Ground subsidence and heave over permafrost: hourly time series reveal interannual, seasonal and shorter-term movement caused by freezing, thawing and water movement.

Heave and subsidence of the ground surface can offer insight into processes of heat and mass transfer in freezing and thawing soils. Additionally, subsidence is an important metric for monitoring and understanding the transformation of permafrost landscapes under climate change. Corresponding ground observations, however, are sparse and episodic. A simple tilt-arm apparatus with logging inclinometer has been developed to measure heave and subsidence of the ground surface with hourly resolution and millimeter accuracy. This contribution reports data from the first two winters and the first full summer, measured at three sites with contrasting organic and frost-susceptible soils in warm permafrost. The patterns of surface movement differ significantly between sites and from a prediction based on the Stefan equation and observed ground temperature. The data are rich in features of heave and subsidence that are several days to several weeks long and that may help elucidate processes in the ground. For example, late-winter heave followed by thawing and subsidence, as reported in earlier literature and hypothesized to be caused by infiltration and refreezing of water into permeable frozen ground, has been detected. An early-winter peak in heave, followed by brief subsidence, is discernible in a previous publication but so far has not been interpreted. An effect of precipitation on changes in surface elevation can be inferred with confidence. These results highlight the potential of ground-based observation of subsidence and heave as an enabler of progress in process understanding, modeling and interpretation of remotely sensed data.

Gruber, S.: Ground subsidence and heave over permafrost: hourly time series reveal interannual, seasonal and shorter-term movement caused by freezing, thawing and water movement. The Cryosphere, 14, 1437–1447, https://doi.org/10.5194/tc-14-1437-2020, 2020.


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