature, distribution and mode of formation of relict ground ice features (ramparted depressions) in Wales. The associated Ph.D. programme by Neil Ross will be completed in 2005 and it is planned to include field investigations of modern active ground-ice features (open-system pingos) in Svalbard as part of the research programme.

The new U.K. representative on the IPA Council is Dr. Julian Murton of the University of Sussex. He replaces Charlie Harris who was elected as a Vice President at the Zurich conference. Julian has worked extensively in the Canadian Arctic, undertaken laboratory simulation experiments of cryogenic processes, and investigated Pleistocene periglacial stratigraphy in the U.K..

Charles Harris (harrisc@cardiff.ac.uk)