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In the last years, several initiatives were launched to structure the French permafrost monitoring activity and the young researcher community.

Set up in 2008, the PermaFRANCE network aims at: i) providing a common framework for all the activities related to the long-term monitoring of mountain permafrost in France, ii) at improving the knowledge on mountain periglacial environments and their senstivity to the global change, and iii) at providing the French contribution to international networks (such as the GTN-P, CALM and SCREECOS). The main activities of PermaFRANCE include the coordination of the different observation system elements (observers, instrumentation, site maintenance, protocols of data acquisition, campaigns) and the diffusion of the data collected. PermaFRANCE gathers together research teams, individual researchers, engineering departments of private companies that specifically work on mountain permafrost, public or private structures that host on their territory one or several observation sites, public or private structures that contribute to the maintenance or the operation of the observation sites and public or private structures that are interested in the data and/or that support the network. The network has edited the first report Permafrost in France in June 2010, which is freely distributed as hard copy or as numerical document (please contact philippe.schoeneich@ujf-grenoble.fr). This report contains ground surface temperature data collected since 2003, rock glacier displacement data collected since 1985 and rockface LiDAR measurements and rockfall inventories collected since 2005. The Groupement d'Intérêt Scientifique (GIS) PermaFRANCE has been created in early 2011 to formally represent the network.

Another similar initiative is the creation, in February 2010, of the PYRN France group, as part of the Permafrost Young Researchers Network. This group has grown steadily since its creation and now reaches 31 members, most of them are Master and PhD candidates, lecturers and associate professors working on low-land and mountain permafrost, with approaches ranging from in-situ monitoring to field experiment and numerical modelling. This PYRN France group essentially serves as a common platform to exchange information relative to the various sides of permafrost activities of French research teams. Please contact xavier.bodin@univ-savoie.fr for more information.

Research operations on mountain permafrost

The research activity on mountain permafrost in the French Alps is led by the members of EDYTEM (UMR 5204 CNRS / Université de Savoie) and PACTE (UMR 5194 CNRS / Institut de Géographie Alpine, Université Joseph Fourier) research laboratories.

Research on rockwall permafrost is conducted by EDYTEM. P. Deline and L. Ravanel have completed in 2009 the instrumentation of the Aiguille du Midi observation site (Mont Blanc massif) with three 10-m deep boreholes drilled on the Piton Central (3842 m a.s.l.), and equipped with 15-thermistor chains. Four ERT (Electrical Resistivity Tomography) surveys have been carried out since 2008 in collaboration with M. Krautblatter and A. Kemnas (University of Bonn). A complete high resolution Digital Elevation Model of the Piton Central has also been produced from several terrestrial LiDAR surveys and will serve, together with ground surface temperature data (managed by ARPA Valley of Aosta), to calibrate a coupled surface energy balance / ground heat flux model (collaboration with J. Noetzli, University of Zürich). In the Mont Blanc massif, monitoring of the rockfall activity at selected permafrost-affected rockwalls with annually-repeated terrestrial LiDAR surveys, and annual inventories of rockfalls through a network of observers (mainly Alpine guides) are carried on since 2005 and 2007, respectively.


Drilling of a 10-m-deep borehole in the SE face of the Piton Central of the Aiguille du Midi (3842 m a.s.l., Mont Blanc massif) in September 2009; with, down below, Glacier du Géant and Vallée Blanche (Photograph provided by EDYTEM Lab).

Research on ice-rich permafrost is conducted by a team gathering together PACTE, ADRGT (Association pour le Développement des Recherches sur les Glissements de Terrain), GIPSA-lab (UMR 5216, CNRS – Université Joseph Fourier – Grenoble INP) and CNAM (Conservatoire National des Arts et Métiers), and coordinated by P. Schoeneich. In this context, four rock glacier sites have been instrumented, two with ski infrastructures (Deux Alpes-Bellecombe and Orelle-Plan Bouchet), one with a long series of measurements (Laurichard) and one with a recently collapsed rock glacier (Bérard). On each site, the state and dynamics of the ice-rich permafrost, especially in rock glacier, was evaluated using geophysical methods (electrical resistivity, seismic-refraction, ground penetrating radar), geodetic survey (with Differential-GPS) and geomorphological mapping, mainly done by J.-M.Krysiecki (PACTE) and O. Le Roux (ADRGT). M. Vallon has simulated the potential evolution of the thermal state of those sites, with IPCC scenarii and under various initial physical conditions (ice/rock proportion, presence/absence of snow at the surface), using a 1-D ground heat flux model. M Gay (GIPSA-lab), C. Barboux (GIPSA-lab) and T. Echelard (IGA-PACTE) have used radar interferometric techniques on satellite images (ERS-1 and ERS-2) to assess the surface movements that have affected the slopes covered with permafrost between 1993 and 2000 in the Southern French Alps. The main efforts in 2009 and 2010 were put on drillings, conducted by PACTE and ADRGT. Two shallow (13 and 14 m deep) boreholes were drilled in 2009 into a rock glacier on the Deux Alpes observation site, few meters besides a cable-car station. Data are currently analysed, but first results show that the ice-rich permafrost is probably temperate, which may cause, in a near future, additional problem for the infrastructures. In 2010, a 100-m deep borehole was drilled in bedrock and instrumented with a thermistor chain and a fiber optic cable at the Deux Alpes observation site. This borehole, situated at exactly 45° N will permit to extend the GTN-P network to the south in the Alps.


Installation of the drilling machine on the Deux Alpes observation site for the deep (100 m) borehole, at 3065 m asl. in Sept. 2010 (Photograph provided by P. Schoeneich).

All these operations have been funded mainly by the the PermaNET project, within the EU Alpine Space transnational program (2008 to 2011; participating countries: Austria, France, Germany, Italy, Slovenia, Switzerland), by the Fondation MAIF, through the project Analyse des risques induits par la dégradation du permafrost alpin (2007-2010), and through additional funding from Rhône Alpes region (CIBLE 2008 program).
EDYTEM and IGA-PACTE are in charge of the organisation of the final conference of the PermaNET project, which will be held in Chamonix on 28-30th of June 2011.

Armelle Decaulne, from CNRS Geolab in Clermont-Ferrand, worked in Northern Iceland and Western Norway on snow-avalanche rhythms during the last decades, combining geomorphic and dendrochronological methods. Most of the work is done in cooperation with the Natural Research Centre of Northwestern Iceland in Saudarkrokur.

The CLIMAFLU project (2008-2011), endorsed by the ANR program is an international cooperation between France and Russia, led by F. Costard (IDES, CNRS-Université Paris-sud XI), E. Gautier (Laboratoire de Géographie Physique CNRS UMR 8591) and A. Fedorov (Permafrost Institute, RAS, Yakutsk). Investigations of the effect of the climate warming on the fluvial dynamic of the Lena river (Yakutia) is the topic of that project. François Costard (UMR 8148, IDES, CNRS-Université Paris-sud XI) with Emmanuèle Gautier and Daniel Brunstein (Laboratoire de Géographie Physique CNRS UMR 8591) carried out investigations on the Lena flood plain at the latitude of Yakutsk. Two expeditions took place in 2010, one in May to study the breakup phase and the second one in July after the flood season. The objective was to set up several data loggers over several islands in order to measure the thermal regime of the permafrost. This study is expected to allow a quantitative analysis of the evolution of islands in a floodplain under a periglacial environment.

Ch. Grenier,  D. Régnier, E. Pons-Branchu and E. Mouche from LSCE has been developing a numerical modeling tool for permafrost issues over the past years. The coupled Thermo-Hydro (TH) module is developed within the Cast3M simulation platform (www-cast3m.cea.fr), validated against analytical solutions and benchmarked with literature cases (e.g. McKenzie et al., 2007). The model involves Mixed and Hybrid Finite Element and Finite Volume numerical schemes. It includes heat conduction, heat advection, phase change, coupled Darcy water flow. The focus was recently put on two main application domains:

Temperature field (vertical transect) after progression of a cold signal in the depth of a River – Plain Plateau system (imposed 4°C on river and -4°C on Plain Plateau; imposed head varying linearly on Plain Plateau). Flow direction sketched with arrow

A. Rivière and A. Jost (UMR 7619 Sisyphe, University Pierre et Marie Curie Paris VI), in collaboration with J. Gonçalvès (UMR 6635 CEREGE, University Paul Cézanne Aix-Marseille III), are carrying out numerical developments on permafrost dynamics. They use a coupled groundwater and heat transport model with integrated freezing and thawing processes to examine the interplay between groundwater flow and frozen ground. The relevance of the physical processes described in the numerical model is evaluated by comparing its predictions with measurements from physical modelling experiments in a cold room carried out at UMR 6143 M2C (M. Font-Ertlen, University Caen Basse-Normandie). Their research focuses on: (i) the pressure response to permafrost formation and dissipation in subpermafrost aquifers, (ii) groundwater-river exchanges in discontinuous and continuous permafrost areas in a warming context, and (iii) the long term impact of past permafrost on present-day hydrogeological conditions in large aquifer systems.

Francois Costard (fcostard@geol.u-psud.fr)