2009

The Kazakhstan Alpine Geocryological Laboratory and the Permafrost Institute, Siberian Branch of the Russian Academy of Sciences are in the process of elaborating a map on “Geocryological Hazards in Kazakhstan” (scale 1:5000000). Natural and technogenic geocryological processes and phenomena are divided into three categories on a scale of “danger”: low danger, average danger and high danger.

A finding from this publication is that anthropological changes to the environment often induce the activation or the intensifying of geocryological processes and subsequent hazards. The occurrence of these features is generally strongly driven by local geographical characteristics. In mountainous areas, the degree of danger in some areas is determined not by the frequency of geocryological processes and phenomena, but by the dimension of the most significant ones, namely, glacial mud-flows, rock-glaciers down movement and cryogenic rockslides. All mountainous regions of Kazakhstan are also characterized by high seismic activity which adds to the likeliness of occurrence of major natural hazards.

The joint Japanese and Mongolian project of the Northern Hemisphere Cryosphere Program of RIGC, sponsored by JAMASTEC continues into its seventh year in Nalaikh and Terelj areas near Ulaanbaatar. In addition, within the framework of this project M. Ishikawa, Saruulzaya from Hokkaido University and Jambaljav, Dashtseren, Jargaltulga, Javhlan from Institute of Geography, MAS started to monitor ground temperatures in more than 30 shallow (5-10 m deep) boreholes with and without permafrost, located mainly in Altai and southern Hangai regions, Western Mongolia. Last year the boreholes were drilled by the Institute of Geography, MAS. This year JAMASTEC provided full funds for field work and HOBO U12 data loggers for equipping the boreholes.

For now 13 years, monitoring of permafrost temperatures and active layer thickness has been continued successfully in more than 40 (shallow to deep) boreholes in permafrost in Mongolia within the framework of the International CALM and GTN-P programs through collaboration between N. Sharkhuu and scientists from University of Alaska, Fairbanks and University of Delaware. In addition, within the framework of the above NHCP/RIGC project N. Sharkhuu started collaboration in monitoring of permafrost in some selected boreholes, located in the Northern Mongolia.

This year we are celebrating 50 years since the first soil/permafrost scientific expedition in the Ross Sea Region of Antarctica.  It was undertaken by Prof. John D. McCraw and Dr Graeme G. Claridge.  They set off from Scott Base on the Massey Fergusson tractors that Sir Edmund Hillary took to the South Pole in 1957/58 and drove to New Harbour, from which they travelled on foot for several weeks exploring the Taylor Valley and adjacent areas. Graeme Claridge went on to become an expert on Antarctic soil chemistry and, with Iain Campbell, authored the most authoritative book available on the soils of Antarctica.  Both McCraw and Claridge are fit and well - (permafrost and cryosol research must be good for you) and we will be holding a celebration to mark their original journey in November this year.

Looking forward in time, Meridian Energy, in Alliance with Antarctica New Zealand and with support from the US National Science Foundation (NSF), are constructing a three turbine 'proof of concept' wind farm on Crater Hill, Ross Island, Antarctica.  Following commissioning in February 2010, the wind farm will supply power to and link the electrical grids of New Zealand's Scott Base and neighbouring US McMurdo Station offsetting fuel use.  Sub-zero temperatures, absence of batching plant, aggregate and large quantities of fresh water have meant that it is not possible to construct a typical concrete gravity pad wind turbine foundation.  Instead, the project has utilised a pre-fabricated foundation comprising eight 13-tonne concrete blocks buried in the permafrost.  The blocks are fixed to an eight-legged steel 'spider' with a flange that bolts to the wind turbine tower.  Each concrete block is also fitted with two 12m long ground anchor bolts drilled and grouted in as an additional precaution for extreme weather events.

TSP Norway IPY project activities

The Permafrost Observatory project: A contribution to the Thermal State of Permafrost in Norway and Svalbard (TSP Norway) was continued. The first full year data from all the TSP boreholes have now been downloaded from different landforms in Svalbard and northern Norway. A few new boreholes have been drilled and instrumented to complete the Nordenskioldsland Permafrost Observatory in Svalbard.

NORPERM, the Norwegian online permafrost database, was launched spring 2009, and contains TSP Norway data and other permafrost data from Norway and Svalbard. The project can be followed on www.tspnorway.com. A. Kholodov from University of Fairbanks Alaska and the TSP Alaska project visited UNIS in April 2009 to discuss the NORPERM database for future US permafrost database developments.

TSP Norway partners play an important role together with other permafrost partners in Norway in organising the Third European Conference on Permafrost (EUCOP) in Svalbard in June 2010, which will be an important event to present the first TSP Norway IPY results. Registration has now opened at the conference website: www.eucop2010.no.

Investigations on permafrost and contemporary periglacial phenomena were carried out in 2009 largely in the polar regions and high mountain areas on the Northern Hemisphere: Spitsbergen, the Tatra Mountains and Scandinavian Mountains (Abisko region). They are based and are continuation of the IV International Polar Year 2007/2009 programs: GLACIODYN, KINNVIKA, POLARCAT, TOPOCLIM, as well as the IPA – CALM project.

Measurements of permafrost active layer depth, its thermal condition, as well as its dynamics were carried out at the sites included into the CALM project (Site P1 Calypsostranda – base of Maria Curie-Skłodowska University (Lublin) and Site P2 - Kaffiöyra – station of Nicolas Copernicus University (Toruń). Studies of frost process dynamics were also undertaken near the Polish Polar Station in Hornsund, as well as in the region Petuniabukta where the base for Adam Mickiewicz University expedition (Poznań) is located. There were also large-scale explorations on occurrence of mountain permafrost in some areas of central and northern Europe (W. Dobiński – Silesia University).

The year 2009 has been important for Portuguese permafrost research and contributed to the consolidation of research, funding and critical mass. Activities focused on three main subjects: i) Antarctic permafrost and active layer dynamics, led by the Centre for Geographical Studies, University of Lisbon (CEG-UL); ii) Chemistry of Arctic permafrost by IPIMAR; iii) Earth-Mars analogues by CERENA - Instituto Superior Técnico, UTL.

The CEG-UL is leading the FCT-funded project PERMANTAR in Livingston (LI) and Deception (DI) Islands (Antarctic Peninsula region), which also involves the Centre of Geophysics of the University of Lisbon and Centre of Geophysics of Évora. The project includes also the universities of Alcalá (Spain) and Buenos Aires (Argentina), and the Bulgarian Antarctic Institute. PERMANTAR collaborates closely with the Spanish project PERMAMODEL-IPY. Main activities focused on the installation and upgrading of permafrost and periglacial processes monitoring sites: i) a new 8 m borehole in LI, ii) three new 4-5m boreholes (collaboration with the Russian Academy of Sciences) in DI, iii) new CALM-S sites in DI and LI, iv) a meteorological station in LI, v) solifluction, thermokarst and rockglaciers monitoring sites, vi) time-lapse cameras, vii) year-round monitoring with resistivimeter with datalogger in DI, viii) electrical resistivity tomography surveying in LI, and ix) n-factor monitoring sites in DI. Master theses on Antarctic permafrost have been presented by A. Trindade and R. Melo (http://www.antecc.org). Education and outreach activities have been organized, including talks in schools, public lectures and a permafrost film “Permafrost! Polar science at 62ºS” for classroom activities. It will be freely available in DVD to schools and open-access in the Internet. The CEG-UL team continued the scientific coordination of the grant program New Generation of Polar Scientists funded by Caixa Carbono Zero (CGD). This program involves full-time funding of two students on permafrost research in a total of six grants in polar science.

Activities of the Periglacial Romanian Research Group during 2009 focused on (1) geophysical investigations on glacial and periglacial deposits, (2) climate change through meteorological and climatological data in Carpathian Mountains, (3) paleoenvironmental reconstruction of glacial and periglacial environments in Romanian mountain area, connected especially to relict rock glaciers.

At the Department of Geography, West University of Timişoara, P. Urdea and his team (M. Torok-Oance, M. Ardelean, F. Ardelean, A. Onaca) are continuing the application of 2D electrical resistivity tomography, with measurements on rock glaciers, scree slopes and solifluction lobes in Făgăraş Mountains, the highest Romanian mountains. Also, the Bâlea area (central part of Făgăraş Mountains) is being used by P. Urdea and A. Onaca  to introduce undergraduate students to glacial and periglacial geomorphology through a 7 days final second year field trip. A new area in the Southern Carpathians has been mapped and studied geomorphologically, the periglacial forms seem to have been active during the Little Ice Age, a cooling being proven by dendroclimatological and dendroecological analyses, carried out by I. Popa (Forest Research Station Câmpulung Moldovenesc).

In 2009, the research of Russian geocryologists has focused on the exploration of the spatial and temporal characteristics of the cryosphere, on the inhomogeneous reaction of the cryosphere to global and regional climate change, and on the geoecological and the engineering-cryolithological peculiarities of the northern regions. A series of basic research projects are carried out on the following issues: “Cryosphere as life support and biodiversity conservation environment”, “Evolution of cryosphere in conditions of varying climate”, “Permafrost of the Arctic seas and the continental margins of the Western sector of Eurasia: assessment of the contemporary state, characteristics of the dynamics, geocryological history, transformation of frozen and cryotic rocks, hydrocarbon emanation”, “Permafrost and Arctic shelf in conditions of the varying climate, ecosystem stability and gas-hydrates, processes of organic matter disposal” (ECI SB RAS).

Mass settling of the permafrost table at the depth of zero annual amplitude has been observed and verified by drilling and seismic investigations (microseismics) in the western Siberian forest-tundra. Over a period of 25-30 years, the pre-tundra light forest has moved approximately 30-40 km northward (ECI SB RAS).

Several Spanish research teams are working on permafrost and periglacial processes in Spanish mountains, Antarctica and Andes, continuing previous work. Activities in 2009 focused on: Periglacial processes and environments in the Iberian Peninsula (Galician Mountains, Sierra Nevada, Cantabrian Mountains, Pyrenees and Central System); Permafrost and periglacial processes in Maritime Antarctic; and Martian permafrost.

Projects on Maritime Antarctic are focused on “Active layer Monitoring and Modelling”, from University of Alcalá, leaded by M. Ramos, and on “Geomorphic dynamic, permafrost mapping and periglacial environment”, leaded by J. López-Martínez (Universidad Autónoma de Madrid). Studies in Cantabrian Mountains have been carried out by the University of León Group, leaded by J.M. Redondo, and the University of Valladolid, leaded by E. Serrano, working especially in the Palentine Mountains and Picos de Europa massif. ‘The University of Santiago de Compostela group, headed by A. Pérez-Alberti and M. Valcárcel, is working on nival and periglacial processes in the Galician Mountains, and on Crionival landforms in Southern Andes (Tierra de Fuego). In the Pyrenees two groups work on periglacial environments, one from the University of Zaragoza, led by Dr. J. Chueca, focusing on nival and thermal regimes and one from the University of Valladolid, headed by E. Serrano looking at permafrost and present day periglacial processes. The University of Barcelona group, led by A. Gómez-Ortíz, works in Sierra Nevada, where a Doctoral Thesis titled “Holocene Palaeoenvironmental reconstruction of The Sierra Nevada from sedimentary records” has been presented by M. Oliva.

At the University of Lund, The GeoBiosphere Science Centre continued/expanded activities in the Abisko area. The “Nordic centre for Studies of Ecosystem Carbon exchange and its interaction with the Climate system”(NECC) has got two monitoring sites in the area. A new installation for calibration of remote sensing data has been established at the Abisko-Jokka delta (Eklund / Schubert). The CARBOMONT project-“Effects of land-use changes on sources, sinks and fluxes of carbon in European mountain areas” and the ELSA project “Exchange processes between the land surface and the atmosphere” have activities in the Abisko area, especially in and around the Stordalen bog.

The old “IPA Abisko area active layer transect” is being maintained. J. Åkerman and M. Johansson are still maintaining 10 of the originally 12 CALM sites along the 100 km east-west transect.

The new boreholes - 6 and 16 meter deep drilled close to the old boreholes established in the 1980s by J. Åkerman continue to deliver data. Preliminary results show that the permafrost thickness is shrinking from below as well as from above. The snow manipulation experiment at a peat mire 6 km east of Abisko, northernmost Sweden is still running and the monitoring programme has this year been extended. At the manipulation site, projected future changes in snow depth are simulated and the impacts on permafrost and vegetation are being monitored. This summer, monitoring of greenhouse gases (CO2, CH4, N2O) was initiated by J. Bosiö (a new PhD student)."