The report is mainly on the project activities and meetings related to the studies of permafrost and cold regions engineering in China during the period of 2012-2013.

Major programs/projects on permafrost

 

During the 2012-2013, 20 major research program/projects were initiated or ongoing on permafrost and cold regions engineering in China (Table 1), in addition to many smaller projects from various funding sources. The research and development funding from all levels of governments and industry increased in 2012-2013 in order to meet the demands for socioeconomic development in cold regions and for basic research in geocryology and cold region science and technology. In perspective, the research funding in the next two years should be somewhat cut back in certain areas while an appreciable growth of funding is expected from the Natural Science Foundation of China (NSFC) and the Chinese Academy of Sciences (CAS). This is a result of a consolidation of all funding sources in China for a better managerial purpose and also from an expected slowed growth of economy in China during the 2014-2015 period.

 

Table 1. Summary on the major project/programs on permafrost and cold regions engineering in China during 2012-2013 (in a descending order of funding strength from 6.00 to 0.25 M USD).

Overall, most of the key research projects and programs are still related to the direct needs in cold regions engineering survey, design and construction, and the related before- and post-construction environmental impact statements, long-term monitoring of foundation soil stabilities and mitigative techniques of frost hazards, and environmental management or response contingency plans (Figure 1). Additionally, some major surveys for baseline and assessment of cold regions environments have been initiated to better understand the permafrost and seasonally frozen ground in China for national and regional planning purposes, and some major basic research projects for cryospheric changes in cascading scales of the Qinghai-Tibet Plateau, China, Northern Hemisphere and the Globe. The NSFC and Chinese Academy of Sciences (CAS) also launched a major research program on the Third Pole (QTP) with a focus of cryospheric water cycling. However, with a focus on mountain glaciers and polar ice sheets, this program has insignificant investment on water resources in permafrost regions and even more limited consideration is given to groundwater. The last is that the CAS designed and implemented a permafrost hydrology program on studying the water resources in the sources area of the Yellow River on the northeastern Qinghai-Tibet Plateau, with a focus of the controlling role of permafrost and its changes in the surface water bodies and groundwater flow systems. Some smaller projects have a wide range of interests in geocryology, alpine ecology, frozen soils mechanics and physics.



Figure 1. Ponding of deep water in the subsided right-of-way zone along the China-Russia Crude Oil Pipeline.

973 projects and programs

 

Three MOST 973 programs have projects on permafrost, including the “Basic research on the key permafrost engineering on the Qinghai-Tibet Plateau”, “Cryospheric change and adaptive strategies in the Northern Hemisphere” and “Cryospheric changes and their impacts”. They cover a wide range of permafrost-related issues, such as the thermal state and active layer processes, biogeochemical cycles and carbon in permafrost regions, stability and vulnerability of cold regions engineering and environments, water resources and engineering, and adaptive strategies and polices at site to global scales. In addition to permafrost, the programs also study the arctic and Antarctic ice sheets and mountain glaciers, sea ice, snow cover and cold regions ecology.

The 973 program of the Key Permafrost Engineering on the Qinghai-Tibet Plateau is mainly focused on the Qinghai-Tibet Engineering Corridor (QTEC) in a systematic and integrated manner. The program has been a joint collection of projects by the CAREERI, CAS, the Harbin Institute of Technology, Lanzhou University, and the First Highway Design Institute of the Ministry of Transportation. It aims at better understanding of the group interactions of linear infrastructures in the QTEC, interactions between the engineered infrastructures and fragile and stressed alpine environments, and those between the QTEC and surrounding cold regions environments, at the stochastical processes involved in the modeling and predictions of the physical and mechanical processes and properties of foundation soils, and at the better serviceability of the engineered works in their lifespan. This study is also aimed at providing an important support for the proposed Qinghai-Tibet Express Highway from Golmud to Lhasa, as a part of the Beijing-Lhasa Express Way.

Permafrost surveys on the QTP

 

The MOST specially supported program on the “Baseline survey of the five representative permafrost regions on the QTP”, led by Professor Lin Zhao, the Director of the QTP Cryospheric Station of China, was officially launched in 2010 and came to a conclusion in 2013, with many fruitful results and new findings. Although there have been many maps of permafrost on the QTP since 1970s, this survey has obtained much basic data on the features of distribution and thermal states of permafrost, alpine ecology, and carbon contents in the cryosols and in shallow permafrost. On the basis of the extended surveys, many new monitoring boreholes have been established on five representative parts of the QTP, namely; the Wenquan discontinuous permafrost regions on northeastern QTP, the continuous permafrost zone at the Sources Areas of the Three (Yangtze, Lancang-Mekong and Nujiang) rivers, the Hoh Xil Mountains continuous permafrost zone on the northern QTP, Gerze discontinuous permafrost zone on southwestern QTP, and the continuous permafrost zone in the Tianshuihai Lake area in the West Kunlun Mountains in western QTP. In addition to permafrost studies, hydro-meteorological stations have also been established to automatically monitoring the land surface processes. For example, in April 2013, two automatic weather stations with drilled boreholes were installed in the Zhuonai Lake area (Figure 2) and the Ayake Lake area in the heartland of the QTP. Each station includes ground temperature monitoring system and 15-m high automatic weather station. The recorded environmental variables consist of wind, air temperature and air humidity gradient (at heights of 2, 4, 10 and 15 m above ground), radiation, photosynthetically active radiation (PAR), snow depth, precipitation, surface temperature, thermal flux at 5 cm, 10 cm and 20 cm depths, and geothermal gradient.



Figure 2. Permafrost automatic monitoring stations at the Zhuonai Lake on the western QTP.

 

This program has been monumental in the sense that permafrost studies have taken a long step away from the major engineering corridors such as those along the Qinghai-Tibet Highway, and the Qinghai-Kang Highway. In addition to the baseline permafrost and active layer data, the recently established monitoring network will also ensure the continuous inflow of data for permafrost monitoring, mapping and modeling. On the basis of the laborious work, a new map of permafrost and related results will be available soon. Some progress brief reports are available at http://www.crs.ac.cn/brief_proj.asp.

 

Hydrological impacts of the degrading permafrost hydrology in the Sources Area of the Yellow River (SAYR) supported by the CAS Key Strategic Program

 

On the basis of earlier studies on the thermal state and distribution of permafrost and active layer mainly along the National Highway 214 from Xi’ning to Yushu, this new program aims at more detailed understanding of the status quo and changes in trends of climate, frozen ground and water resources in the Sources Area of the Yellow River (SAYR) on the northeastern QTP, at better understanding of the mechanisms for and processes in ground ice melting, runoff generation and discharge processes under a degrading permafrost environment, and at scientifically assessing the impacts from the degrading permafrost on the hydrological processes and spatio-temporal redistribution of water resource components in the SAYR. The program was officially launched in October 2013, and has four projects: 1) Frozen ground in the SAYR and its changes; 2) Hydro-meteorology, land-atmosphere interactive processes, modelling and its change trends; 3) Experimental studies on the runoff generation and dynamic changes of flow systems resulting from a degrading permafrost in the SAYR, and; 4) Permafrost hydrological models for the SAYR and its applications in evaluating the hydrological processes and water resources dynamics. The program aims at an integrated understanding, simulation and prognosis of the hydrological and hydrogeological processes and dynamics of the atmosphere-land-surface waters-groundwater flow systems in the SAYR with a more intensive field observation network over a longer term.

Since the summer 2013, some new field stations and boreholes have been installed and are in operations, such as on pingos and lithalsas at Harqiong on the western bank of the Ngöring Lake (Figure 3), and in the Wanlong Worma River watershed in the heart of the SAYR.



Figure 3. Lithalasa in the SAYR on the northeastern QTP.

Major interactions of China and the IPA in 2012

 

In June-July 2012, China sent a delegation of 12 people headed by Professor Wei Ma to attend the Tenth International Conference on Permafrost (TICOP) in Salekhard, Russia. China contributed the invited plenary and session reports and posters, with its scopes covering the permafrost and cold regions environments in China, high-speed highways and railways, crude oil pipelines, and cryospheric changes and adaption. Professor Wei Ma was re-elected as one of the six-member IPA Executive during the period of 2012-2016. China proposed to host the 11th International Conference on Permafrost (ICOP) in 2016, but failed to receive approval, but will keep working on the 12th ICOP (EICOP) in 2020. Professor Fujun Niu was appointed the Co-Chair of the Permafrost Engineering Working Group. Under the auspices of the IPA and in cooperation with Dr. Inga May, Professor Huijun Jin initiated the Permafrost Outreaching Action Group (POWG). In November 2012, China actively participated in the GTN-P Meeting in Potsdam, Germany, with foci on the implementation plan of the GTN-P and the next four year strategic development plan of the IPA. The IPA reminded China to enhance the leaderships of research and outreach for permafrost and cold regions in China and East Asia. In December, the IPA President Lewkowicz visited the Cold and Arid Regions Environmental and Engineering Research Institute (CAREERI), CAS at Lanzhou, and delivered an excellent presentation on Canadian studies on arctic permafrost. In the same time, he actively interacted with permafrost specialists and fledgling geocryologists and discussions with the new permafrost leaderships of the CAREERI, SKLFSE and State Key Laboratory of Crysopheric Science (SKLFCS) to foster the cooperation between the IPA, China and Canada.

In the period from the late December 2012 to the mid-January 2013, Dr. Inga May visited China under the auspices of the IPA and the SKLFSE, to facilitate the research on permafrost and climate change, as well as for outreach activities related to permafrost changes and adaption. The POWG members visited and made presentations at 12 research and educational institutions, including CAREERI (plus SKLFSE and SKLCS) and Lanzhou University in Northwest China; CAS Northeast Institute of Geography and Agro-ecology and Jilin University at Changchun, Harbin Institute of Technology, Northeast Normal University, CAS Institute of Applied Ecology at Shenyang, Northeast China; Polar Research Institute (Center) of China at Shanghai and Shanghai Jiaotong (Transportation and Communications) University, and Shanghai Normal University in East China, and; CAS Institute of Tibetan Plateau Research at Beijing and Beijing Jiaotong University. The presentations were mainly on permafrost studies in the Arctic and Antarctic, IPA activities, and major research institutions outside China, but tailored to different needs for professors, engineers, graduate and undergraduate students from different disciplines. These presentations were well received among Chinese scholars, and youth scholars and graduate students in particular, with noticeable advancement for the PYRN expansion in China.

Although IPA has been engaged in permafrost and cryospheric changes and their adaption, its engineering sector has been relatively weak. As a result, many Chinese researchers (who are more involved with permafrost engineering) have shown less enthusiasm for the IPA activities. IPA also has been trying to work with other organizations both at global, continental and national levels, such IUGG, AGU, EGU, IACS, IASC, and SCAR, and has a special focus on the GTN-P establishment and expansion. China is firmly supporting the IPA initiatives of these strategic plans and implementations, and would like to assume more responsibilities and take initiatives to deal with relevant issues. Two of the most active geocryologists, Professor Qingbai Wu (President-elect of the SKLFSE) and Lin Zhao (Head of the QTP Cryospheric Station) have been nominated the Chinese national contacts for the GTN-P, and they are aiming at advancing the studies of elevational permafrost in the Central and High Asian Mountains.

China has long been trying to build the international projects on permafrost study as well as the cryospheric science. However, the newly launched 973 programs in this regard are very limited in funding permafrost research and some other associated disciplines due to the fact that most of the project leaders are glaciologists. China now is primarily focused on internal geocryological studies to meet the domestic needs, but it has formed research teams and establishments. Although the science policies, cooperation mechanisms and communications channels await further improvement for direct investment of Chinese funding in international projects, Chinese geocryologists and leaderships have been working hard on designing and initiating major international permafrost science program.

Major meetings and international visits in China in 2013

 

On 25 January, Academician Vladim V. Pendin of the Russian Academy of Sciences (RAS), Professor Victor M. Kuvshinnikov of the Moscow State Geological Prospecting University (Московский Государственный Геологоразведочный Университет), and Vice-Director Dmitry S. Drozdov of the RAS Institute of Earth Cryosphere visited CAREERI, CAS at Lanzhou. They respectively gave presentations on “Development and early warning of the adverse engineering geological processes”, “Impacts of hazardous geological processes on ancient architectures” and “Cold regions engineering hazards in Russia”.

On 6-8 May, Global Terrestrial Network for Permafrost (GTN-P) held meeting in Geneva, Switzerland, with more than 100 participants, and a main theme on National Correspondents Workshop on GTN-P Implementation and Data Policy. A four-member Chinese delegation attended the workshop, and introduced the history, current status and development plans for GTN-P in China, and discussed the databank establishment and policy. Professors Lin Zhao and Qingbai Wu were nominated as the China contacts for the GTN-P.

On 2-7 June, Professor Ochirbat Batkhishig from the Institute of Geography, Mongolia Academy of Sciences visited the QTP Cryospheric Station, CAREERI, CAS, and gave the presentation “Climate change and environment in Mongolia”and inspected the permafrost monitoring transects along the Qinghai-Tibet Highway.

In June-July, Dr. Victor F. Bense from the University of East Anglia and now the visiting professor at the CAREERI, visited the CAREERI and SKLFSE, and gave a presentation on “Permafrost hydrogeology in a changing climate” on 16 July, and then participated in a joint team on the inspection of the Sources Area of the Yellow River (SAYR) along with the team members of the CAS Strategic Pilot Program on the “Hydrological Impacts of the degrading permafrost in the SAYR”.

On 2-4 June, Professors Wei Ma and Fujun Niu attended the 10th International Symposium on Cold Regions Development [ISCORD13], Anchorage, Alaska, and presented an invited talk on “Challenge and adaptation of permafrost engineering to changing climate on the Qinghai-Tibet Plateau”.

In June, Dr. Elizaveta MakarychevaЕлизавета Макаришеваfrom the Institute of Geo-environmental Science, Professor Chien-lu Ping from the University of Alaska and six CAREERI scientists jointly sampled cryosols and inspected the thaw settlement hazards along the China-Russia Crude Oil Pipeline route and in the Gulian’he coal mines in the Da Xing’anling (Hinggan) Mountains, where a thermokarst lake recently dried up and its causes to be investigated.

On 22-23 August, Harbin Institute of Technology and CAREERI jointly hosted the Second China Symposium on Engineering Hazard Mitigation, in which Professor Wei Ma gave the presentation on “Permafrost hazards and mitigation”, and Dr. Guoyu Li presented on the “Frost hazards along the China-Russia Crude Oil Pipeline route”.

On 16-20 September, the International Workshop on Remote Sensing and Eco-hydrology in Arid Regions was held in Beijing, and a post-conference field trip was organized for the Downstream Hei’he River in Gansu Province and Inner Mongolia Autonomous Region, China. During this period, Professor John Pomeroy from the Hydrology Research Center, Environment Canada, and Professor Larry D. Hinzman from the International Arctic Research Center, University of Alaska Fairbanks, Alaska, visited CAREERI, CAS, and presented talks on “Simulating cold regions hydrological processes using a modular model in the west of China”.

On 8 October, Professor ZhaohuiJoey) Yang from University of Alaska Anchorage visited the SKLFSE and presented a talk on “Cold regions aspects of geotechnical and earthquake engineering problems”.

On 9-12 October, the 1st International Symposium on Roadbed Engineering in Cold Regions was successfully hosted by the DOT, Qinghai and convened in Xi’ning, Qinghai, in which Professors Wei Ma and Academician Yuanming Lai respectively presented talks on the “Thermal processes of frozen ground engineering” and “Thermal and mechanical analysis of roadbed in cold regions”

In September –November, Professor Stuart A. Harris visited and worked with CAREERI teams on past permafrost on the northeastern Qinghai-Tibet Plateau, in the Hexi Corridor and in the Qilian Mountains with many new interesting findings. He also presented talks in CAREERI and Lanzhou University on “Permafrost and climate change”, “Distribution and mapping of permafrost”, and “Latest discoveries on past permafrost and periglacial landforms on northeastern QTP”.

On 10-12 November more than 150 scientists and managers from 12 countries attended the International Conference on the Cryosphere: Changes, Impacts and Adaption held in Beijing. It had 72 oral presentations and 56 posters in 10 sessions. Immediately prior to the Conference, the Third WCRP/CliC and the Second IUGG/IACS China Committee meetings were also held. The participants held in-depth review and discussions of related topics, including the thermal states of permafrost (TSP), GTN-P and CALM, permafrost hydrology and ecology, permafrost carbon, and adaptation in permafrost regions. Under the National Committees of China, there are several subcommittees related to permafrost: Cryospheric Climate Records, Permafrost, Cold Regions Hydrology, Cold Regions Ecology, Crysophere and Climate Modelling and Projections, Cryosphere and Sustainable Development, RS, Observation and Databanks.

At the end of the year, the Geological Survey of China (GSC) hosted a review meeting for its 8 projects for hydrogeology, engineering geology and environmental geology (HEEG) in 7 counties of the Yushu Tibetan Prefectures in permafrost regions on the northeastern QTP and along the Qinghai-Tibet Railway (QTR) route. The 8 projects were initiated by the GSC in 2008 for understanding the HEEG in the areas with scarce or no data with urgent needs for rebuilding the earthquake-shattered Yushu Prefecture and to ensure the operational safety of the QTR. After 5 years of extended field and laboratory work, in addition to previous investigations in the sources of the Three Rivers during 2001-2007, the Geological Survey Qinghai, Tibet, Sichuan, and Gansu have provided rich data on the HEEG on northeastern QTP, which would greatly benefit the study of water resources in permafrost regions.

Report prepared by Huijun Jin, SKLFSE/CAREERI, CAS (hjjin@lzb.ac.cn)