Near Surface Permafrost Dynamics as an Essential Climate Variable

Permafrost was recently listed as a terrestrial Essential Climate Variable and several potential mechanisms of change can be quantified with remote sensing time series. We plan to focus on three aspects: 1) erosion of permafrost dominated coastlines, 2) expansion of thermokarst lakes, and 3) surface terrain stability and impacts of disturbance. The primary objective is the quantification of changes occurring to near surface permafrost and document changes in the rate of these disturbances. To do this we will utilize historic aerial photography and recent high-resolution satellite imagery to monitor coastal erosion permafrost landscape, thermokarst lake expansion, degradation of ice-wedges, thaw slumping, and overall landscape disturbance that leads to or results from thermokarst. Due to the availability of recent, high-resolution satellite imagery, available at no cost through NGA WARP and other venues we will pre-select a number sites throughout Alaska with thermokarst lakes set in terrain with varying degrees of ice-richness to determine lake expansion rates, segments of permafrost dominated coastline, and upland permafrost features that my show signs of terrain instability. We will document how these are potentially changing over time. The recent imagery will be compared to historic photography available in the EROS data center archive. This will require some type of sampling scheme that stratifies by ice-richness and availability of imagery. We will also request declassified satellite imagery from the Global Fiducial Library. We plan to develop remote sensing classification algorithms in Definiens Developer to help aid in the identification of areas undergoing near surface permafrost disturbance.

Data and Resources

Additional Info

Field Value
ISO Topics geoscientificInformation
Primary Contact Benjamin Jones (
Primary Organization US Geological Survey
Other Organizations US Fish and Wildlife Service, Alaska Department of Transportation & Public Facilities, US Bureau of Land Management, University of Alaska Fairbanks
Organization Types Academic, Federal, State
Geo-keywords Alaska, North Slope
Start Date 2010-01-01
Created February 23, 2016, 01:38 (AKST)
Last Updated September 17, 2021, 09:44 (AKDT)