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Open Access Publications from the University of California

Permafrost Degradation and Subsidence Observations during a Controlled Warming Experiment

  • Author(s): Wagner, AM
  • Lindsey, NJ
  • Dou, S
  • Gelvin, A
  • Saari, S
  • Williams, C
  • Ekblaw, I
  • Ulrich, C
  • Borglin, S
  • Morales, A
  • Ajo-Franklin, J
  • et al.

© 2018, The Author(s). Global climate change has resulted in a warmer Arctic, with projections indicating accelerated modifications to permafrost in the near future. The thermal, hydrological, and mechanical physics of permafrost thaw have been hypothesized to couple in a complex fashion but data collection efforts to study these feedbacks in the field have been limited. As a result, laboratory and numerical models have largely outpaced field calibration datasets. We present the design, execution, and initial results from the first decameter-scale controlled thawing experiment, targeting coupled thermal/mechanical response, particularly the temporal sequence of surface subsidence relative to permafrost degradation at depth. The warming test was conducted in Fairbanks, AK, and utilized an array of in-ground heaters to induce thaw of a ~11 × 13 × 1.5 m soil volume over 63 days. The 4-D temperature evolution demonstrated that the depth to permafrost lowered 1 m during the experiment. The resulting thaw-induced surface deformation was ~10 cm as observed using a combination of measurement techniques. Surface deformation occurred over a smaller spatial domain than the full thawed volume, suggesting that gradients in cryotexture and ice content were significant. Our experiment provides the first large field calibration dataset for multiphysics thaw models.

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