Reports from Potsdam (AWI, GFZ)

Many permafrost research teams used the new Research Station Samoylov Island, operated by the Trofimuk Institute of Petroleum Geology and Geophysics, Siberian Branch of the Russian Academy of Science, during spring, summer, and fall covering several disciplines and topics. These included carbon storage and turnover, trace gas emissions, permafrost degradation by thermokarst and thermal erosion, surface subsidence, water and energy balance, and long term observational studies. Contact:

2014 was the third expedition of the Helmholtz Young Investigator Group led by Hugues Lantuit at the AWI (COPER, Coastal Permafrost erosion, organic carbon and nutrient release to the Arctic nearshore zone). The expedition was the ninth official expedition of the AWI in the area and took place from July 16 until August 24 on Herschel Island (NW Canada). The expedition was cooperation between the AWI (H. Lantuit), the Geological Survey of Canada (G. Manson), the University of Edinburgh (I. Myers-Smith), Queen's University (S. Lamoureux) and Virginia Tech (N. Stark). A weather station and a monitoring flume, already used in 2010, 2011, 2012, and 2013 were deployed at the outlet of a retrogressive thaw slump to monitor water and sediment discharge over several weeks in the field. The flume was relocated to a catchment located close to camp, where discharge monitoring will be performed to match measurements performed by Queen's University at the Cape Bounty camp site (S. Lamoureux). Additionally, water samples were taken to characterize the geochemical composition of the water. In the catchments to be monitored, extensive active layer sampling for organic matter characterization was conducted (as well as permafrost coring). Additionally, vegetation surveys were conducted by I. Myers-Smith to help characterize the role of shrub growth on the ground thermal regime. To support these investigations, four shallow ground temperature measurement stations were installed. These will be reported to the Global Terrestrial Network for Permafrost (GTN-P). The boat of the AWI, the FS "Christine" was used as a platform to conduct sampling of the seafloor, testing of the sediment geotechnical properties (N. Stark), as well as geochemical water sampling in the nearshore zone. In cooperation with the Geological Survey of Canada (G. Manson), three devices were setup and later successfully retrieved around Herschel Island to monitor water level, and currents in three dimensions. Contact:

The German-Russian project Arctic Ecological network (Arc-EcoNet) led by Sebastian Wetterich at AWI Potsdam and funded by the German Federal Ministry of Education and Research (BMBF) started in September 2014. The project aims in the upcoming 2 years to study the biological inventory of modern permafrost-affected landscapes and further to reconstruct palaeoenvironments using the fossil floral and faunal content of the late Pleistocene and Holocene permafrost archive. Contact:

Within the ERC project PETA-CARB (Rapid Permafrost Thaw in a Warming Arctic and Impacts on the Soil Organic Carbon Pool) led by G. Grosse, several field campaigns were conducted by the enlarged team of J. Lenz, F. Günther, I. Nitze, and M. Fuchs. In April, a joint snowmobile expedition with PETA-CARB participation together with US-based colleagues from UAF and USGS in the NSF CALON project led a four person team for three weeks through about 1400 km of Arctic tundra on the Alaska Northslope to sample thermokarst lakes, readout environmental dataloggers, and drill permafrost cores in drained thermokarst lake basins. In August, PETA-CARB participated in floatplane and helicopter-based sampling of thermokarst lakes together with the NSF CALON team, as well as coring of lakes and drained lake basins on the Alaska Northslope. At the same time a large team conducted field work for nearly four weeks on Sobo-Sise Island in the eastern Lena Delta and on the Bykovsky Peninsula to study past and current thermokarst landscape dynamics and soil carbon pools. The expedition was jointly organized and conducted with Russian colleagues from AARI St. Petersburg and PI Yakutsk investigating coastal erosion, permafrost, landscape, limnological, and hydrological dynamics as well as with other AWI colleagues investigating carbon pools in permafrost (J. Strauss), ground ice characteristics for paleoclimate reconstruction (T. Opel), and thermo-erosion processes (A. Morgenstern). Several temperature data loggers were installed in shallow boreholes in ice-rich permafrost and in thermokarst ponds. Sampling of near surface soil organic carbon was done along transects and permafrost thaw survey grids were instrumented with reference markers.

Funded by the German Ministry of Education and Research (BMBF) the new CarboPerm project successfully started in the end of 2013. An excellent kick-off-meeting held in March 2014 in St. Petersburg led to creation of great cross-work package-cooperation. Two successful expeditions to Bol'shoy Lyakhovsky Island in the eastern Laptev Sea provided four frozen cores with a total length of 52 m of high quality material for further investigations. Additionally, a temperature chain was installed in one of the boreholes. Intensive geophysical investigations allowed a three dimensional image of the permafrost distribution. The coring of the channels of the Lena River Delta provided three high quality cores with a total of 24 m for further analyses by the measuring work packages. Further expeditions in summer delivered first insights into the different carbon quality transported by the channels of the Lena River Delta as well as carbon distribution within the Laptev Sea. At the study site in Chersky the effect of drainage on greenhouse gases and the global warming potential were investigated. On Samoylov Island in the Lena Delta an effect of high temperatures on summer CH4 fluxes was observed. Analyses and incubation experiments on one core showed that the quality of organic matter differ with depth (0-18 m). However, deep permafrost sequences were characterised by an increased amount of microbial communities and the microbial organic matter turnover. The data provided by the measuring work packages were used to improve the model outcomes. JSBACH model products showing the distributions and maximum depth of the active layer as well as the distribution of carbon density in the circumpolar regions are in preparation. Contact:

Now in its third year, the Helmholtz Young Investigator Group TEAM (Trace Gas Exchange in the Earth-Atmosphere System on Multiple Scales) led by Torsten Sachs (GFZ) joined three AWI expeditions to the Lena River Delta. In April, together with colleagues at AWI, a floating eddy covariance system was set up on a thaw lake to study the seasonal dynamics of the heat, carbon dioxide, and methane exchange between the lake and the atmosphere. Additionally, methane contained within the ice cover of lakes and ponds was sampled. The main focus was on airborne measurements using the helicopter-towed "Helipod" system to quantify the regional fluxes of heat, water vapor, carbon dioxide and methane throughout the entire Lena Delta. Two flights in April characterized the winter background fluxes, followed by three flights in early June during the break-up of the Lena River and the lake ice cover, as well two more flights towards the end of the growing season in mid-August. Contact:

2014 was the first year of the Helmholtz International Research Group ArcBiont investigating microbial communities that are associated with Arctic peat mosses with a focus on the microbial carbon- and nitrogen cycle. AcrBiont is a bilateral collaboration between the Arctic University of Norway (UiT) and the German Research Centre for Geosciences GFZ Potsdam. In collaboration with the AWI in Potsdam, and with Norwegian financial support through the Arctic field grant extensive fieldwork and sampling was carried out between July and September 2014 in three different permafrost-affected study sites: Lena Delta/Siberia, Ny-Ålesund /Spitsbergen and Finnmark/northern Norway. Contact:

2014 was the second year of the Helmholtz Young Investigators Research Group MicroCene (Microbial Communities of Terrestrial Pleistocene and Holocene Deposits) focusing on the microbial carbon cycle in subsurface peat and permafrost environments, its reconstruction and present influence of surface greenhouse gas fluxes. In 2014, two subsea permafrost cores from the Laptev Sea Shelf during the expeditions "Buor Khaya 2012" and "COAST 1 2005", both retrieved under the umbrella of the AWI in Potsdam, were analyzed for microbial abundance and functional diversity with a focus on discriminating between intact (active) cells and free DNA. Contact:

News from German universities

University of Giessen

At the University of Giessen, Stephan Imbery and Murataly Duishonakunow finished their PhD studies on Permafrost distribution and dynamics in the Chinese and Kyrgyz Tianshan, respectively. The two dissertations are published online in the Giessen University Library (GEB). Contact:

University of Cologne

The group of Janet Rethemeyer at University of Cologne continued its investigations of organic carbon dynamics in the polygonal tundra soils of the Lena-Delta (Siberia) using lipid biomarker and radiocarbon analyses. While the group's previous expeditions into the Siberian Lena Delta focused on the turnover and storage of organic matter in the active layer, this year's expedition had the goal to obtain information on the export of dissolved (DOC) and particulate organic carbon (POC) from the polygonal tundra soils into the Lena River. To obtain a comprehensive view on the export of DOC and POC different sites in the Delta were sampled at different times, i.e. at the beginning and end of the summer season. Two PhD students (Stephan John and Matthias Thienemann) carried out the fieldwork from July until September 2014 while being based at the new Samoylov Island Research Station. Samples were obtained from soil pore water and from discharge channels of Kurungnakh and Samoylov Islands draining into the Lena River. In a broader context, this year's sampling strategy complements the efforts of Gesine Mollenhauer's group at AWI Bremerhaven studying DOC and POC discharge within the Lena River and into the Laptev Sea. The samples will be analyzed by Silke Höfle as part of the German-Russian research project "CarboPerm" funded by the German Ministry of Education and Research (BMBF).

Senckenberg Research Station of Quaternary Palaeontology Weimar

Combining approaches of modern and palaeo-ecology, a new DFG funded project, named TUNDRA-STEPPE, started in June 2014 in cooperation of the Senckenberg Research Station of Quaternary Palaeontology Weimar (F. Kienast) and the Senckenberg Natural History Museum Görlitz (K. Wesche). The project aims at a better understanding of the restructuring of terrestrial ecosystems in Northern Yakutia at the transition from the last cold stage to the Holocene in relation to global climate change and megafaunal demise. For that, the response of modern vegetation on grazing in different intensities is recorded along a transect from northern taiga to tundra as well as in relict steppes in the continental part of Northern Yakutia. The results are compared with Late Quaternary vegetation changes that are to be reconstructed using plant macrofossils preserved in syngenetic permafrost deposits in the Yana Highlands- the most continental part and in Duvanny Yar at the lower Kolyma in the now more oceanic East of Yakutia. The reconstructed succession in vegetation development will then be related to the gradual extinction of large herbivores and to global climate evolution.

University of Leipzig

During the second year of the Postdoc project "Short and long-term thermokarst dynamics due to climate changes and human impacts in Central Yakutia, Siberia" lead by Mathias Ulrich (University of Leipzig, Institute for Geography) field work was conducted at our two thermokarst key sites in the Lena-Aldan-Amga region east of Yakutsk together with Russian scientist from the Melnikov Permafrost Institute and the Institute for Biological Problems of the Cryolithozone in Yakutsk. At both sites, the field work included detailed botanical and soil surveys, bathymetrical measurements of thermokarst and alas lakes, geodetic measurements of alas topography as well as readout of environmental dataloggers. Additionally, as part of a Master thesis, field spectral measurements of different alas vegetation zones were conducted using an ASD FieldSpec 4 Wide-Res Spectroradiometer. This will guide the validation of remote sensing data and the characterization and classification of ecological gradients in alas basins. A second Master thesis was established in the project, which is dealing with the reconstruction of Holocene permafrost degradation processes, their influencing factors and environmental impacts by multi-proxy analysis of sediment data cored and sampled in summer 2013.

University of Hamburg

Together with a steering group from USA, Russia, and Japan, Mathias Ulrich and J. Otto Habeck (University of Hamburg, Institute for Ethnology) established the IPA Action Group "Permafrost and Culture (PaC): Integrating environmental, geo-, and social sciences to assess permafrost dynamics and indigenous land use". Contact:,

Leibniz University Hannover

At Leibniz Universität Hannover, Institute of Soil Science, the research group of Georg Guggenberger focused on composition of organic matter and its stabilization mechanisms in permafrost soils. The activity within the CryoCARB project ( founded by German Ministry of Education and Research (BMBF) passed the final stage. Within this project, the working group of Robert Mikutta, Olga Shibistova and the two PhD students Norman Gentsch and Thao Thi Dao focused on transformation and turnover of different soil organic matter pools by applying physical fractionation, biomarker analysis, isotope techniques, mineralization experiments and analysis on the mineral assemblage. Soil samples from the East, Central, and West Siberian Arctic provide insights on pool sizes, composition and organo-mineral interactions in cryoturbated permafrost soils. The second project "IGARKA" (founded by DFG) focused on storage of organic matter in soil aggregates of different size classes under different permafrost impact. The second field campaign was carried out during the summer 2014 in the little Grawijka Creek catchment, a forest tundra ecotone near Igarka, Central Siberia. Currently, the soil samples are processed by the project coordinator Leopold Sauheitl and the PhD student Ina Haase. Another project activity of the team concerned the establishment of the Laboratory of Ecophysiology of Permafrost Systems (PerSyst) at the VN Sukachev Institute of Forest with Georg Guggenberger as the leading scientist. ( This project is funded by the Russian Ministry of Science and Education and aims at the assessment of the response of Siberian permafrost ecosystems on climate change with respect to soil organic carbon stocks and carbon emissions from cryogenic soils. Focus is given on the so far less studied permafrost soils of the Taiga. Contact:

University of Würzburg

At the University of Würzburg, a new research project led by Christof Kneisel started in July 2014. The three-dimensional internal structure and characteristics of different periglacial permafrost-affected landforms will be investigated within this project (funded by the German Research Foundation, DFG). The research approach is based on the assessment of heterogeneities in surface (terrain parameters, texture, ground surface temperatures, snow cover) and subsurface parameters (structure, frost table configuration, ground ice characteristics, ground temperature and moisture) and to correlate these with subsurface hydrological and geomorphic process dynamics. Two boreholes were drilled and instrumented with temperature loggers, additionally combined temperature and soil moisture sensors were installed at six sites in the eastern Swiss Alps at different altitudes. Adrian Emmert has started his PhD within the framework of this project and has mapped subsurface heterogeneities of different geomorphic landforms through the application of minimal-invasive 3D electrical resistivity imaging. Contact:

Technical University of Munich

The Permafrost Group at the Technical University of Munich organized within the Chair of Landslide Research (Prof. Michael Krautblatter, Dr. Kerry Leith) ( enhanced its research at the Zugspitze (2962 m asl, highest peak of Germany) where a new cable car station is planned. Two PhD candidates, Dipl. Geogr. Philip Mamot and MSc Geol (ETHZ) Sibylle Knapp started their research on "Mechanical behavior of permafrost affected rocks and their influence on rock stability at the Zugspitze" and "The mobility of rock avalanches: disintegration, entrainment and deposition" looking at the detachment zone of the historical Zugspitze rock avalanche and its 16 km² runout zone. MSc Geol. Lukas Paysen Petersen started his PhD on "Modelling progressive weakening and failure in carbonate rock slopes."

Germany_Fig.1Figure 1. 7th annual meeting of the German working group on permafrost (AK Permafrost) at the Ammer Lake south of Munich with 50 researchers from Switzerland, Austria, United Kingdom, Norway, and Germany.

Shiva Pudasaini and Michael Krautblatter developed a two-phase mechanical model for rock-ice avalanches with a better representation of dynamical weakening, mass and momentum exchange between solids (rock and ice) and fluids (water) and more realistic runout lengths ( Three other JGR-papers from the group are concerned with the feedback between tectonic stresses and glacial erosion in the Swiss Alps (, and the first attempt to apply seismic refraction tomography to reveal permafrost in solid rock faces

Members of the TUM landslide Group also organized the 7th annual meeting of the German working group on permafrost (AK Permafrost) at the Ammer Lake south of Munich. The meeting brought together 50 researchers from across Europe (Switzerland, Austria, United Kingdom, Norway, and Germany) to discuss recent research, and the outlook for future change in permafrost-affected polar and alpine environments ( The pre-meeting excursion to the Zugspitze permafrost outdoor lab and landscapes produced by the Late-Glacial retreat of the Isar-Loisach Glacier was led by Michael Krautblatter and Ulrich Haas. Michael Krautblatter also co-organised the 8th I.A.G./A.I.G. working group SEDIBUD meeting on the Zugspitze with a several day excursion through the Reintal with its unique record of rock mass wasting and slope failure (

The project "Influences of Snow Cover on Thermal and Mechanic Processes in Steep Permafrost Rockwalls" applied by Michael Krautblatter (TU München) and Marcia Phillips (SLF Davos) went to its last year and PhD student Daniel Draebing (University of Bonn) finished his project-integrated thesis. In the third field season, geophysical, geotechnical and nival measurements were done and monitoring devices were maintained at Steintaelli and Gemsstock (Swiss Alps). The findings of the fieldwork were incorporated and published by Draebing, Krautblatter and Dikau in a conceptual paper on the interaction between thermal and mechanical processes in permafrost rockwalls (doi:10.1016/j.geomorph.2014.08.009). Contact: Daniel Draebing,

University of Bonn

The group of Richard Dikau (R. Dikau, D. Draebing, J. Eichel, K. Messenzehl) of the University of Bonn continued their fieldwork in the Turtmann Valley and organized the 2nd geomorphological workshop „Turtmann-Talks" in summer 2014. PhD student Karoline Messenzehl focuses her research on spatial and temporal activity of rock slope instability and rockfall processes in alpine geomorphic systems financed by the Humboldt-Ritter-Penck-Foundation by the Gesellschaft für Erdkunde zu Berlin and the British Society for Geomorphology. In summer 2014, a combination of geophysical, geotechnical and geomorphological methods were used to investigate rockwalls and scree slopes in the Turtmann Valley. Contact: Karoline Messenzehl,

Germany_Fig.2Figure 2. Refraction seismic measurement at a scree slope in the Turtmann Valley (photo by A. Ewald).

Just recently, the BIMODAL proposal ('Biogeomorphic dynamics on lateral moraines in the Turtmann glacier forefield, Switzerland') was successfully granted by the German Research Foundation. BIMODAL with PhD student Jana Eichel (supervised by R. Dikau und S. Schmidtlein, Karlsruhe Institute of Technology) focuses on the feedbacks between geomorphic and vegetation dynamics on alpine lateral moraines. Its main objective is to understand how small-scale interactions between plant species and geomorphic processes produce larger scale vegetation and geomorphic patterns. This also includes the investigation of interactions between plants and solifluction processes. The conceptual approach of the research was honored with the 2014 PYRN-IPA Award for outstanding poster presentation at the EUCOP 2014. Detailed geomorphological, botanical and geophysical field investigations were conducted this summer 2014 financed by the Hohmann-grant of the Gesellschaft für Erdkunde zu Köln and the Humboldt-Ritter-Penck-Foundation by the Gesellschaft für Erdkunde zu Berlin. In cooperation with C. Eling, L. Klingbeil and M. Wieland (Institute of Geodesy and Geoinformation, University of Bonn), high-resolution aerial imagery for vegetation and terrain analysis was captured in an octocopter mission. Contact: Jana Eichel,

Germany_Fig.3Figure 3. Octocopter measurement of an high-resolution aerial imagery in the Turtmann Glacier forefield (photo by J. Eichel).

The project ISPR (Influences of Snow Cover on Thermal and Mechanic Processes in Steep Permafrost Rockwalls) applied by Michael Krautblatter (TU München) and Marcia Phillips (SLF Davos) went to its last year and PhD student Daniel Draebing (University of Bonn) finished his project-integrated thesis. In the third field season, geophysical, geotechnical and nival measurements were done and monitoring devices were maintained at Steintaelli and Gemsstock (Swiss Alps). The findings of the fieldwork were incorporated and published by Draebing, Krautblatter and Dikau in a conceptual paper on the interaction between thermal and mechanical processes in permafrost rockwalls (doi:10.1016/j.geomorph.2014.08.009). Contact:

Report prepared by Michael Krautblatter (