Geology Department, UNIS

In 2013 the periglacial research group in the Geology Department of The University Centre in Svalbard, UNIS, did a winter snow mobile based hand drilling campaign as part of several research project activities in Adventdalen and at Kapp Linne. The campaign was coordinated by PhD student Stefanie Härtel, the EU Page21 project and Markus Eckerstorfer, the PermaSAR project coordinated from Norut, but also as part of our DEFROST Nordic Centre of Excellence activities. More than 35 m of permafrost cores were obtained from 20 locations down to 2.8 m depth for detailed cryostratigraphical and basic sedimentological studies.
In 2013 an UNIS PhD course AG-833 ‘High Arctic Permafrost landscape dynamics was held in Svalbard and Greenland’, in cooperation with the Center for Permafrost, CENPERM, University of Copenhagen, and as key part of the Nordic permafrost network Perma-Nordnet. 10 Nordic PhD and advanced master students travelled to research station Zackenberg in NE Greenland, and studied the periglacial landscape development in this area based on the extensive basis monitoring going on there, but also comparing permafrost conditions in NE Greenland to Svalbard. The first installations of permafrost thermal regimes from different landforms in the Zackenberg valley were recovered during the course.


An extensive analysis of the cryostratigraphical conditions in the top 60 m of Quaternary sediments obtained in a core from lower Adventdalen is being analysed in a master project. This work is part of the Longyearbyen CO2 Laboratory project activities. A working group with app. 12 scientists is studying different things in this core, and a workshop to coordinate the investigations and plan for combining the results were held at CENPERM, University of Copenhagen in November. In total 4 master students are investigating different topics down this core, with theses to be ready during 2014.



Figure 1. Students investigating a retrogressive thaw slide in the Zackenberg area, August 2013 as part of the activities of the AG-833’ High Arctic Permafrost landscape dynamics in Svalbard and Greenlan’ PhD course. Photo: Hanne H. Christiansen.


The PermaSAR project


To improve the understanding of the rockslide controlling factors and get a better overview of differential movement patterns within the unstable rockslide area, the PermaSARII project is running 2012-2014 with Norut (Markus Eckerstorfer), UNIS (Hanne H. Christiansen) and Åknes Tafjord Beredskap AS (Lars H. Blikra) as project partners. The goal is to assess periglacial landscape sensitivity to climate and meteorological variability, using satellite based InSAR. In the project repeated InSAR measurements are combined with in-situ field measurements as ground truthing.
Fractures in the Jettan rockslide area, N Norway were instrumented with temperature loggers, and the main active fracture was instrumented with a 25 m temperature string with 1 m logger spacing.  Additionally geomorphological mapping of the rockslide area and the surrounding periglacial landscape was done in 1:10 000. The detailed geomorphological map will be compared to the InSAR results. We expect the InSAR maps to show differential movement patterns for different periglacial landforms. A preliminary study, carried out in a recent MSc-thesis by Harald Eriksen, showed the potential of monitoring ground deformation with InSAR at both landform and landscape scale.
As solifluction is a widespread periglacial process at Nordnes, a real-time solifluction monitoring station was installed on an active solifluction lobe, similar to the stations located at Svalbard. The station was established in August, recording hourly solifluction movement, air temperature, ground temperature, and soil moisture at different depths.

Figure 2. New solifluction station at Nordnes, Northern Norway. Photo: Markus Eckerstorfer.


Surface kinematics of periglacial sorted circles using structure-from-motion technology


Andreas Kääb, Luc Girod (University of Oslo) and Ivar Berthling (Norwegian University of Science and Technology)

Sorted soil circles are a suspicious form of periglacial patterned ground. Numerical modelling suggests that these features develop from a convection-like circulation of material in the active layer of permafrost. The related iterative burying and resurfacing of material is believed to play an important role in the soil carbon cycle of high latitudes. The connection of sorted circles to permafrost conditions and its changes over time make these ground forms to a potential paleoclimatic indicator. The photogrammetric Structure-from-Motion technology (SfM) is applied to large sets of overlapping terrestrial photos taken in Augusts 2007 and 2010 over three sorted circles at Kvadehuksletta, Western Spitsbergen. The team retrieves repeat digital elevation models (DEMs) and orthoimages with millimetre-resolution and accuracy. Changes in microrelief over the three years are obtained from DEM-differencing and horizontal displacement fields from tracking features between the orthoimages. In the inner domains of the circles, consisting of fines, material moves radially outside with horizontal surface speeds of up to 2 cm a-1. The outer circle ridges consist of coarse stones that displace towards the inner circle domain at similar rates. A number of substantial deviations from this overall radial symmetry, both in horizontal displacements and in microrelief, shed new light on the potential spatio-temporal evolution of sorted soil circles, and periglacial patterned ground in general.

Figure 3. Shaded relief (hillshade) of the 2007 DEM, resampled to 2 cm resolution, over the three sorted circles. Black dots indicate the positions of the ground control points used. Note the soil cracks on the ridge tops and in the inner domains.
Figure 4. Horizontal surface displacements 2007-2010 on the northernmost circle. Chaotic vectors or groups of vectors are typically caused by individual stones that slide or tip, but could in some cases also be mismatches. Measurements with very low correlation coefficients have been removed. Linear vector scale with maximum vector magnitude of 2.5 cm a-1.


The Snow Patch Archeology Research Cooperation (SPARC) project


Perennial snow/ice patches fall between the main research focus of both the glaciological and permafrost research communities, and have remained little studied. Recently, global warming has caused retreat of these ice patches and revealed a wealth of archeological remains from former reindeer hunting activities in the Scandinavian mountains, Canada and Alaska. Some of these are found melting directly out of the ice and dating then confirms that the ice in these ice patches may be several kyears old. This temporal stability is baffling, as the ice patches mainly are less than 20 m thick and points towards significant negative feedback effects. The SPARC project started in 2012 and was designed to tie together archeological, permafrost and glaciological knowledge and investigation methods, and brings together of researchers from the Norwegian University of Science and Technology (University Museum and Department of Geography), and the University of Oslo (Museum of Cultural History). The snow patches investigated in the project all are situated at or above the lower permafrost altitude limit, but well below the regional glacier equilibrium line altitude.


Department of Geosciences, University of Oslo


The University of Oslo conducted fieldwork on Svalbard and in the mainland of Norway (Bernd Etzelmüller, Ole Humlum, Sebastian Westermann). The project on mountain meteorology, snow cover, vegetation, ground temperatures and interaction between permafrost and glaciers in southern Norway continues, with special focus on the Finse region in central southern Norway (O. Humlum).

In Finnmark, permafrost occurrence in mires was mapped along two transects of in total 200km length. In addition, routine maintenance of the borehole network in Southern and Northern Norway was conducted (Sebastian Westermann).

On Svalbard, a multi-year study on the spatial variability of snow depths and ground temperatures near Ny-Ålesund was finalized with the installation of an automatic camera on Scheteligfjellet and the reading out of ground surface temperature loggers (Sebastian Westermann).


Arctic coastal erosion; an overview of research fields and field surveys in the SAMCoT project


Most of the research within engineering aspects of the permafrost is performed within the Sustainable Arctic Marine and Coastal Technology (SAMCoT) project with Sintef, UNIS and NTNU as the main Norwegian parties headed by Maj Gøril Glåmen Bæverfjord.A report on main activities in 2013 is presented below


Arctic Coastal Retreat: why and how?


A main research question is what are the major mechanisms behind Arctic coastal erosion of icebounded permafrost soils and how this processes can be modelled in order to better predict future erosion rates at a given site.
Part of the work is related to field studies at selected sites, where one aims at arriving at a comprehensive description of the sites and ongoing processes. In 2013 this has been involving follow-up at the onshore site at Vestpynten, with reinstallation of some of the thermistors, logging of data and maintenance of equipment. In addition, Emilie Guegan (NTNU), Eric Caquil (Total), Lars Grande (NTNU) and Arnstein Watn (SINTEF) performed measurements of snow temperatures and snow depth in the snow bank at Vestpynten in February, in order to add more understanding of the influence of the snow bank. A fluxmeter has also been applied onshore at the Vestpynten site, aiming at gaining understanding of the thermal conductivity of the site. Emilie Guegan (NTNU) and Anatoly Sinitsyn (SINTEF and UNIS) installed shallow thermistors in the bluff front in an attempt to better understand the coastal permafrost degradation.
PhD candidate Daria Aleksuytina at Moscow State University has been visiting UNIS, meeting other SAMCoT-researchers from SINTEF and UNIS, and to have an impression of the Vestpynten research site.

Prof. Aleksey Marchenko at UNIS and SINTEF senior engineer Torgeir Jensen installed an AWAC, continuous logging the wave, currents and sea temperatures off the shoreline of the Vestpynten site. The AWAC was raised in the late summer of 2013, and the data is currently processed and will be published in 2014, adding much value to the total understanding of the coastal dynamics at Vestpynten.
As for studies of erosion at Svalbard sites, Svalbard being easy accessible providing data with high security, erosion has been monitored by Håkon Tangen (SINTEF) and Evangeline Sessford (UNIS and SINTEF) at some satellites sites, being Damesbukta, Kapp Laila and Fredheim. This is presented in a SAMCoT-report and will be published in 2014, as a contribution to the understanding of terrestrial processes to Arctic coastal erosion.
A major field excursion in the SAMCoT-project was performed at the field site of Moscow State University in Baydaratskaya Bay in June 2013. Baydara Bay is located on the coast of the Kara sea in the European part of north of Russia. A shoreline area with a length of approximately 4 km was surveyed. This year's investigation was the second fieldwork campaign in this area.

The fieldwork was conducted in order to study:

  • the destructive processes of the coastline;
  • permafrost properties and stability in the area.


The fieldwork program in 2013 included:

  • Observations of the area and exposures
  • Hand drilling, sampling of frozen soil (about 60m)
  • Installation of thermistorstrings and thermomentry
  • Land surveying and levelling of slopes for mapping of erosion rates
  • Thermal conductivity, density and water content measurements in situ (about 20 measurements)
  • Camera installation and observations


List of participants in the field work: Khilimonyuk Vanda  - Group leader , Buldovich Sergey – Science director, Aleksyutina Darya – PhD student, Valyisky Stanislav – Graduate student, Onishinko Nikita - Graduate student, Dyagterenko Maria - Graduate student, Prsuntsov Kirill - Graduate student, Finseth Jomar – SINTEF, Guegan Emilie – NTNU.

Discussion, planning and analysis participants: Brouchkov Anatoli - Director of the Geocryology Department , Motenko Rima - Senior Researcher (supervisor),  Roman Lidia.

As a follow-up of the field campaign, laboratory testing of permafrost soil samples at the coastal erosion site in Baydara has been undergoing at Moscow State University, with main focus on physical and thermal properties of frozen and warming permafrost soil, by Daria Aleksuytina related to the SAMCoT-project.

Arctic Coastal Retreat: How to build sustainable constructions?

When the processes behind Arctic Coastal Retreat is understood and known, one has a better basis of developing construction solutions and construction materials adapted to the conditions and protecting shorelines and structure against such erosion processes and coastal retreats.
Some erosion protection structures have been built in the past in Svea, and their performance is monitored.  A field survey was performed in September in by Håkon Tangen and Evangeline Sessford, mapping the state of existing erosion protection structures. The results from the survey are presented in a report in 2013 and will be published in 2014.
At the end of the year currents and waves measurements was performed in Svea as well as sediment sampling around the coal quay of Kapp Amsterdam, to increase understanding of sediment transport in the area. The field work was performed by Prof. Aleksey Marchenko at UNIS and Jomar Finseth from SINTEF with the UNIS research wessel Viking Explorer.  The thermal regime of the quay is also monitored through continuous logging of the soil temperature at two locations of the quay.
Part of the scope of the SAMCoT Work Package on Coastal Technology is developing coastal protection structures using as much local available materials as possible together with innovative materials. One research and development project in SINTEF is based on using geosyntethics  filled with local available and stabilized soil as coastal protection. The project involved laboratory tests and modelling and a planned field verification of performance. In close relation to this project, december 2nd Gunther Kassner of Münster University of Applied Sciences defended his MSc-thesis on the use of local soil as fill material for geotextile mattresses in Arctic areas at SINTEF in Trondheim. His thesis was performed as Erasmus cooperation between Münster University of Applied Sciences and SAMCoT research partner SINTEF.
Magne Wold and Maj Gøril Bæverfjord presented a paper on coastal erosion protections using geosynthetics and local available materials at the Cold Regions Engineering sessions at the Canadian Geotechnical Conference in the end of September and visited the Canadian Hydraulics Centre at the National Research Council in Ottawa.  (Wold, M., Finseth, J., Tangen, H. and Bæverfjord, M.G.(2013): Coastal erosion and erosion protection using geosynthetics in the Arctic, field studies in Svalbard", The 66th Canadian Geotechnical Conference, September 28th -October 2nd, Montreal, Canada)

Arctic Coastal Retreat: The Influence of Climate Change?

Climate change is an important challenge for engineers of today, and climate change will have a significant impact in the Arctic. In WP6 Coastal Technology we have established some thermal models for Vestpynten, taking a potential future climate into account. This will be developed further, and eventually included in the prediction model of Arctic coastal erosion. In 2014 the initial work will be presented at the 4th European conference of Permafrost in Evora, Portugal, with the title "Soil instability due to climate warming scenarios in a coastal permafrost zone at Svalbard".

Report prepared by Gisle Håland ( and Ole Humlum (