Within the scope of the International Polar Year 2007/2008, an interdisciplinary expedition into the Prydzbay region (East-Antarctica) was carried out by the Alfred Wegener Institute (AWI) for Polar and Marine Research from early February to mid April (Chief Scientist: H.-W. Hubberten).

A team of six scientists under the leadership of D. Wagner (AWI) worked for four weeks in the ice free areas of the Larsemann Hills and the Rauer Islands at the Prydzbay coast. The diversity and ecology of microbial communities, and their function in nutrient turnover were studied under extreme conditions in the Antarctic periglacial regions to identify the main microbial players in nutrient turnover. Soil and sediment samples were taken to analyze the micro-flora in relation to the important site characteristics such as hydrological, thermal and weathering processes. The acquired data will give an insight into the early stages of life on Earth, as well as the development of extreme habitats and the functioning of microbes within periglacial ecosystems.

The AWI permafrost investigations in the delta of the Lena River, Northeast Siberia, Russia were continued in July and August 2007, and included long-term methane emission rates of the wet polygonal sedge-moss-tundra showing the importance of the natural CH4 source of permafrost affected soils (D. Wagner). The N-fluxes in permafrost soils and sediments were investigated by the University of Hamburg (E.-M. Pfeiffer). Additional soil science studies of the pedogenesis in the Alas depression on Kurungnakh Island were investigated in co-operation with PhD work at the Moscow State University (MSU). The goal of the newly formed young investigator group SPARC (Sensitivity of Permafrost in the Arctic), under the leadership of J. Boike (AWI), is to close the gap between the small-scale process understanding of energy and water fluxes, and the large-scale information from satellite remote sensing. Work was carried out at sites in Siberia (Lena Delta) and Spitsbergen (Ny-Ålesund) retrieving the following data sets: automated weather, soil, eddy covariance data, highly resolved surface images using digital cameras, and spatially distributed data on surface and radiation properties. Furthermore, spatially distributed hydrologic modelling is being carried out for these watersheds. Surface sediments from lakes recorders of the modern Arctic environment serve as calibration data for palaeoclimate reconstruction using lake sediment cores. During a trip to the Anabar region in northwestern Yakutia, samples for diatom, pollen and geochemical analysis were taken along a typical temperature gradient from the tundra to the northern taiga (U. Herzschuh).

Following up the AWI Tibet seismic expedition of 2006, a 6.3 m long sediment core was taken from Lake Donggi Cona (Northeastern Tibetan Plateau) with the purpose of obtaining multi-proxy-data for climate reconstruction. Additionally, another core (4.5 m) was drilled at a lake close to Litang (Southeastern Tibetan Plateau). In both cases, drilling was carried out from the lake ice-cover. In addition, investigations for possible future campaigns were carried out in the Karlik Mountains, Northwestern China.

Funded by DFG (Deutsche Forschungsgemeinschaft) and CAS (Chinese Academy of Sciences), researchers from the Institute of Environmental Physics, University of Heidelberg (K. Roth) and from the Cold and Arid Regions Environmental and Engineering Research Institute (CAREERI), Lanzhou installed three automatic soil-meteorological stations at Zuimatan (55°22’N 99°09’E), Qumahe (34°54’N 94°48’E) and Cumarhe (35°11’N, 93°57’E) on the Qinghai-Tibet plateau in the summer of 2006. The installations were accompanied by extensive surveys of the permafrost table using ground-penetrating radar (GPR). These stations will provide continuous high-resolution data for studying (i) the general thermal and hydraulic dynamics of the warm permafrost along a climatic gradient and (ii) the impact of meteorological fluctuations on the consequences of global change. Also during the summer of 2006, several sites in the Aksai Chin region in Western Tibet were explored applying GPR. This provided basic information to identify future sites where stations could be installed, and where more extensive geophysical explorations could take place.

Based on meteorological and soil temperature monitoring data compiled by the Department for Geography, Giessen University, in the Swiss Matter Valley, L. King and C. Maag investigated permafrost distribution between 3000 and 3400 m asl in the Gornergrat-Stockhorn region (Swiss Alps). They continued the monitoring of permafrost distribution, snowpatch patterns, geomorphological changes and mass-movement hazards. The climate change oriented research was supported by glaciological studies in the same area.

An interdisciplinary research project called Water Resources in the Aksu-Tarim River Catchment (Xinjiang Autonomous Region, China) and the effects of Climate Change was proposed by L. King (Giessen), H. Paeth (Würzburg), W. Hagg (Munich) and T. Bolch (Dresden), following a Chinese-German symposium in Urumqi. The regional water cycle within the framework of interrelated modules was researched, addressing atmospheric, cryospheric and hydrospheric processes. Within the cryosphere module, the regional permafrost distribution and active layer dynamics were of particular interest.

At the Department of Physical Geography, University of Würzburg, C. Kneisel is continuing surface temperature monitoring and geophysical permafrost characterization in the Swiss Alps, central Iceland and northern Sweden. In the Swiss Alps subsurface temperatures are monitored within two boreholes in the periglacial zone, and within one newly drilled borehole in the Bever valley at a sporadic permafrost site. Here, extensive geophysical mapping (2D electrical resistivity imaging and 2D refraction seismics) was carried out together with D. Schwindt to map the extent of small permafrost lenses. Geoelectrical monitoring of permafrost characteristics and active layer thickness was continued in the Muragl glacier forefield regularly during the summer months.

Permafrost research at the Department of Physical Geography of the University of Bonn focuses on geomorphic surface characteristics, sediment budgets, and the understanding of permafrost-affected transitional systems in rock walls, rock glaciers and glacier forefields. In his PhD thesis Otto (2006) used geomorphic mapping, geophysical sounding and mathematical base level extrapolation to quantify paraglacial sediment storage in the Turtmann Valley (Valais, Switzerland). Attention has been paid to the understanding of shortterm and long-term nonlinear processes in transitional systems (Dikau, 2006; Krautblatter and Dikau, 2007). Bedehäsing et al. (2007) compared the applicability of different geomorphic mapping systems to permafrostaffected glacier-forefields in the Matter and Turtmann Valleys (Swiss Alps). Otto et al. (2007) discussed multipurpose application of HRSC-A datasets for the investigation of periglacial landforms. Krautblatter and Hauck (2007) introduced an approach to derive 2D-spatial information on permafrost distribution in rockwalls with the aid of electrical resistivity tomography. Krautblatter et al. (2007) also provided 3D insights into rock permafrost distribution and spatial variability using 2D/3D refraction seismics and 2D/3D electrical resistivity measurements in the Swiss Alps (Turtmann/Matter Valleys) and the German Alps (Zugspitze). This dataset was also used to support the planning of the Zugspitze Permafrost Borehole by the Bavarian Government. From 2006 to 2007 a wireless sensor network was tested in the Turtmann-Matter Valleys, providing online access to insolation, rock and air temperatures in different aspects (www.sensorgis.ch). Rock permafrost monitoring and permafrost-induced rock movements will be studied as part of the forthcoming research project Sensitivity of Mountain Permafrost to Climate Change (SPCC).

Initiated by the European Polar Board, German activities within the International Polar Year 2007/08 will include the programme ‘Cool Classes’, addressing teachers of all geo-sciences. School teachers will be able to participate directly in international scientific projects and expeditions, and develop concepts for in-class science projects in marine and terrestrial sciences, including permafrost topics by using both a theoretical and practical approach. As the polar regions are not yet represented in the school curricula, the concept ‘Cool Classes’ will be utilized in order to establish long-term partnerships between school groups and scientific institutions in Germany (polarjahr.de/coole-klassen.155.0.html, project coordinator: rainer.lehmann@gmx.net).

Lorenz King and Clemens C. Maag (lorenz.king@geogr.uni-giessen.de)