During 2011, the activities of French periglacial communities and permafrost researchers were undertaken in a wide range of approaches (geomorphological field study, physical modelling and numerical approach) and cover several areas (Iceland, Siberia, French Alps).

With Icelandic partners from the Natural Research Centre of Northwestern Iceland (Sauðárkrókur), Denis Mercier (University of Nantes and UMR 6554 Géolittomer), Etienne Cossart (Paris 1 university and UMR 8586 Prodig), Thierry Feuillet (University of Nantes and UMR 6554 Géolittomer) and Armelle Decaulne (UMR CNRS 6042 Geolab, Clermont-Ferrand) pursued in Northern Iceland their researches on spatial distribution of periglacial forms (patterned ground – polygons, circles) and their environmental characteristics (internal and external controls), as well as on dating large paraglacial mass movements.

Armelle Decaulne also pursues dendrogeomorphic analysis of snow-avalanche activity in Northern Iceland and Western Norway with Icelandic and Norwegian collaborators.

Denis Mercier and colleagues from university of Caen and Unis – Svalbard did a field trip measurement in Kongsfjorden (Spistbergen) in August 2011 to quantify paraglacial shoreline progradation and map offshore deposits with sonar.
Results obtained during recent field campaigns and subsequent analyses were presented at EGU General Assembly in Vienna in April 2011, and at SEDIBUD Workshop held in Zakopane, Poland, in September 2011.

An on-going study of the impact of ice breakup on the erosional process at the head of several fluvial islands has been conducted in the Lena river (Yakutia) by François Costard (UMR IDES, CNRS-Université Paris-sud XI, Orsay) with Emmanuèle Gautier (Laboratoire de Géographie Physique CNRS UMR 8591, Meudon) in cooperation with A. Fedorov and P. Konstantinov from the Permafrost Institute (Yakutsk).  In 2008-2011, a 4-years observation program was initiated to quantify the relative influence of fluvial thermal erosion during the ice breakup of the Lena River in Yakutia. Field observations were particularly comprehensive in the relative efficiency the fluvial thermal erosion during the first days of the ice breakup (figure 1). Significant bank retreat mostly takes place after the ice breakup when high-water period induces a direct contact between the water and frozen river banks, thereby inducing thaw.  Only a few days are enough to produce erosion rate as high as 30 m.



Figure 1: Pressure ridge due to the accumulation of thawed sand at the head of the Timoshka island after the ice breakup. The accumulation of sediments corresponds to the mechanical effect of the ice push during the breakup. Photo F. Costard.

R. Perrier (PhD student, Paris-Diderot University), E. Cossart (Panthéon-Sorbonne University) and M. Fort (Paris-Diderot University, Sorbonne-Paris-Cité) are carrying on research on alpine permafrost since 2008 (UMR 8386 PRODIG program). Their investigations in both Clarée and Ubaye valleys (southern French Alps) are focusing on mountain permafrost dynamic at different scales. At a regional scale, mapping of permafrost in unconsolidated sediments is going on using various methods (spring water temperature measurements and rockglaciers inventorying). At a closer scale, research concentrates on rockglaciers movement, structure and thermal regime. Their kinematics is recorded by terrestrial geodetic measurements and photogrammetric methods. Together with ground surface temperature monitoring as well as Electrical Resistivity Tomography (ERT) (in cooperation with C. Virmoux and M. Chenet, LGP-CNRS UMR 8591), these data should provide additional information on rockglacier origin and evolution, and contribute to PermaFrance objectives as well.

Research on mountain permafrost in the French Alps continued within the PermaFRANCE network, with support of the PermaNET project. It is conducted by the following labs : Institut de Géographie Alpine in Grenoble, EDYTEM in Chambéry, GIPSA-lab in Grenoble. The deep borehole 2Alpes-3065, drilled in September 2010, was fully equipped in December and Ferbuary 2011. An innovative DTS (Distributed Temperature Sensing) fiberoptic measurement was first done in February 2011, and confirmed the presence of permafrost down to the bottom of the 100 m deep borehole. First results of the three boreholes in the rockfaces of Aiguille du Midi, and of the two boreholes on the rockglacier 2Alpes-Bellecombes were retreived. The inventory of rockglaciers was continued, in collaboration with the RTM, the French service in charge of hazard management in mountain regions.

The final conference of the PermaNET (figure 2) project took place from June 28 to July 1 2011 in Chamonix, with 48 participants. It was organized by the EDYTEM lab and the French project partners. The PermaNET project was financed by the European Territorial Cooperation through the Alpine Space program. It involved 13 partners from 5 countries : France, Italy, Austria, Germany and Switzerland. The objective of the program was i) to build a long term permafrost monitoring network covering the entire Alps, ii) to assess the present knowledge on permafrost occurrence and distribution in the Alps, iii) to develop scenarios on how mountain permafrost will react to climate change and iv) to develop strategies to cope with hazards related to permafrost. The conference included a workshop on methods for permafrost monitoring, a public presentation of the main results and a public conference by Wilfried Haeberli. Three excursions were proposed to the participants. The second day an excursion led all participants to the Aiguille du Midi, the main study site for permafrost in rockfaces, with three horizontal boreholes. The third day, participants had the choice between a cable car excursion to the Punta Hellbronner, where investigations are made on the evolution of high mountain rockfaces, or a hike to the Derochoir, a rock glacier overhanging a torrential basin. An additional one day excursion was proposed on July 1 to the study site Deux-Alpes, where the first deep borehole of the French Alps was drilled in 2010. Among the main achievements of the PermaNET project, presented at the conference, one has to mention :

  • a permafrost evidence database, including 400 observations of permafrost occurrence, and more than 4800 rockglaciers.
  • a permafrost probability map for the entire Alps, calculated on a 30 m grid.
  • a network of around 50 monitoring sites, including 15 boreholes. Most of the boreholes have been declared to the GTN-P by late 2011.
  • a handbook with protocols for permafrost monitoring and detection.
  • a statement of hazards related to permafrost.
  • a documentary film on permafrost and a TV film.

All the project products can be downloaded on the project web page : www.permanet-alpinespace.eu



Figure 2: The 2nd day excursion of the PermaNET final conference, with all participants at the Aiguille du Midi (3842 m a.s.l., Mont Blanc massif), a main study site for Alpine rockwall permafrost. Photo Ph. Deline.

Laboratoire des Sciences du Climat et de l’Environnement studies the impact of glacial-interglacial cycles on the underground flow patterns considering the general issue of nuclear waste storage in the Paris Sedimentary Basin during the last 120 Kyrs. A recent study by (D. Régnier, C. Grenier, E. Pons-Branchu, V. Masson-Delmotte, D. Paillard, H. Benabderrahmane) focused on the influence of glacial-interglacial rapid climate variability on NE France permafrost. A compilation of available climate proxies (lake sediments, speleothem growth periods, periglacial structures) and climate simulations shows discrepancies in the reconstructed temperature ranges. Rapid climate variability provides a framework to account for this. A series of high frequency signals were generated using the Greenland ice core NGRIP signal, orbitally-driven transient climate modelling and various reconstruction methods (figure 3). The signals were then constrained to match the NE France available dataset and served to simulate permafrost depth on a 1D vertical column (cf. heat transfer model within Cast3M code, http://www-cast3m.cea.fr). The resulting stochastic ensemble of simulations provides a novel perspective on permafrost variability for long time scales and its impact on aquifer recharge evolution, especially for the LGM.



Figure 3 : Examples of two simulations and associated permafrost depth evolution, the first is low frequencies signal (climate simulation output), the second includes rapid variability. Photo Ch. Grenier.

In 2011, A. Rivière and A. Jost (UMR 7619 Sisyphe, University Pierre et Marie Curie Paris VI), in collaboration with J. Gonçalvès (UMR 6635 CEREGE, University Paul Cézanne Aix-Marseille III), have been working on the coupled groundwater and heat transport model they develop in order to predict evolving groundwater and permafrost interaction at various time and space scales. They focus in particular on: (i) the pressure response to permafrost formation and dissipation in subpermafrost aquifers at the laboratory scale, (ii) the quantification of groundwater-river exchanges in discontinuous and continuous permafrost areas in a warming context at the catchment scale, (iii) the long-term impact of past permafrost on present-day hydrogeological conditions in large aquifer systems such as the multilayered Paris basin aquifer system on a million years scale.

At the same time, they are carrying out physical modelling experiments on a  sandbox in a cold room at UMR 6143 M2C (M. Font-Ertlen, University Caen Basse-Normandie): pressures and temperatures are monitored over freezing and thawing successive cycles, as well as frost heave (figure 4). They also apply geophysical methods to help determining the unfrozen water content (time domain reflectometry, F. Réjiba, UMR 7619 Sisyphe, UPMC; ground penetrating radar, A. Saintenoy, UMR 8148 IDES, University Paris Sud).



Figure 4: Results from laboratory experiments: subpermafrost hydraulic head response and frost heave measured during freezing. Photo A. Rivière.

At UMR 6143 M2C (Caen), physical modelling experiments have been carried out by B. Hurault in a cold room to characterize the processes that occur during the thawing of experimental permafrost. These experiments provide detailed data on the physical parameters that control permafrost thawing, particularly lithology, ice-contents, ice-layer and thawing-temperatures. About 15 freeze-thaw cycles are registered for each experiment (figure 5). The main conclusions of this study concern the relationship between thaw-settlement, topography and active layer thickness versus the physical parameters used in this study.



Figure 5: Physical modelling of thermokarst process. Photo B Hurault

François Costard francois.costard@u-psud.fr