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Report from June 1993

U.S. Geological Survey.

Timothy S. Collett reports that since the mid-1980s the primary objective of the U.S. Geological Survey gas hydrate research project has been to assess the energy resource potential of gas hydrates in northern Alaska. Most of the gas hydrate occurrences are geographically restricted to the area overlying the eastern part of the Kuparuk River oil field and the western part of the Prudhoe Bay oil field. Calculations indicate that the volume of gas within these mapped hydrates is approximately 1.0 to 1.2 trillion cubic meters, about twice the amount of recoverable natural gas in the Pmdhoe Bay field. Most recently, research efforts have focused on utilizing available industry seismic data to assess the distribution of subsea gas hydrates and ice-bearing permafrost within the nearshore Alaskan continental shelf. These studies suggest that the onshore Pmdhoe Bay-Kuparuk River gas hydrate accumulations may extend as much as 15 km into the near-offshore. This gas-hydrate-related research has also focused on the relation between permafrost-associated gas hydrates and global climate change. Under the present climate regime, the gas hydrates of the nearshore continental shelf may be the most vulnerable to change. Field work includes both onshore and offshore geochemical surveys in northern Alaska and the establishment of gas flux monitoring stations which enable us to directly measure the rate of gas flux from decomposing gas hydrates.


Gary Clow reports that the USGS is continuing its climatic studies in the Alaskan Arctic, where permafrost temperature analysis indicates a 2-4 K warming has occurred during the last 50-100 years. As part of this program, the USGS has established a "solid-earth" climate observatory at Fish Creek on the Arctic Coastal Plain. The permafrost is 270 meters thick at this site. The observatory consists of a 735-m-deep borehole and a cluster of three automated microclimate stations on the surface. The borehole, a large-diameter oil and gas exploration well drilled in 1977, has been retrofitted with a system to: a) reduce the thermal noise associated with vigorous fluid convection that normally occurs within this well, and b) provide direct measurement of subsurface temperature transients caused by past climatic changes. In addition to monitoring various fluxes at the Earth's surface, the nearby microclimate stations will establish the connection between air, active layer, and permafrost temperatures in each of the vegetation zones influencing the deep borehole. Data from this observatory are anticipated to reduce much of the ambiguity inherent in previous climate analyses of permafrost temperatures, providing a clearer view of past climatic changes on the Arctic Coastal Plain. The data will also be used to monitor future climatic changes in this region.

Oscar Ferrians, Jr. is compiling a new permafrost map of Alaska at a scale of 1:2,500,000, which shows the distribution, thickness, and general character of permafrost. This map will be an upgraded version of the 1 :2,500,000-scale permafrost map prepared in 1962, published in 1965, and reprinted several times. Since 1962, considerable new data have become available, especially from borehole records along the 1280-km long trans-Alaska pipeline route, oil exploration and development work on the Arctic North Slope, water wells, and soil boring records from other developmental activities. The map units are subdivided primarily on the basis of topography, thermal characteristics of the soils and rocks, soil moisture, and vegetation. The range of thickness of the permafrost, the range of ground temperatures at the depth of zero annual amplitude, and estimates of the extent of permafrost are given for the map units.

National Science Foundation.

NSF, under the Global Change Research Program, initiated a program called Arctic System Science (ARCSS). One component, Land-Atmosphere-Ice Interactions (LAII), deals with the flux of trace gases and nutrients from tundra regions with emphasis on Arctic Alaska (FLUX). One project by K.R. Everett (Ohio State University), F.E. Nelson (Rutgers University) and J. Brown concentrates on spatial and temporal variations in the active layer. A database on past active layer measurements in Arctic Alaska is being compiled and several 1000- x 1000-m grids have been established and used to monitor active layer thicknesses. Several cooperative sites have been established in Russia at Parisento, Gydan Peninsula (A. Pavov) and Anadyr (A. Kotov). Additional Russian sites are planned on Yamal Peninsula (M. Liebman), Taimyr (T. Vlasova), Kolyma (D. Gilichinsky) and elsewhere. Quality of soil organic matter is being evaluated by C.L. Ping (University of Alaska) and the hydrology of the permafrost-dominated terrain by D. Kane and L. Hinzman (University of Alaska). A gas flux program by W. Oechel at San Diego State University is measuring CO2 and methane fluxes from numerous tundra sites. Measurement of near-surface permafrost temperatures by T. Osterkamp (University of Alaska) continues. More information on the LAII program is available from the Arctic Research Consortium of the United States (ARCUS), 600 University Avenue, Suite B, Fairbanks, Alaska 99709.

Cold Regions Research and Engineering Laboratory.

Virgil Lunardini notes that, in support of global warming research, CRREL will install a series of 200-m boreholes in the permafrost zones of Alaska. The holes will be cored to obtain a complete record of the subsurface physical properties. Temperature monitoring will be carried out for many years. The first two holes will be drilled on the North Slope during 1993.

CRREL will host the Fourth International Symposium on Thermal Engineering and Science for Cold Regions at Hanover, N.H., 28 September-1 October 1993. The conference will consist of single sessions run for 2 1/2 days with about 40 papers and four special lectures presented (contributions from Canada, China, Denmark, Finland, France, Germany, India, Netherlands, Russia, Switzerland, USA). A lecture on permafrost and global warming will be given and some eight permafrost papers are expected. Contact V. Lunardini, CRREL, 603-646-4326.

Alaska/Yukon Society of Professional Soil Scientists.

AYSPSS is organizing an international correlation meeting on permafrost-affected soils with the collaboration of USDA-Soil Conservation Service, Agriculture Canada and University of Alaska-Fairbanks. The meeting includes two weeks of mixed plenary sessions and field trips from Inuvik, NWT. to Fairbanks, Alaska, via the Dempster Highway and Dawson City, Yukon Territory, 18-30 July 1993. About 50 pedologists, geologists and climatologists from Canada, China, Croatia, Denmark, Germany, Hungary, Russia and the U.S. plan to participate in the meeting. The purposes of the meeting are I ) to review and compare the current classifications used for permafrost soils, 2) to discuss the land use management and ecological balance of permafrost soils, and 3) to focus on the effect of global climate change on pemlafrost soils. For further information contact AYSPSS, P.O. Box 202761, Anchorage, Alaska 99520-276 1, USA, or Dr. John Kimble, phone: (402) 437-5363.

The AYSPSS is also cosponsoring the Alaska Soil Geography Field Class offered by Dr. C.L. Ping, 14-24 June 1993. This year, the students and participants will travel to the North Slope along the Dalton Highway. The class will study the morphology and management interpretations. For details, contact C.L. Ping (phone: (907) 746-9462; E-mail: pfclp@alaska.bitnet).

National Research Council.

NRC's Committee on Frost Action, chaired by Tom Kinney, Fairbanks, Alaska, held its annual meeting 11 January 1993, and reviewed arange of on-going activities including the Minnesota Road Research Project (MNROAD), the Strategic Highway Research Program with its TDR measurements and asphalt test programs, and the status of several ground temperature and climate data bases.

The National Research Council and its Commission on Geosciences, Environment and Resources announced he appointment of Loren W. Setlow as Director of the Polar Research Board. The Polar Research Board represents the U.S. on the International Arctic Science Committee and maintains close liaison with the USC/IPA and the U.S. permafrost community.

ASCE Technical Council on Cold Regions Engineering.

TCCRE met in San Francisco, California, in February/March 1993. Council Officers for 1993194 (starting in October) are: Andrie Chen (Chair), Tom Krzewinski, Bernard Alkire, Bill Lovell, Lynda Barber and Eric Johnson. The Education Committee is updating the Educational Opportunity Inventory and plans to publish the report in 1994. The Committee will organize a workshop to gather input on undergraduate curriculum needs into the 1994 Edmonton Specialty Conference. The Design and Construction Committee anticipates publication of the Monograph on Roadways and Airfields and Monograph on Arctic Foundations by late 1993 or early 1994.

The Frozen Ground Committee plans to develop a short course entitled "Design and Freezing Capabilities of Thermosyphons" in 1994/95. The Publications Committee added a "forum" section to the Journal of Cold Regions Engineering to include book reviews, letters to the editor, listing of available publications, etc. The TCCRE created an ad hoc committee to explore future TCCRE contact with Russians regarding cold regions engineering opportunities.

The 1996 Cold Regions Specialty Conference is scheduled for August in Fairbanks, Alaska.


Report from December 1993

The United States is represented in the IPA by its US Committee for IPA under the National Research Council. Current membership includes C.W. Lovell (Chair), Bernard Hallet (Vice Chair), and members Roger Barry, George Gryc, Lewis Link, Rupert Tart, and John Zarling. Support for IPA annual dues is provided directly to the Secretary General by the Association of American Geographers, American Society of Civil Engineers, American Society of Mechanical Engineers, and individuals and private companies. The June 1993 issue of Frozen Ground reported on many government and professional organizations' activities. The following supplements that report.

Keith Kvenvolden of the USGS in Menlo Park reports on recent results coming from the study of permafrost and gas hydrate as possible sources of methane. Permafrost has been suggested to be a high-latitude source of methane (a greenhouse gas) during global warming. To assess the magnitude of this source, an examination was conducted of the methane content of shallow cores (maximum depth 9.5 m) drilled in 1991 and 1992 at four sites near Fairbanks, Alaska, where discontinuous permafrost is common. The cores were composed mainly of frozen or thawed loess and peat, with some ice present in the frozen ground. Methane contents of frozen and thawed ground were compared. At all sites methane contents decrease toward the surface. Maximum methane contents at the sites were variable, ranging from 22.2 to 0.03 mgkg. Results suggest that both frozen and thawed ground in permafrost regions can be a source of methane.

The idea that gas hydrate associated with relict permafrost of the Beaufort Sea continental shelf is a source of methane was tested. It was discovered that methane concentrations in water under the winter sea ice cover were 3 to 28 times greater than they are in late summer when ice is absent. These observations suggest that methane concentrates under the sea ice during winter and ventilates rapidly in late summer as the ice melts and retreats. The Arctic Ocean margin may be a seasonal, high-latitude, marine source of about 0. l Tg/yr atmospheric methane. New field work is designed to expand these kinds of observations and to determine the sources of methane.

Submitted by Jerry Brown