Research Groups working on permafrost


During 2015 the Spanish research groups working in periglacial landforms and permafrost have continued his works in different geographic sites. During this year the research of Universidad Autónoma de Madrid, leaded by Jerónimo López-Martinez, and the University of Alcalá de Henares, leaded by Miguel Ángel de Pablo, have get financial support for research in Antarctica on periglacial and permafrost from different techniques and methodologies, according with his previous research trajectories. It is important news because allows the permanence of permafrost researchs in Antarctica, during a crisis period with very low funding for research in Spain.

The first one, the GEA research Group, applying remote sensing and RADARSAT-2 data in the ultra-fine and fine quad polarization mode to identify periglacial features and permafrost within the South Shetland Island and Antarctic Peninsula region. The GEA research Group (UAM) organized a meeting on “Researcher on geodynamic processes in the North of Antarctic Peninsula”, on 19th December, 19, attended by 25 researchers. Jerónimo López-Martínez (UAM), Thomas Schmid (CIEMAT) and Stéphane Guillaso (TUB, Germany) talked about geomorphology, data acquisition from field, satellites and Radar Remote Sensing in Antarctica: Issues and Challenges.
The second one, the GIFA research group of Alcalá de Henares, continues working on the study of the thermal state of permafrost, the maintenance of CALM-S sites in South Shetland Island, and the collaboration with Portuguese groups. The GIFA group finished the last field work in the Antarctic Spanish Station Juan Carlos I (Figure 1) in March 2015, working on CALM-s sites of Livingston and Deception Island.

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Figure 1. Participants in the 2015 campaign in the ASS Juan Carlos I.

Works on periglacial and permafrost

Marc Oliva (UL) has coordinated eleven researchers of eight universities, in relation with the Iberian group of the IPA, to make a synthesis on “The periglaciation of the Iberian Peninsula”. It has been presented in several national and international meeting, finishing as a paper. Joint to Marc Oliva (UL), the authors Enrique Serrano (UVA), Antonio Gómez-Ortiz (UBA), María José González-Amuchastegui (UPV), Alexandre Nieuwendam (UL); David Palacios (UCM); Ramón Pellitero (Aberdeen University); Augusto Pérez-Alberti (USC); Jesús Ruiz-Fernández (UNIOVI), Marcos Valcárcel (USC) and Gonçalo T. Vieira (UL) have examined the past periods with periglacial activity in the different massifs and highlands of Iberian Peninsula (Pyrenees, Cantabrian Range, Galician mountains, Portuguese ranges, Central Iberian Range, Iberian Range, Sierra Nevada and the central Iberian Meseta).
Although nowadays, active periglacial processes in the Iberian Peninsula are only restricted to the highest mountain environments, in the past periglacial deposits and landforms had a wide spatial distribution, suggesting the existence of past periods with enhanced periglacial activity. Over the last decades significant advances have been made regarding the geochronology of past periglacial activity. Whilst periglacial research until the 80’s and 90’s was mostly focus on the study of the distribution of geomorphological features, description and relative dating of inactive landforms and deposits, this approach has been complemented during the last decades with the monitoring of present-day processes as well as in establishing the age of periglacial phenomena through different absolute datings techniques. During the Last Glaciation the periglacial environment extended to elevations between 800 and 1000 m lower than today, even down to sea level in the NW corner of the Iberian Peninsula. A wide range of geomorphological landforms and sedimentary records is indicative of very active periglacial processes, in some cases related to permafrost conditions. Most of the inactive landforms and deposits in low- and mid- elevations in Iberia are related to these phase.
During postglacial times periglacial processes prevailed in the formerly glaciated areas, with very intense periglacial dynamics during colder periods (e.g. Late Glacial). During the Holocene periglacial processes have been only active in the highest mountain ranges, shifting in altitude according to the regime of temperature and moisture conditions. The Little Ice Age saw the reactivation of periglacial activity in lower elevations than today. Currently, periglacial processes are only active in elevations exceeding 2200-2400 m in the southern ranges and above 2000-2200 m in the northern massifs (Figure 2).

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Figure 2. Patterned ground in Tucarroya cirque and La Paúl rock glacier (Pyrenees).

During 2015 have been presented at least two Doctoral thesis related to cold environments and permafrost. Dr. Manuel Gómez-Lende made the doctoral dissertation and lecture on “Ice caves in the Picos de Europa: climate, geomorphologies and dynamics” (in Spanish, Picture 3, up) in the University of Valladolid, in October 2015. Dr. Miguel Ángel de Pablos made the public defence of the Doctoral Thesis on “Glacial geomorphology in the Hecates Tholus, Mars” (in Spanish, Figure 3, down) in the University of Alcalá de Henares in November 2015.

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Figure 3. View of the ice cave in the Picos de Europa (Spain) and the cold movement of Hecates Tholus in Mars.

Course on EXTREM COLD. From Iberia to Poles and Mars. Science and research around permafrost.

During three days was developed a course oriented to the study of permafrost in the University of Valladolid. Funding by Buendía Centre (UVa) and boosting by PANGEA Research Group and the International Permafrost Association (IPA), took part as lecturers the mostly of Iberian IPA group leaders. Coordinating by Enrique Serrano the course dealt the permafrost as an environment and as a physical fact, the related problems to the past and present changes at different geographic areas, including polar, mountain and Iberian Peninsula and from different point of view, scientific and cultural. The course was imparted by twelve experimented lecturers in Polar, periglacial and permafrost issues and planned in three parts, Permafrost environment, explained by Eduardo Martinez de Pisón (UAM), Miguel Ramos (UAH, IPA), Francesc Bailon (UAB), David Palacios (UCM, IPA), Gonzalo T. Vieira (UL, IPA) and Miguel Ángel de Pablo (UAH, IPA); Researching permafrost, explained by Jerónimo López-Martínez (UAM, SCAR), Marc Oliva (UL, IPA), Augusto Pérez-Alberti (USC, IPA) and Thomas Schmid (CIEMAT); and Permafrost in the Iberian Peninsula, attended by Marc Oliva (UL, IPA), Enrique Serrano (UVa, IPA) and Antonio Gómez-Ortiz (UAM). Recipients were students and young researchers interested in cold environments. 25 students from Spain and Portugal, coming from nine universities attended to the sessions and shared discussion and knowledge on human and physical subjects around permafrost. Reduced taxes were applied to UVa students and IPA members. The appraisal of Buendía Centre showed the interest to students and the high level of presentations. It has been the first course in Spain on Permafrost.

5th. Iberian Congress IPA 2015.

The 5Th Iberian meeting was held with success in Valladolid, between 24 and 26 June, organized by the PANGEA Research Group and Department of Geography and funded by the University of Valladolid. During three days we meet in the Philosophy and Letters Faculty to discuss and present 46 presentations. The participation (Figure 4) was quite high with 34 inscriptions, 20 oral communications and 26 in poster format. Researchers from nineteen Universities and research centers of Spain and Portugal talked about periglacial and permafrost processes and environments.

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Figure 4. Participants in Santa Cruz Palace (XVI century building, rectorate of the university).


The Organization Committee (Research Group PANGEA, University of Valladolid) was formed by Enrique Serrano, Alfonso Pisabarro, Alberto Merino and Manuel Gómez-Lende. We had the pleasure of having the assistance of Prof. Dr. Hans-Wolfgang Hubberten in the opening conference (Figure 5), speaking on “Arctic warming and its impact on permafrost”.


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Figure 5. Sessions in Valladolid (up) and Prof. Antonio Gómez Ortiz in Sierra Nevada (bottom).

Four scientific sessions was proposed:

-Research advances and techniques in the study of permafrost and periglacial polar and high mountain areas (10 orals & 8 posters)
-Current periglacial processes and quaternary heritages in the Iberian Peninsula. (4 orals & 10 posters)
-Planetary cryospheres: researches and cartography about permafrost in Mars. (1 oral)
-Snowfall, periglaciarism and snow cover: new contributions. (5 orals & 8 posters)
During the congress had place the homage to Prof. Dr. Antonio Gómez-Ortiz retired after lots of years working for IPA in Spain and on periglacial and cold subjects in the Iberian Peninsula. Prof. Dr. Antornio Gómez Ortiz made his first works on periglacial processes in the seventies on the Eastern Pyrenees of Catalonia and Andorra. Also have worked on glacial and periglacial environments in Sierra Nevada (Figure 5) during the last 25 years, and he promoted the IPA-Spain leaded joint to Prof. Dr. David Palacios the first ten years of our association, and organizing important meeting on periglacial and permafrost subjects in 1994, 1998 and 2013.

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Figure 6. Participants in the field trip (Alto Campoo valley, Cantabrian Mountain).


The fieldwork was into the Cantabrian Mountains (North of Spain) where we saw periglacial landforms like rock glaciers, debris flows and another slope processes into a landscape full of glacier heritage. The field trip was leaded by Enrique Serrano and Manuel Gómez-Lende, visiting the valley and two cirque glaciares where the inherited and active periglacial features, mainly nival and solifluction ones. In the fieldwork participated 25 persons (Figure 6) that studied the present day periglacial processes and landforms in an atlantics mountain, and the interesting glacial landforms inherence from several cold periods since the Last Glacial Maximum. A field guide on Alto Campoo Mountains was edited (in Spanish, http://www5.uva.es/gir_pangea/?page_id=578) including geomorphological features and periglacial and nival processes. The work during these three days was developed into an excellent environment with high participation and great knowledge exchange.

Report prepared by Enrique Serrano (serranoe@fyl.uva.es) and Alfonso Pisabarro